How to Enter Photography Contests

How to Enter Photography Contests

I love contests. They challenge me and excite my clients, all while adding to my credibility with my clients. Not all contests are equal – some are scams – then there are the ones that have found a way to charge you so they can own your images. There are those that will turn heads when they see you won THERE.

Some of the Ins and Outs of Finding and Entering Contests

Years ago, contests were quite the event to take on. Everything came in as prints, along with envelopes of cash or cheques. You needed a team of print handlers to get them in front of judges, repackage them in the right boxes to ship them back. Only organizations could put them on.

The web changed all that. Enter online, pay online, nothing to send back, it’s really sweet. Of course when something is easy, lots appear.

A Google search will bring up thousands of pages of contests. There are even sites that research the contests and list them in groupings. Some have fees of differing amounts, some are free, some have prizes, while others just give you a Facebook shout out.

There are two clear groups of contests: Professional photographer contests, and Amateur. Most of the Professional contests are done through Professional organizations. They are aimed at career photographers making, for the most part, a living at it. Some of the Amateur contests will specifically ban working professionals.

There are different reasons for entering a contest. You should be really clear on your reasons before you enter. This will decide the type of image you enter and what you expect to get by entering.

If you are a pro, you are looking for things that will enhance your standing in the community and market place. Often wins or even just being accepted will count towards titles and degrees. For others it’s the thrill of being published, validation or the lure of the prizes. Bragging rights, as one budding photographer put it.

When you consider the contests, don’t just look at the main prizes. What do you get if your images are just accepted but not in the winners circle. At the top rungs of any contest it’s challenging for the few images that rise to that level.

How to Enter Photography Contests

The Steps To Take To Find And Enter A Contest

Before you even go looking, take a look at your best images, or the body of work you will be drawing from. There you will find the type of contests you can consider. Set up your contest search for that.

Having found a collection to consider, look at the prizes to see if that aspect interests you. Look at the entry fee. Usually it’s between $10 to $35 per image. If there is no fee, be concerned. The old adage of “are you a client or a product” means something here. The way to tell is if you are buying something you are the client, if it’s free to you, you are the product, and this holds true here. Usually if you sift through the fine print you will find they own your images once you enter the contest. In some contests they actually become full copyright owners of the images and you are not supposed to use them again.

Read the Rules and the Fine Print Carefully

You will also want to read the rules carefully for what and how to submit. Wrong submission sizes, or naming of the image, or the wrong image for the contest, will disqualify you with no refund.

Some contests are blatant searches for free advertising images; they will have guidelines out on using their products in the image. Still consider these, just know what it is they want.

You will often find that when a company is sponsoring the contest there is a waiver or release you need to sign that transfers your rights to the company. This will mean the image can no longer be used commercially. If it’s your best shot and you only have a few, you might want to pause before signing up.

How to Enter Photography Contests

About That Image You Chose

It needs to stand out. Your point of view, the impact, the lens and so on, they all need to be different. Ponder for a bit what will the majority of entrants send in. Do something totally different so it stands out.

I remember judging the International Photography Salon for the Calgary Stampede. We had 5,000 images coming through. Now with digital online, the numbers can go even higher. We had submission from members of a Chinese photography club. They had all gone out to a bird sanctuary. On wonderful crane had left its nest with everyone getting the shot literally seconds of each other. We wound up looking at 50 nearly identical images.

Your image will need to stand out. Sometimes you might shoot just for that contest, consider all the stereotypical images that are always taken and don’t do that. Use a different prop or color, etc.

Different Levels of Contests

Some contests will run weekly or monthly but some run once a year; they have a name with status. Generally speaking, the more respected and prestigious a contest is, the more challenging it will be to hang let alone win. Still consider them, just really up your game.

Contests are great, even if you don’t even get accepted. You start to look through the viewfinder more carefully; you start to deeply utilize composition. You will push yourself more. You will become a better photographer.

So do it. Find a few contests that thrill or scare you. Create new, or find the perfect old image, then expose it to the world. See how you do. It is exhilarating and, I should mention, addictive.

Best of luck

PS: One last tip, don’t show your image to judges of the contest; usually they will have to excuse themselves from judging any prints they know who the maker is.

How to Enter Photography Contests

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