A Quick Guide to Photography Competitions

Grab the chance to win prizes and increase your profile!

By Mark Fenwick

Entering photography competitions is undoubtedly a brilliant way to gain confidence, exposure and, of course, great prizes!

The awards offered by most competitions tend to be either cash or photography equipment. But these are far from the only potential benefits of throwing your hat (or your photos!) into a well known competition.

It's a great way to get your work 'out there'. Competition winning photos can often end up being seen by collectors, commercial clients and gallery owners.

Plus, there's the benefit of mentioning it on your bio, and being able to call yourself an 'award winning photographer'! So there's plenty to be gained by successfully entering a competition.

It's actually only quite recently that I have begun entering my work into competitions seriously. I've exhibited fine art images in various galleries for years, but the profile achieved by winning images from competitions has encouraged me to explore this route more seriously.

My most recent submission was to the Burrard-Lucas Travel Photo Competition. It's a great competiton because it's really well known, open to photographers worldwide and has no entry fee!

I've found it's quite rare for large competitions to have no entry fee at all. There's no harm in paying a fee most of the time, especially if it's a competition for which you think you may have some perfect photos.

But be realistic and don't splash out on a hefty fee if you think, based on previous winners, that your shots are simply not quite up to that level yet.

Top Tip: Subscribing to photography magazines is great way to keep abreast of upcoming competions.

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Practical Photography


Choosing Your Images


Ok, since all photography competitions are centred around a given theme, it's obviously important that you understand what this is and select entries that match it exactly.

Don't be tempted to submit images that "kind of fit..ish", just because they are some of the best in your portfolio! That said, it's always a great idea to enter images that offer a unique and original take on a subject.

When a competition is on a really specific theme, it can be a fun project to actually go out and shoot images especially for it, instead of picking some from your existing portfolio.

Something that all photos submitted to photography competitions must be is technically good. Correct exposure (one that 'works' for the photo that is), accurate focus, nice and sharp etc.


Being Successful


People's reactions to photographs are very subjective. So, to give yourself the best chance of being successful in photography competitions, it can be well worth checking out who the judges are and considering which of your images they are likely to appreciate.

Two competitions on the same theme, with different judges, can produce extremely varying winning photos. Take a look at previous winners' images, if shown. This is one of the best ways to get a feel for what kinds of shots do well. Often, it may just seem that it's the most original pictures that succeed.


Quotable Quote:

Only a fraction of the camera's possibilities interests me - the marvellous mixture of emotion and geometry, together in a single instant.

- Henri Cartier-Bresson


I think it's not a bad idea to enter some smaller competitions to begin with, that attract fewer entries. You have a better chance of doing well with these, and it can be a real confidence boost to inspire you to submit shots into major photography competitions.

Never be disheartened when you don't win. Remember, competitions are usually just a bit of fun and there's a huge element of subjectivity involved in the judging.

Everyone develops as a photographer at their own pace, and everyone takes photos for different reasons. If you love creating great images, that's all that matters. But sooner or later someone will be impressed by what they see, and you could end up a winner!


Rules and Copyright Issues


Most photography competitions have a handful of quite specific rules that must be adhered to. These typically relate to things like: image dimensions, ppi, subject of image, date the image was taken, location the image was taken etc.

These rules aren't optional. Apparently the major photography competitions have to discard a lot of very good images every year just because the photographer hasn't read the guidelines!

When checking through the rules of photography competitions, make sure the copyright of the images will remain with you. I would strongly recommend to avoid entering any competition that specifies the organizers receive 'all rights' to your images. Watch out, some do.

I personally think it's absolutely fine for competition organisers to display entered images, so long as they are only shown in connection with the competition.

If the images are used or published for any other reason, without payment of fees, it is not acceptable.

For some of the well known competitions, the winning entries are published in a book or catalogue. This is a dream in terms of promoting your work! But always make sure that you are retaining copyright, and that you are given credit in the publication.

It's often the case that when these kinds of publications are put on sale, all proceeds are taken by the publication organizers. It might seem rather mean, but actually the value for you of that kind of exposure is terrific!


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So why not start putting together a little collection of your best work work for entering into competitions now! Have a browse of a couple of your favourite photography magazines, and a quick surf around the web, for upcoming competitions that catch your eye. Good luck!


Have Your Say and Share Your Photos

Tell us how your pictures have fared in photography competitions. Ever got on a shortlist, being given an honourable mention...or perhaps even won! Upload your best images too...

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