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If you Google “photography contests” , you will be presented with a wide range of competitions to chose from , beginning with monthly forum contests all the way to prestigious events like the World Press Photo Awards. Most photographers have entered a photo competition at least once and I’d like to focus a little bit on the expectations people have from these events.
Without a doubt, there could be, and often is, a lot to gain from a competition. Some offer substantial rewards , like gear vouchers, sponsored exhibitions, paid trips or cash prizes. Others offer great visibility and can benefit the image of the photographer. Most of them are divided into separate categories that address different levels: students, amateurs, professionals , etc. Some are free, while other require an entry tax.
Besides the tempting prizes and potentially good publicity, I think there is another reason why a lot of people submit their work . A lot of them are , in fact looking for critique or are seeking validation of their creative efforts. Sending your photos to a jury for review should be a good source of rational, impartial feedback right? Right. The problem is , unless you win, you aren’t actually getting a lot. I’m not talking about prizes but about the feedback on your work you were secretly looking for. At best, you can compare your images to the winners, but it’s likely you won’t get a lot out of that, other than possible frustration and a feeling that everything was fixed.
Since there are so many variables , there are a few things to take into account before deciding to enter a competition. First of all, you should avoid free entry competitions. They are tempting, some of them even have good prizes, but there is a catch. I was in the jury of a contest sponsored by a major company a while ago. Besides reviewing thousands of images, each of us had to face a lot of indecision regarding the best images. It took a very long time to settle for the winner, and not everyone was happy with the decision. Entry fees make you think twice about what you’re sending and that helps the jury make a more clear decision. Also, look for contests that give you something more than the right to participate for your money. I’m talking about prints or catalogues.
If the jury member are publically announced, don’ t send images that you believe will impress a particular member. It’s highly unlikely that this will turn into a source for commissioned work.
Be fully aware of what you’re giving up in terms of rights. Contests with big prizes usually claim rights to the photos , so it might be a good idea to consider what you’re giving up for what you could be winning.
In case you win, add your victory to marketing strong points. Make sure you present it to potential clients, but do so in a humble, professional way. Nobody likes to hear someone bragging.
On a final, personal note, I don’t feel very good about contests with more than one winner. It’s difficult to draw a clear line between the 1st and 2nd place. We’re talking about creative challenges, not science competitions.
Image credit: vencavolrab78 / 123RF Stock Photo