Note: I may not be the most qualified person to discuss this topic but the purpose of this blog is to share my thoughts and give some tips and advise based on my personal experiences after joining several photography competitions the last two years.
A short background of myself:
I've started my photography journey around mid 2015 through a help of a friend when i am still base in Singapore. He taught me to operate my DSLR camera and the basics of capturing cityscape during blue hour. In early 2016, I joined local photography competition in Melbourne out of curiosity, and even though I didn't get the grand prize, I won the Competition's Peoples Choice Award. Fast forward, i joined in different photo competitions both locally and international, and although with mixed results, I still got some fair share of winnings.
My notable awards can be found here: https://www.edwinvmangabat.com/awards
What are the available photography competitions?
Joining a photography club is one of the best ways to improve your skills, competitive drive, and gives an added motivation to shoot more. Its a venue for meeting people who shares same passion and interest as yours (expect a lot more interactions and great way to meet friends and networks). In most cases, there will be a regular competitions held in the camera club (joining fee is "free" in general) and members will regularly compete and get rewarded for their efforts.
I'm currently a member of Toowoomba Photographic Society (TPS), one of the oldest camera club in Queensland Australia that was formed on 22 May 1905. I was immediately promoted to "A" grade member couple of months ago after joining the club in 2016 (starting from "B" grade) and had received few photographic awards. I became the Photographer of the year of TPS in 2018.
Photographic Society & Salons
This includes Fédération Internationale de l'Art Photographique (FIAP), Photographic Society of America (PSA), Australian Photographic Society (APS) among others. By joining to various competitions offered by this organisations and by accumulating enough points (winnings, acceptances and merits), you will get a chance to apply and received photographic skill honours including AFIAP, LAPS, AAPS, FAPS, MAPS, GMAPS & APSEM (honours may be different from each country).
Generally, the entrance fee for Photography Salons is quite cheaper compared to other 'Photography Competitions'. It is also open to all photographers (hobbyist and professionals) around the world. If you managed to receive an awards, your images will be included in exhibitions, and medals/ ribbons together with printed catalogues will be emailed to your nominated address.
You can search available salon competitions around the world through FIAP search engine:
Check this link for further details: http://davidcandlish.photography/news/2015/4/13/a-beginners-guide-to-the-world-of-photography-salons
Competitions that are owned by Professional Organisation and exclusively for its members
This type of competition are exclusive only to the members of a professional photographic body. One example is the annual "Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA)" of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP).
Open Photography Competitions
Below are examples of photo competitions (owned by private group) which are open to all aspiring amateurs and professionals around the world:
- Hossein Farmani Group (Lucie): IPA, MIFA, TIFA, PX3, BIPA - https://farmanigroup.com/
- David Evans and/or Peter Eastway: Epson Pano Awards, The International Landscape Photographer of the Year (ILPTOY), Better Photography of the Year
- Basil O'Brien: Black and White Spider Awards, International Color Awards
- Others: Siena Awards - https://sipacontest.com; Sony World Photography Awards, etc.
Social Media Based Competitions
This includes Facebook Groups competitions, 500px, Viewbug, etc. I'm not generally keen in joining this type of competitions but it was definitely a good platform for networking, finding connections/ friends, and asking timely feedbacks/ CC for your images. Also, joining competitions in social media is generally free of charges (except for some cases on which you need to register and upgrade your membership).
Is it really worth your time, effort, and money?
True story. In 2016, I didn't spent a single centavo in joining photography competitions but won a total of $1,850 dollars. While in 2017, I've won a 'lot' of awards in numerous Local and International Photography Competitions and have spent close to $1,000, but got nothing except PDF copy of winners certificates and a 'virtual' tap on my back.
So is it really worth it?
For monetary point of view, the answer is NO. Unless you're a gifted photographer who can create amazing, creative, and out of this world images that can impress any and all type of judges, the chances to win in global platform is quite tough due to sheer number of entries and the diversity of images and talents submitted globally.
In some cases, winning locally is even more tougher if your portfolio is mostly taken within your country. Most of the judges may have seen it all! The best and creative version of the subject. Hence, they might already set a high standards on that subject (especially the icons - the horseshoe bend, Wanaka tree, Kirkjufell in Iceland, etc.), and your entries may be rated lower than what you have expected. The challenge is how you present the subject or the locations in a different way.
Also, keep in mind the existence of some dubious money making competitions group. You must be careful and check the legitimacy of any photography competitions that you are entering.
But why joining a photography competitions (especially the paid ones)?
The reasons can be personal and depends from person to person. If you're already an established or professional photographer, joining competitions might not appeal to you anymore. It can be a waste of your time and money already. If you've joined several competitions in the past, maybe you have already adopted the motto "been there, done that".
If you search on Google you can find lots of articles and opinions about entering competitions (both positives and negatives).
Why do photographers likes to enter in a photo competition?
The obvious reason is of course to win. It can be an individual goal and it’s good to have a professional judges to look at and acknowledge your work. And the fact that the competition is usually blind (anonymous) means that you know that the judges aren’t just ‘being nice’ (no dramas, biases, sensationalism, or added considerations because you are popular professional photographer, or similar things)
Joining photography competitions are a great way to improve your personal photography. It can help you to raise your standards as a photographer given that your image will be seen by a respectable group of judges and possibly even displayed along with other notable winners. Joining competitions will also build your confidence and give you chance to evaluate your works in a more objective way. Most of the time its not about the results but the journey and experience. It builds your resilience and boost your competitive spirit. You'll learn something about yourself, no matter what the results might be, passed or failed.
