LanaParticipantAugust 2015 at 8:33 pmPost count: 8
I’ve been a finalist and/or won my fair share of photo contests. Here’s an article I wrote a few years back on the subject.
Photo Contests: Challenges and Rewards
by Lana Gramlich
The first thing to consider when thinking about entering photo contests is the quality of your own work. Look at it with a critical eye. Are your subjects in focus? Are your photos too dark? Is the composition interesting? Could you see your photo published in a magazine, or even on its cover? Really look at it and be completely honest in your assessments. Don’t ask for your friends’ and family’s opinions–they have a vested interest in you and will likely not be as critical as necessary. This is a task you must face yourself. If your work isn’t as good as you initially thought, don’t be dismayed–now you have goals for improvement. Challenge yourself to be as good as you can be!
If you are confident about the quality of your work, you’re ready to look for photography contests. There are many places to find these, particularly in the Internet Age. I find most of the contests I enter online, and I list those and many more on my own facebook business page ( http://www.facebook.com/LanaGramlich ) A quick internet search will return a lot of applicable hits, including some sites that list all different kinds of photo contests, sometimes with an option to subscribe by e-mail, so you can have them sent straight to your e-mail. One such site is Photography Contests Network: http://www.photographycompetitions.net
In “real life,” you can also find photography contests in various magazines–not just photo magazines, but birding magazines, Smithsonian and others. Fortunately, you don’t have to subscribe to a dozen magazines–your local library probably carries a decent variety and sometimes magazines advertise contests on their websites. Another “real life” option is to join local art groups. They don’t have to specifically be photography groups–many art groups welcome photography as a medium. Not only will they probably hold their own shows (often with cash prizes and ribbons,) but you have the opportunity to network with other, similarly-minded individuals.
Once you start looking, you’ll find an awful lot of photography contests out there. Many of them have entry fees, so, unless you want to spend a small fortune entering them all, the next step is determining which ones are best worth your time. Perhaps the most important thing to consider is the manner in which the winners are selected. The two, main options are judging and voting, and some use a combination of both.
When a winner is chosen through voting, only, the entries (sometimes hundreds of them or more,) will be uploaded to a website, where other, nameless, faceless people will vote on them. Often these people will be registered users of the website, itself (which will probably require you to register, also, to enter their contest.) They don’t have to have any, real knowledge about or interest in photography. They’ll just pick what they like out of the first few pages of entries because–let’s get real–who’s going to look through dozens and dozens of pages of photos? Alternately, they may just vote for their friends. Wouldn’t you?
So what if your photos are buried among hundreds of entries on a site where no one knows you? You have lots of friends and family you can solicit votes from, right? Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. Remember how you had to register to enter the contest? Your friends and family are probably going to have to do so, too, in order to vote. Not only is this more of a hassle than they really want to deal with, but registering with such sites (who are out to make a buck, after all,) often results in the sale of your personal info to marketers. The result is that you and the 2 or 3 people who might actually bother to vote for you will have all new kinds of spam in your e-mail (and possibly your physical mailbox.) Do you really want to do that to your friends? Certainly there are exceptions to the rule and some places won’t require you to register to enter or vote, but those sites are few and far between.
Personally, I prefer contests where the winner(s) are judged, where specific people have been chosen to determine who the winners will be. Sometimes they’re professional photographers and/or others in the industry. Sometimes they’re not, but either way, you’ll have a person or a panel going through all of the photos and making the decision. You’re not just casting your photos into the ether and hoping for the best. When contests are judged and voted, the person or panel will pick some finalists, and people will vote on winners from those choices. In that case, you still end up with better odds than contests in which the winners are chosen solely by vote.
Another thing to consider in determining which contests to enter is the entry fee. Some contests are free and some are not. Entry fees vary quite a bit and are non-refundable. Entry fees should be measured against the number of entries allowed for. For example, $15 for 5 entries is much easier on the wallet than $45 for 3 (particularly if you’re entering quite a few contests with fees.) Also consider the value of the prize. Is a $35 entry fee worth it if the prize is $100? Surely there are easier ways to make $65 (and that’s if you do, indeed, win!)
Other things to think about include the size of the contest, the prizes involved and what you want out of it. Some contests are very small, which may mean less competition (and also, typically, smaller prizes.) Sometimes the prize is just that they’ll post your photo on their site with a name credit and/or a link to your website. Whether or not you’re happy with the exposure that may or may not bring is totally up to you.
There are other reasons to enter particular contests, however, regardless of entry fees or anything else; if you really want to try for that particular prize, if you really want to get your work in front of a certain judge’s eyes, if you really want to try to get into that magazine, etc. If you really want something, go for it!
Make sure that you qualify for the contest you’re entering, however. Some contests are limited by age, geographic location, student status, equipment used, etc. Besides wasting your time and that of the contest holder, entering contests you don’t qualify for is neither fair nor professional, and won’t reflect well on you. You might want to enter a different contest through these people in the future, after all.
