7 Tips for Competing in Photo Contests

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Part of a photographer’s growth is simply getting their work out there and one of the means to do that are photo contests. Though having a website and/or a blog helps establish a presence on the web, it means very little if no one knows you exist. With new photographers rising up like poppies on the way to Oz, it becomes an increasing challenge to get noticed. This is where entering a contest can make a difference.

Though recognition is always nice, you should know what you are expecting from it. Winning a contest won’t result in fame and fortune, but it can begin the process of getting your work in front of people, some of whom may eventually provide opportunities as you continue to produce exceptional work. You should see it as a process that will not only provide your imagery some exposure, but may also help play a role in your development as a photographer. Here are some tips that may help you when considering and entering contests.

Just Submit

A lot of photographer’s get caught up in the inner dialog of whether their images are “good enough”, which leads to endless procrastination and missed deadlines. In the mean time, others are submitting their photographs and getting eyeballs on the work. Though honest self-assessment is important and valuable, there comes a time to get off the pot. If you have ever had the experience at looking at the contest winners and thinking you would have done better, you really have to wonder why you didn’t take the time to do so. You’ve got to play to win.

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Follow the Submission Guidelines

Having been a judge for several contests, I am constantly  surprised by how many great images are disqualified as a result of not following the submission guidelines. Whether it has to do with the content of the photographs, size or the deadline, you should adhere to them. They are there for good reasons. Do you really want to disqualify yourself even before you have left the gate? Don’t just double check your application and submission, triple check it to make sure everything is as it should be.

Read the Fine Print

There are many contests that are reputable, but there are some that exist primarily to get your money or to attempt a rights grab. Though all contests will stipulate that they have a license to use the images to market the contest and its winners, you want to avoid contests that demand unlimited and unrestricted usage rights if not an outright transfer of copyright. These contests should be avoided. A simple Google search on the contest can tell you a lot about previous iterations of the contest and its reputation and track record. This research can also provide information on who current and previous judges have been which may help you to decide who to submit to and who to avoid.

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Review Previous Winners

Valid contests have usually existed for several years and so provide you the ability to view previous winners. It becomes an invaluable tool for determining how your images compare with previous winners. Though each year’s results will be different because it may involve a different set of judges, you can nevertheless get a sense of that contests particularly preferences.

Submit Appropriate Content

It never ceases to surprise me as to how many photographers submit photographs that have nothing to do with the theme of the contest. Your image of the toddler may win you praise at the family dining table, but it’s not going to go far in a contest on nature and wildlife. It sounds absurd, but any query of a contest judge will reveal stories of submissions that left the judges wondering, “What was this photographer thinking?”

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Copyread Your Essay

I know that photographers aren’t writers. That’s why they use cameras. However, you want to be as careful as you can be with any written material that you submit for a contest, especially if it requires an essay along with the photographs. Typos, spelling errors and grammatical errors not only make reading a challenge, but it also calls to question how serious or professional you are about your work. The images may be fantastic, but a poorly crafted essay will raise many red flags which can make the difference in a judge’s mind. And remember to be clear and concise. Judge’s don’t want to read War and Peace, particularly since they didn’t get through it the first time.

Become a Judge

Nothing will educate your more about what is involved in judging a photo contest that being a judge yourself with your local camera club or organization. You will discover how it is often only a small number of images that rise above the hundreds if not thousands of images that are submitted. It will provide you a sense of how the personal tastes and preferences of the other judges informs what finally gets selected as winning entries. And it’s an interesting experience to find yourself championing certain images that other judges don’t agree with. It’s all very sobering, but it certainly helps demystify what’s involved in entering and winning a contest.

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