How to improve your changes in winning a photo competitions?
1. Start with having the right mindset
Be competitive. You must compete to win period, no ifs and buts. Submit your best available images in the competition. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst so you don't end up disappointed. Remember that there are lots of competitive, skilled, and talented photographers out there (just like you), and that the judges background and preference may vary.
2. Planning and preparation
Make a quick research on the judges background and photographic style (if available)
Knowing what the judges wants and preference will give you some edge and insights on what images might work and which one might not. Go to their profile or website and browse their portfolios.
Read the competition rules
This is pretty much self explanatory. You don't want to get disqualified because by not following the rules of the competitions. This normally states the dimension of the image, coverage of the date on which your image was taken, image size, post processing restrictions, etc.
Read the fine print
In most competitions, if you win then they have permission to use your images for their marketing and promotions. This would be a fair deal, a prize and publicity is good trade-off. Beware on those competitions that will require you to surrender the copyrights of your submitted entries to them. Don't be fooled!
Check the galleries of the past years winners
How do you think your images will stack against the past winning images? This will give you some hint and potentially helps you to gauge your chances of winning (and what images from your portfolios to submit).
Set your budget and stick with it
Its a very expensive exercise if you don't stick to your budget.
3. Capturing and entering images that win
Pre-visualisation, execution, post processing, and creativity. These are the basics but the most important things. You may have all the planning and information in the world, but at the end of the day, its all between your image and judges. While you have full control over images that you will enter in the competitions, you have no control over what other photographers will enter! The images that you have entered might be great, but it only takes one other photographer to enter an image that’s slightly better, and your dreams of winning are crashed.
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4. Mastering your post processing techniques
If you observed most of the winning images, you will find that most of them are masterly post processed. A seasoned and veteran judges can strictly analyse your images, identify the techniques that you have applied, your level of post processing skills, your cleverness, and your over all creativity.
Another controversy in a competition is some people believe that unless they use an editing software like Photoshop, they could never win a photography competition. And whether a straight shots have any chance of beating a composite shots.
At the end of the day, judging is subjective. Up to you to decide whether to join or not. Always trust your guts and instinct. When post processing, focus on aesthetics part, ensure that your images is not over processed, and that your post processing is "invisible".
5. Improve your changes of winning
The real question here is, "what makes a winning photograph"?
A really tough question indeed. What looks good to you may not be good to the judges and might score low in a competition. Your image with the most "likes" in FB may not be liked by a trained and expert eyes. As I've said, its all about opinions. Personally, I would pick the single comment or like from artist/ photographer that really inspired me (most especially if he don't know me personally or we don't have any connections at all) than a thousand likes from general social media viewers. Well unless you wanted to market yourself for potential business in the future then getting 1000 organic likes might help your business strategy (but its a different story).
The point here is, your "art and style" should not be influenced by number of likes in social media, or higher pulse in 500px, etc. because you might be forced to create something just to please your followers and general audience. If you can create something that you're very proud, and the same time liked by your followers and people in social media in general, then its a win-win situation for you.
This image got 900+ likes in the social media but doesn't perform well in a competition.
You will soon find out that there are certain images in your current portfolio that will do well in a photo competitions. A competition material!
Choose your battles
Pick a competition that is suited or matched with your chosen genre and styles of photography. Early this year, i joined a photography competitions that focus mostly on "Art". I know, my chance to win is close to 0% given the style of my photography but have sent two images anyways for the sake of joining.
The results turns out to be like what i have expected in the first place. My two images were not included in the short listed entries =) https://www.mga.org.au/bowness-prize/gallery-2017
Unless you have extra money (and really confident), don't enter your images to photo journalism or portraits category, if your specialty is landscape photography. Whether to join under in Amateur category or Open/ Professional category is your choice and based on your status as a photographer.
Recently, i've joined a competition that is more into photo journalism and street photography type (lensculture). How they view my portfolios is different from my own take and perceptions given that i'm more into landscape photography and fine art photography, but i will take the comments nevertheless.
6. Send images that impress the judges
But how are you going to do that? According to Peter Eastway of Better Photography, "it depends on who the judges are, what the judges do, and where they live and travel. And what other photos they have seen, what they are interested in, what happened to them as children. Photographs of unusual or special subjects which are not generally seen will have more appeal than the commonplace. This is human nature. Judges are (normally) human. Of course, something that is unusual for you may be common for the judge – you simply can’t know everything about the judge. And similarly, a photograph of the commonplace presented in a different or special way can astound the judge simply because it is so common!"
If you're truthful and have self-awareness on the quality of your images, you can gauge whether your images will have a great chance to impress the judges. If possible, you can seek for advise/ opinions from your fellow photographers about your images (mock judging and critiques).
Now, its time to evaluate your results!
What do results really mean to you?
According to Peter Eastway, a low score from a panel of judges may mean one of three things: "Your photo is only worth a low score and you need to improve; Your photo is not suitable for a competition (it might be good, but it’s not special in any way – others have taken photos just like it); or one judge might have loved it, but the others didn’t and so you missed out."
Photography competitions is very subjective and the judges are obviously human. At the end of the day, its all about a matter of opinion.
Learn from the judges' comments and feedbacks (refer to samples below):
Before (Milky Way Reflections)
Reprocessed after considering the judges comments
Joining photography competitions should be something that you do for enjoyment and to improve your skills, and if you happen to win, that’s a bonus for you. Whatever the results, try your best to keep everything in perspective. Any regrets and disappointments should be short lived. Don't take the results seriously to the point that it affects your mental health or gave you anxiety. There is more to life than photography =)