Saturday, October 6, 2012

Become an Award-Winning Photographer« Back to Article Category

By Nancy Hill

I’d be less than truthful if I said, “Photography contests abound! Your path to fortune and fame! Here’s how to win big!”
However, if you pay attention, you can find numerous photography contests, and you have nothing to lose by entering them. A bonus is that just by entering, you will begin to take a more critical look at your photographs, which will improve your photography skills. You may also win money, some degree of recognition, and will most certainly have bragging rights.
Reasons to Enter a Contest
Whether you’re a pro or amateur, there are a number of good reasons to enter photo contests.
You might win money (always handy, right?).
You will gain recognition (how much depends on the contest).
You will be able to honestly say, “I am an award-winning photographer.”
You will learn more about photography if you create an image for the contest.
If you use an existing photograph from your files, you will look at your images with a more critical eye to determine what to enter. This will help you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses as a photographer.
Finding Contests
Photography contests are pretty easy to find.
Do a search online for “photo contest.”
Peruse the chapter that lists contests in Photographers Market 2007.
Watch your local newspaper. Many papers run at least an annual contest.
Spend some time in your library looking at the latest issues of magazines. If someone is running a contest, they’re likely to publicize it on the front cover.
Check out the photography magazines in chain bookstores like Barnes and Nobles, which has an excellent selection of photo magazines. Many photography magazines run contests every month. The award is usually low in terms of dollars, but having your work printed in a photography magazine is very cool. You can certainly put it in your portfolio.
Check out your local camera stores and the electronics departments in big stores. Again, many run annual contests.
Entering Contests
Read all the rules, all the fine print, every single word. I can’t stress this enough.
Be particularly aware of any requirements that relate to:
Size of print
Type of image (print, transparency, color, black and white, etc.)
Number of entries allowed
Whether or not captions or titles are needed
Model release requirements
When photo was taken (be prepared to provide proof if asked)
Required format. If you are entering a photo for a calendar, for instance, the contest sponsor will specify whether they want a vertical or horizontal layout. No matter how masterful your work, if it’s in the wrong format, it will be disqualified.
Required technology. Film? Digital? Manipulated images?
Winning a Contest
While every judge and every panel of judges is looking for something different, there are some things that matter to everyone looking at entries. You’ll face competition, so sending in something that is “kinda” all right, won’t cut it. Judges want photographs that jump off the page and grab them.
Photos must be sharp unless you have an obvious artistic reason that your image is “soft.”
Photos need to be well composed. Make sure horizon lines are straight. Use the rule of thirds. If your image has unnecessary information in the background, crop the photo (unless the rules don’t allow it).
Photos should be properly exposed. If your highlights are washed out or your shadows are blocked, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. If you can see detail on the negative, make sure the lab printing your work brings that detail out.
Photos should be well-lit. This isn’t just about exposure; photography is about light, so use light well in your photo to create a mood.
Color photos should have the proper color balance, and the colors should work well together. If you’re sending black and white or sepia photos, make sure you pay attention to contrast and tone.
Photos should be high-quality prints that are printed on good paper. Contest sponsors almost always reprint your work, so they want to know that winning entries will print well when reproduced. A great photograph with mediocre printing won’t make the final cut.
Make sure your photograph tells a story. What’s your image about? If you don’t know – if you can’t sum it up in a sentence – it’s unlikely to capture much interest. Simplify your image until it says exactly what you want it to say, no more, no less.
Choose the right category for your photograph. A flower might go under nature, but it could also go under color. A child handing a flower to her mother might be a “person,” but it could also go under “flower.”
Make your image unique. Avoid clichés. Children eating ice cream cones have been done a million times. Think of something original. Show a subject in a new way.
Action is good. The action doesn’t have to be grand – a simple bend in a wheat field as a breeze blows by will be far more dramatic than the wheat standing straight up.
If there are several different categories, there’s no need to limit yourself to just one (unless the rules specify you may only enter once). However, if you can send 10, it’s better to send five excellent images than five so-so ones and five excellent ones. The so-so images will detract from the excellent ones.
Increase Your Odds of Winning
Obviously, the best way to increase your odds of winning is to send a great photograph. That said, there are several other things you can do to improve your chances of winning.
Do your homework. If the sponsor has run contests in the past, check out the winners from previous contests. What do the winning entries have in common?
Try to anticipate which category will get the fewest entries, and submit something to that category. You’ll be competing with fewer images.
If the contest is recurring, like it is in many photography magazines, enter every month.

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