Do you dream of entering and winning photography contests? But lack the information on how to begin, which contests to enter (and which to avoid), or even which images to pick? This article will give you some ideas on how to get started and enter your first contest.
First, let's look at something to give you some inspiration and motivation to go the extra mile to get a prize winner.
The team over at COOPH (Cooperative of Photography) produced this video to show how award-winning photographer Lorenz Holder created one of his most awarded images in this video. He used the POP principal:
Getting started – Which contests to enter and which to avoid
Okay now let's get you on your way to entering your first contest. There are a few things I recommend looking for in a good contest and a few things you want to watch out for and avoid.
Note: Keep in mind a photography challenge or theme isn't the same as a contest. Those are great too but a real contest or competition is one that is judged based on the image quality and merits – either by your peers or by one or more experts.
What to avoid
First, these are the things I recommend you AVOID at all costs.
- Contests which do not specifically outline the terms and who owns the copyright. You don't to find out later that you have a winner and they now own the copyright to your image.
- Likewise, avoid any that require you to sign over your copyright, read the terms and conditions of all contests carefully. Note that allowing them to use your image for promotional purposes is NOT the same thing, and they do NOT need your copyright to do so – just your permission to use it for certain things. Signing over copyright means they will then have the right to sell your image as stock and make a profit from it and you CANNOT! Basically, they own it and can do whatever they want with it, including making money – and you don't own your own image anymore, and they could actually sue you if you use it. This is a big one – hunt for the terms if they are hidden and if it's not clear – RUN!
- Contests with hefty entry fees, particularly if they charge for each image entered. Try and find some good free contests to enter at the beginning or ones with really low entry fees (under $20 total). You don't need to spend a lot of money on this – get some experience first.
- Contests that allow professionals to enter the same categories. When you are just beginning you don't want to go head to head with the pros. If there are separate categories for pros and amateurs that's the contest you want. If not, find another contest.
What to look for in a contest
- Ones with good prizes. This is a given, but enter contests that offer prizes you'd be happy to win. If you shoot Canon and the prize is a full frame Nikon, keep looking. Sure you can sell it but why have the hassle when there is probably another contest that offers something you do want.
- Contests that show past winners. You want to make sure there are actually winners and they do award the prizes. Also by scrolling through the past winners, you can see the caliber of work being entered and see how you feel about going up against those photographers.
- Start small. Look for contests that offer smaller prizes and have fewer entries. You'll have a better chance of winning one or having your image get recognized.
- Get feedback. Look for contests where either the judges or other entrants offer comments and feedback on the images entered. This is helpful so you can see what you can do to improve for next time. Perhaps just cropping an image tighter could make all the difference.
A while back I judged a contest on Photocrowd on the topic of Human Faces. The winner was given access to my own Portrait Fundamentals course. You can see there were just over 900 entries. As the judge, I was required by Photocrowd to comment and review a certain number of the entries. This is an excellent way to learn!
Go through some of the other past expert-judged contests on Photocrowd in the areas that interest you. See which images won, and read the expert's comments. What can you learn from that information? Would you have picked different images? Which ones and why?
Which images to enter?
Okay, now the real work starts! Next, you have to decide which of your images you are going to enter. This is no small task, so don't take it lightly. Here are some tips for you:
- Narrow it down to your top five. Pick your top five images that you are considering as entries – then get feedback on those (see next point). If you use Lightroom, make a Collection Set called Photography Contests. Then inside that folder, make a Collection for each contest you want to enter. That way you can easily find the images from past entries quickly.
- Get input from other photographers and friends. As photographers we get so attached to our images sometimes we can't see their flaws, or that there is another that might be better. We know the story behind the image, how much work it took to create. But, viewers of your image don't have those advantages – they only see the image for what it is. Getting input from others (especially other photographers you respect) is critical getting to your best work. Many times when I've given input I've chosen a completely different image than the photographer brought to me to initially review.
- Shoot something specifically for the contest. If you have time and the opportunity shoot something specifically for the contest. Put in the time and effort to make sure all the pieces come together like Lorenz Holder did in the video above.
General photography contest tips
The last thing I'm going to leave you with are some general tips for entering photography contests.
Think about why you're entering.
This is important. Are you entering to get recognition and kudos? Do you really want to win the prize? Or do you just want the experience and to learn and grow as a photographer. You'll likely get the most out of this process if you approach it with the attitude of it being a learning experience.
Select the categories you enter carefully.
Look for topics which cover things you like to photograph and feel you are good at. But at the same time find ones which are not as popular. They will have fewer entries and you may have a better chance in the contest.
Follow the submission guidelines to the letter.
Make sure you read the rules and submission requirements very carefully including things like; the date the image was created, your eligibility (sometimes contests are regional), whether or not a release is required and file size. It is imperative that you size your images correctly and upload the correct format. Submitting the wrong size can often see your entry rejected and you're done before you even get started.
Don't get your hopes up too high.
Expecting to win with your first entry is unrealistic. Do you best. Put your best images forward – and be proud of yourself no matter the outcome!
Share the love and compliment other photographers on their entries.
Jealousy isn't helpful for anyone. If you see an image that another photographer entered that you absolutely love – tell them! I'm sure you'll make their day and you'd appreciate others doing the same for you. Find out how they made their image and learn from that.
*** Shoot for yourself, nobody else. ***
This is the most important one! Remember at the end of the day you want to take photos for yourself, that you love! So it really doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of your images if you love them. Try not to take it personally (it's hard I know) if you get what you perceive as a negative comment or you don't win. Think about why you do photography – hopefully just because it gives you joy. Keep doing that no matter what!
NOTE: Please do not email to ask me for personal help selecting your entries for a contest. If you want feedback, feel free to post your image(s) in the comments below and get help from other readers. I will comment and help best I can there as well.
Now it's over to you. Armed with this information you're ready to google away and find some good photography contests to enter. You'll be overwhelmed with the search results so remember to narrow it down based on the tips above. You may want to consider even searching for specific categories such as, “macro photography contest” or “street photography contests” or others that match your interests.
You can find many sites like this one (Photo Contest Insider) that are hubs which list many contests and offer brief details of each. That allows you to quickly scan the list and find the ones that you want to take a closer look at.
If you find some good amateur or beginner contests please post the link in the comments below to share with other readers. Or if you need help narrowing down your entries post your top five and we'll give you some feedback.