Once you’ve chosen to enter a contest, before you do anything else, fully read the rules and make sure you understand them! I’m not talking about the little mini-rules typically listed in large print–I’m talking about the full, legal, terms and conditions. If you don’t understand some of the terminology, look it up. I keep a copy of the full terms and conditions for every contest I enter so I can refer to them later, if necessary. Terms and conditions typically reflect everything you need to know about the contest; parameters for work submitted (subject, resolution, file sizes and types, color space,) important dates (submission deadline, winner notification,) how the work may be used in the future, etc. The latter is often referred to as “usage rights,” and it a good idea to do a bit of research on the subject–get some understanding of basic, copyright law (your local library or the internet can help with this.) Most contests will request limited or “one time” usage rights. This allows them to publish the winning photo on the website, in the magazine, or what have you. I strongly advise against ever giving anyone unlimited usage rights. This allows them to use your photo however they want as often as they want. Again, there are exceptions to this rule, but they typically don’t and shouldn’t apply to photography contests.
Once you’ve read and understand the rules, there’s still one item that may affect whether you decide to enter or not–how difficult is it to enter? I’ve seen some that are incredibly easy–just pop off a photo to a certain e-mail address–and I’ve seen some that require much more–for example, mailing 8”x10″ glossy prints one at a time with a SASE for notification to a foreign address, including all of the details: equipment, location, EXIF data, why I was inspired to take the photo. How much effort you’re willing to put into your entries is up to you, of course. Again, I would weigh it against other, related factors: ultimate cost of entering, value of the prize, etc. Depending on the size of the contest and prizes, a more difficult entry process may result in fewer people entering, which means less competition.
Once you’ve finally decided to enter a contest, follow the rules carefully! I cannot stress this enough. If the contest requires 5 black and white photos of volleyball nets at sunset in jpeg format under 5MB at 96dpi, submit exactly that. The best way to get your photos kicked out of a contest is to deviate from the rules. Don’t contact the contest administrators to request any special exemptions. They’re probably very busy people and they’ve already given you the rules, which they’ve chosen for a reason–just follow them!
Submit your best work (remember to use your critical eye!) Strive to wow those judges and/or voters!
Keep information regarding contests you’ve entered somewhere. I put winner notification dates on my calendar, I bookmark websites so I can find them again, I file copies of contest info from magazines, I make lists of what photos I’ve submitted to which contests and, again, I keep a copy of the full terms and conditions for all of them. Later I’ll make a note of which ones I won and which ones I didn’t. For those I don’t win, I’ll go see who did and why. I’ll consider what I can do to improve my chances next time.
When I do win, I make sure to thank those who held the contest for the opportunity and the prize. I immediately add the info to my photography resume before I forget it, then I share it via social media (facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) Not only should you be proud of a win, it’s nice to send some traffic back to the contest host’s website, if applicable. Make a note of the value of the prize, as you will have to claim this on your income taxes (in the U.S., at least–check into tax laws governing your area.) This is also a very important time to read, understand and strictly follow any and all instructions you’re supplied with to claim your prize. You went through all of that work preparing and submitting entries and you won the contest–don’t blow it because you didn’t return a signed release form in time!j.craig.lynchParticipantNovember 2015 at 3:47 pmPost count: 3
Thank you for this post; I’ve actually entered only two contests in the many years I’ve been doing photography, one with PDN which was on a very large scale and another small scale one of which I actually won first place in my category.
I’m a military veteran and soon to be a retiree; I want to pursue full-time photography, so I REALLY appreciate your advise, which simply helps a well balanced artist. And would you know, with all my military experience (which hasn’t been photography based) I actually overlooked just how essential it would be if I created a photography resume.
Despite your post’s title; the importance of my resume is what I took away most; go figure… (I’m new and this is my first forum… bear with me, lol).
I’m off to create a photography resume! Thanks again! JC
LanaParticipantNovember 2015 at 11:40 amPost count: 8
- This reply was modified 1 year, 4 months ago by j.craig.lynch.
You’re quite welcome, JC. Congrats on your impending retirement and best of luck with your photography goals! You may want to look into local photography clubs, which present new opportunities and advice, and introduce you to others of like mind.j.craig.lynchParticipantNovember 2015 at 7:34 pmPost count: 3
Cool, I will…
In all actuality, these interactions here on PF Magazine have been my first attempts at the socio-global photographer’s scene; I’m doing fairly well here so far… thanks… again… 😉
I’m also getting my feet wet at Digital Photography Review; Why didn’t I start on forums sooner?
iam.scott80ParticipantOctober 2016 at 7:25 amPost count: 1
- This reply was modified 1 year, 4 months ago by j.craig.lynch.
You did a motivational one, hopefully, this gives much interest to those in starting on this field.
Jake Scott|http://www.digitekprinting.com/digital-black-white-copiesianrwaltonParticipantMarch 2017 at 5:09 pmPost count: 4
” I prefer contests where the winner(s) are judged, where specific people have been chosen to determine who the winners will be. Sometimes they’re professional photographers and/or others in the industry. Sometimes they’re not, but either way, you’ll have a person or a panel going through all of the photos and making the decision. You’re not just casting your photos into the ether and hoping for the best.”
You have a point, Lana. Same here, it’s better to be chosen by professionals to my mind. If you don’t get the prize you can contact them to talk about drawbacks of your photos and, hopefully, correct the mistakes. Thank you for useful ideas)
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