Why Enter Photography Contests?

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I’ve been extremely fortunate recently. It hasn’t always been that way. I entered many a contest and didn’t win in my early years. At times I got discouraged, but it was a learning process. I studied what was winning, not to imitate, but to better understand our craft and good storytelling. Photo contests give me an opportunity to look at myself. To ask, “What have I done this past year?” It’s a chance to be introspective and analyze my work to help me make good decisions about creating better images and better stories.

– Craig F. Walker

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There Are 16 Comments On This Article.

  1. I agree the main problem I have with competitions is the deadline extension.
    If people can not be bothered to enter their images/films on time, then your competition clearly does not have the kudos it should have or is just another cash cow for a struggling magazine/website/gallery?

    • I totally agree, Jonathan. Whenever I get an email exclaiming an extended deadline for such and such competition I unsubscribe immediately. Feels like a tactic to get the cash cow mooing, and disrespectful to the peeps who entered on time.

    • J,
      I don’t think it’s so much people not getting things in on time as it is they want to make more money. All the contests do it now. I stopped spending on contests. Esp. the PDN ones….

  2. For professional creative work competitions – photography, graphic design, illustration, etc. – no matter what your age, you have to first and foremost look at WHO is judging!
    Sadly, this is often not shown at all or, not until a week or so before the deadline to enter. If you can see who the judges are, you need to look at their work and learn as much as you can about them. (Many times, the judges are friends of the previous years judges, which is a whole other problem, or are really way too young to “judge” work at all!)
    If they do or like work of a certain kind, and your work in no way is like their work or any work they ever wrote about, don’t waste your money. If they look like judges who would get your type of work, then enter. You would have a chance to place.
    Another problem is that competitions are not created equally. Magazines competitions are, mostly, not the same as something like an association competition. The mags tend to not have the best judges but, whoever the “hip” photographer/designer is that year. One exception is Graphis, which does book competitions. If you win or place, you get published in a really nice book. Graphis is highly respected, avoids trends (mostly), and has a great track record for picking great work over the years.
    The price to enter also says alot. If it is free, you should read the fine print. But some competitions suffer from very high entry cost. The British art directors club (not sure if they do photo, probably as used in an ad) is expensive to enter and expensive to ship.
    Shipping and meeting the entry requirements can also add up. I spent $5000 in shipping and materials when one year, I decided to enter every competition I could find. But even the free ones cost money to ship and some had such nit picky entry requirements, it took ALL DAY to get an entry ready, packed, and various forms filled out.
    Frankly, I think the best and only competitions I would enter moving forward are ones put on by professional associations I am a member of (and I am not of most) where the entry is something reasonable like $35 per campaign/series or $20 for single image and they let you upload a JPEG or, if you need to, send an actual print. I think biennials (mostly design but some photo) are also good too. But, they are easy to miss or forget about and, for the most part, are badly run so, they never send you the entry info in time. Museums that run biennials are fine too (but also, often badly run for notification and time given to enter).
    Another problem is that you might be entering a competition that costs $200 and has 60,000 entries or you might be entering one that costs $30 and has 1,400 entries. Guess which one you will probably LOOSE? Odds really do matter. In that 60,000 one, there may be 100 top photographers with large operations, assistance, incredible clients, etc. If you are a one person shop, you probably won’t win many as the judges will be pulling the 50 they can choose from the 100 that obviously are great plus another 40 or so interesting works.

    As far as deadline extensions, I like these when I (almost always) hear about a competition too late. This extra week or more lets me get it in. However, charging more for it pretty much kills me entering at all (unless, the jury is a great match… which is usually is not).

    Competitions are money makers for magazines for sure. For museums and associations, it depends. If it seems excessive, it is probably a money maker. They don’t want to subsidize a competition so they charge what it costs to run, or more!
    A respected colleague of mine chooses never to enter ANY competitions. He’s done pretty well for himself. Clients don’t read photo/design/etc. magazines or know or care about professional associations! But it is impressive to have all those award certificates on the wall of your office that you paid thousands of dollars for!

  3. For a professional most competitions are useless, a total waste of a pros time and money. What is the upside? For an amateur, ego stroke, if you are lucky. But to pay for that and give away rights to an excellent image is a bad idea.

  4. You can buy 10 rolls of film for the price of entering a contest. Which one is going to further your craft?

  5. scott Rex Ely

    Photo contests were the precursor to on line social media. You had to participate to be recognized, the big wheels won their divisions and the judging becomes an aesthetic entity based on the employment of the judges.
    Credentials are established and verified. You pay attention, play the game and throw your cake in the ring.
    Social media asks the same and delivers the same. A mystic path to success.

    • Yes! I think that is the new contest. There is 500, mostly circulating on G+, 60 photos on FB. There are now groups forming not only on FB but G+ also that focus on different focal lengths, locations, and subject. I think it would be advantageous for APA, NPPA, ASMP, PPA, WPPI, and the remainder of organizations that should develop and hold annual, semi-annual, and quarterly competitions. All for a minimal fee but no more than 15 samolians for the semiannual and annual contest. Winners for the quarterly and semi annual have a nice online gallery and should be promoted to curators. The Annual winners have a show at a national event and if there are some print outlets who are interested in supporting the event could consider an annual article with the winners work and interviews published. There are always looking for something popular to publish. I needs to be a magazine outside of the industry. It could be a win win for all who participate sponsors, organizers, entrants.

  6. I agree with Jonathan 100%. Most “competitions” are scams. One should never rate themselves by what a “judge” says, picks or does not pick. I’ve entered these contests in the past and have seen the final selections some of these so called experts picked? It left me wondering, what the hell were they on when the did their selections? Very few prints which were merit worthy along with work that looked to be produced by a 5th grade beginning photography class.
    I’ve also found that when I was a member for the PPA, the print competitions were judged by your peers in a way the would truly help one be a better photographer. On the other hand, the contests outside that circle in an anything goes type atmosphere is not the best judge of quality work. I’ve also found that those two worlds do not intersect more than 100th of one percent. Where a wonderfully executed idea/print would do extremely well in PPA circles, it would fall short of what most of these judges call “art” and visa versa.

  7. Another aspect where I wonder is how frequently is a photographer working on and publishing to their blog or website the efforts of Independent productions. I think it is important to use those times to ferret out a skill that improves the story or a story that proves the Skills. I my humble opinion I would release a small production series once a month. prior to the release you could publish some BTS bits and pieces in the form of a trailer. When a GOOD contest opportunity becomes available then you enter. You will be presenting the best of you and you are already prepared.

  8. I dont participate in competitions, but i’ve dont some work for a number of stock agencies. Stock is a tough but fair teacher because if your images are no good, nobody buys them.

  9. In Brazil at least, photography contests are regarded as a easy source for cost-free images. Is very common for government boards like tourism. Many times the prize is not even a DSLR or equivalent in price.

  10. I agree with Chris Maher how most of the competitions are scams. And for the most part, losing a photographer’s creative image!