Photography competitions may seem scary, but there’s no reason that you can’t start entering them right away. Many new photographers avoid entering competitions, claiming that they will start doing so ‘when they are better at photography.’ But everyone must start somewhere, and you can learn a lot about your work, and overcome ruts, by entering competitions. There are also an abundance of amateur competitions, which can be a good place to start if pitting your work against professionals or serious hobbyists is too intimidating.
If you think you’re ready to start entering photography competitions, here are some tips on increasing your chances of bringing home the gold ribbon!
Tip #1: Read the Rules
This may seem obvious, but it’s really important. Read the rules thoroughly and completely. Make sure that what you’re submitting is in line with the themes and guidelines of the competition. Does it fit the brief? Make sure that you are submitting your work in the correct format (digital or print), as well as having the correct resolution/colour space/file type) too, and that you have it sized and named correctly. If you don’t read the rules and your entry doesn’t comply, there’s no way you can win!
Tip #2: Do Your Research
Look up the images of past winners and finalists and study their work. Was there a particular look or feel to the winning shot? Did it have a sense of drama, or was it a piece that played on your emotions? Looking at a range of images that have won the same competition in the past will give you an idea of what the judges are looking for. The aim here is not to copy someone else's work, but to use similar techniques or aesthetics in order to increase your chances of winning.
Tip #3: Be Technically Correct
Only submit your very best image! Are your horizons crooked unintentionally? Straighten them up! Focus not quite hitting the mark? Don’t use it! Underexposed by 3 stops? Pick another photo to enter! Say you’ve taken a brilliant image of your niece with her huge eyes full of tears and a super shallow depth of field which really hones in on the face, but the focus is on her ears and not her eyes. The judges aren’t going to care how perfectly you captured this raw human emotion if you haven’t nailed the focus.
Tip #4: Take More Than One Shot
Think of the competition as a work in progress, and keep developing your idea. It might take you two, three, or even ten different shoots to get it exactly right both technically and creatively. Don’t just submit the first image that you take thinking ‘that will do.’ Try to really analyse your shot and improve it before sending it in.
Tip #5: Shoot Something New
Use the competition as an opportunity to shoot something new. Working to a brief can be fun, and allows you to develop new concepts and ideas. It also allows you to be specific, and create an image that fits the brief perfectly (read Tip #1.) This is much more exciting and beneficial than trying to flip through your old images in the hopes that you’ll find one that fits the brief.
Tip #6: Give Yourself Time
Make sure to give yourself enough time to capture and submit your image, so that you don’t have to rush it in order to meet the competition deadline. Ensure that you allow time for printing, if required, or postage. It’s a good idea to give yourself a buffer, just in case unforeseen bumps occur along the way (eg: your computer crashes, or your print lab has a backlog and needs a few extra days.)
Tip #7: Be Original And Interesting
Let your personality show. Approach the concept or theme of the competition from a different angle, or give it a quirky twist. Coming up with an original idea will make your work stand out from the rest of the entries, and the judges will be more likely to notice it. Just make sure that your idea still fits within the guidelines of the competition.
Tip #8: Get An Outsider’s Perspective
It’s hard to look at our own work objectively, as we become emotionally attached to our images, or to the time or occasion at which we took them. So before submitting your work, show it to someone else to get a different opinion. Ask them to give constructive criticism, and don’t allow yourself to get offended or defensive – they are trying to help you! Put yourself in the judge's’ shoes. Does the image really fit the theme, or are you just hoping that it does. Is it really your best work, or do you just like it because it was the first time you used a new lens?
Photo Competitions in Australia
The Canon Light Awards
This is a monthly competition where you can win Canon vouchers and receive feedback if you're one of the finalists, with Student and Open categories. They have an annual winner too. Visit the website for more information.
Viewbug has a wide range of competitions with different themes running at various times, with some really amazing prizes on offer such as cameras and camera equipment, photography workshops and cash. Take a look at their website to see what's open at the moment.
There are monthly and annual winners announced for this contest, where you upload your holiday photos to suit the themes to have the chance to win travel vouchers. You can enter five photos each month to increase your chance of winning. Be sure to read the rules on their website before you take your next trip so you can participate!
Of course there is also the Photoh Photography Challenge which has different themes every fortnight and is open to people of all skill levels who attend our classes and/or are members of our Facebook groups.