In this article, learn some tips on how to prepare and enter photography contests. I’ll show you some of the ends and outs of getting that blue ribbon.
Creating and presenting one of your own photographs to be judged is a great way to learn more about photography and show the world what you are passionate about. Photo contests can be a challenge, inspire you and be great fun.
Contests with their fixed guidelines and deadlines might help get you out of your comfort zone. The right contest will bring you increased exposure too. Just imagine standing next to your photograph with a big blue ribbon on it!
Selecting which contest to enter
Entering a contest is a great way to show off your work, but it’s a bit intimidating, especially at first.
Naturally, the first question you may ask is, “Which contest is for me?”.
My suggestion is to find one that you have a connection to somehow.
Many companies like your favorite coffee shop or local newspaper may have a contest. Car shows and dealers, pet shops, garden clubs, and many other similar groups and businesses offer awards for great photos about their interests.
Camera clubs, state fairs, and even your city government are also some good places to start your search. Get a little local practice and then it’s on to the National Geographic.
A word of caution about internet contests. Many are designed to gather fees, rather than award quality photography. In general, avoid contests with large entry fees, even if the prize seems amazing,
A small processing charge to cover the cost of the contest is okay, but anything over about $40 may not be worth it. Also, make sure that the contest does not make you give up the copyright to your photos.
Okay, you’ve found your contest, now what?
Read and follow the rules carefully
The biggest reason your image will not win a contest is that it never gets judged. This commonly happens because the entrant did not follow the rules and guidelines of the contest.
Size your images correctly
No matter how good your picture is, if it is not submitted correctly, it will not be judged. If the entry form says 8x10s only, do not submit an 11×14 because it looks better.
If the guidelines say to make your images compressed jpegs, sized to 750 pixels on the long edge, no bigger than 200kb, do it! Yes it’s a hassle, and you may have to have someone help you get it right, but there is a reason the contest wants that size.
It doesn’t matter how good your entry is if it doesn’t meet the submission guidelines it will not be judged. Period, end of the story.
The rules are the rules are the rules. Follow them to the letter. They may seem rigid, but they are designed to make sure that all of the entries are judged equally and fairly.
Additionally, check to see if you are allowed to alter your work. This is especially true of digital contests. Some contests allow you to enter composites, use filters, crop your images, and other post-processing effects. But many others, especially those like the National Geographic do not.
Most contests will have a theme and/or categories. Make sure your submission matches what the contest organizers are looking for. It’s good to be different and stand out, however, don’t go too far astray from the central theme.
Enter your best work
Enter your best work. Don’t overthink it, if your particular style doesn’t fit one contest, find a different one. Avoid chasing the latest fad, or the coolest new filter, and even if the contests allows post-processing, use it with a light touch. For many judges, a little will go a long way.
When you are choosing your images, think about what makes a winning photo. Chose a photograph that tells a story, a visual that relates to the contests and the judges.
Make sure it is technically perfect. Is it sharp and well-focused? Is the exposure correct, not too bright or dark?
Often bold vivid colors can make you stand out, but a subtle black and white image can work as well. Avoid distracting details. Everything about your entry should be about the story you want your imagery to tell.
If you need help in which image(s) to pick, there are several articles here on Digital Photo Mentor that will help you take and pick wonderful photos. Read: 6 Tips on How to Review Images Including Your Own
The judges are looking for something that will stand out from all of the other images in the stack or slideshow.
So what should you expect from the experience?
Look at entering contests as a way to learn more about your photography and to improve your skill level. Creating work to the specifics of a set of rules is a wonderful stretch of your talents.
Contests are solid motivators and idea starters. Showing your best work and winning an award can be very gratifying.
However, don’t take it to personally if you don’t win, especially in the beginning. Take an honest look at the winners and see if you can understand what the contest judges were looking for and what they saw in those images.
Get feedback on your entries if you can, so you can improve your chances the next time. Remember, all contests winners are picked by humans. All judges look for different things in a photograph, it’s very subjective.
What to expect
Your image just may not have been their cup of tea. Don’t get discouraged and keep at it. Soon you will have your blue ribbon.
One more thing
In case you missed it the first time, READ and FOLLOW all the rules!
Have you entered any photography contests before? Please share your experience in the comment area below. If you won a ribbon then congratulations, well done! Show us your winning image and tell us all about it.
David R. Day is a fine-art and commercial photographer. His imagery is widely published and his commercial and fine-art work are presented in homes, businesses, and offices throughout the world. He is a sought-after judge who has juried art exhibits, student competitions, and state fairs.
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