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If you’re looking for avenues that will gain more exposure for your work, photo contests can offer a wide range of opportunities in all genres. Along with the added notoriety can also come some fantastic monetary gains! For beginning photographers, contests will give you the chance to see how your work holds up against the competition. Be wary however since many photo contests only serve to generate money for the contest promoters with high entrance fees. Thankfully the Artist’s Bill of Rights Campaign handles reviewing photography competitions to make sure they adhere to ethical standards and copyright laws. 

Choosing Which Contests to Enter

There’s a plethora of contests out there. Sifting through which contests to enter takes time. Obviously there are the big, annual competitions held by publications like Communications Arts and organizations such as National Geographic they you’ll want to keep in your radar. Here are a few sites to check out to find a wide range contests and determine which suit you the best:

You’ll also want to try these two methods:

Find smaller, boutique contests

Find out how the long the contest has been accepting entries and how many entries they’ve received to date.

Choose obscure themed contests

A quick fix is to enter a photo you’ve already shot that will fit a contest’s theme. However, the quirkier themed contests will require going out and shooting specific images. A lot of photographers will not want to put in the extra effort. Be pro-active, create some new work and increase your chance of winning your first contest! 

Must Do’s For Photo Contests

Know the Competition’s Rules

Find out how the images will be used. You don’t want give away all your permission rights and find your images popping up all over the place. Also, adhere to number of entries allowed, format, size, etc. otherwise you could just be wasting your time.

Do Some Research

Look at previous year’s winners. This will avoid submitting similar images and will clue you in on what the judges are seeking. If it’s a sponsored competition check out the company’s branding to give you further insight into their ideal image style. If you’re lucky, the contest will publish the judges names. Look into their background to see what might draw their attention to your submissions.

Be Technically Spot On

Don’t settle for just good enough because they judges certainly won’t. If your gut instinct tells you that you can produce better work – get out and reshoot.

Stick to the Theme

Judges will be viewing hundreds if not thousands of entries so you’ll want to avoid clichés in order to stand out. Determine what other photographers typically shoot around the contest’s them (do a little research on the Internet). Now choose unusual compositions (break the rules if necessary), select compelling subjects and feature striking colors.

And, don’t make the judges do all the work and submit a photo that vaguely matches the theme. While you can leave room for creative interpretation, there’s only so far the judges will stretch the theme of the competition.

Avoid These Contest Traps

Don’t get caught in the trap of shooting just for the goal of winning a photography contest. You’ll ending up losing track of your style and unique point-of-view. At worst, you’ll end up being stuck in “last year’s” look because you’ll be trying to match the prior year’s winners. Here’s some other photo contest traps you’ll want to avoid:

  • Don’t be overly sensitive and take the judges opinion too personally — art is subjective after all.
  • Don’t over manipulate your images or stage a shot when it supposed to be photojournalism or street photography.

Have you been lucky enough to win a contest? Don’t stop there. The thrill of your win will only last so long and you won’t want an award from 5 years ago to be the latest entry on your bio. More importantly, the lessons you learn from shooting to a theme and pushing your creative and technical abilities are worth the extra effort of entering contest year round. 

 

Cheryl Woods

Cheryl Woods is an accomplished photographer, designer and branding consultant with a career spanning 20+ years. Her photographic work includes editorial, fashion, portraiture and product photography for major companies in the consumer products field including QVC and Hanover Direct. She received a B.F.A. in Photography from the University of the Arts and an M.F.A. in Media Design from Full Sail University. Cheryl's work has been exhibited at the Lowes Museum of Art in Coral Gables, FL, The New York Independent Film Festival and the Rosenwald Wolf Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. Check out her website here!

 

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