Let’s face it. Posting images to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are great for sharing your travels, keeping up with friends and the occasional back slapping. However, if you truly want to challenge your photography skills, entering contests is a perfect way to hone your techniques.
Contests attract the best talent in photography. Submitting to a contest will force you to look at your competition, evaluate your own work and be critical of images you submit. Although this can be daunting, the rewards are often worth it. Not only can you win great prizes (often cash, gear and trips), but you also will be able to gain exposure for your work and recognition from industry peers.
So, what does it take to win the next photo contest? There are no surefire answers, but here are ten tips to help you along the way!
- Technical proficiency. Everyone has a camera. More than likely, you have several, including the camera on your phone. You do not need to be a professional photographer with expensive equipment to create award winning photos. However, you do need to know how to use your camera to create images that are technically sound. At a minimum, photos should be in focus (at least in the primary subject areas), exposed properly (no blown out skies) and show a high level of compositional expertise.
- Be unique. Most photography competitions today select winners based largely on the uniqueness of their images. You do not need to travel to some unknown locale to create unique images, but it does take effort and forethought. If you submit an image from an uber popular location like Horseshoe Bend, you aren't increasing your chances of winning. Try to explore new compositions, different times of day or night, and incorporating people or animals as subjects, etc.
- Enter contests regularly. There are a number of photo contests on the internet today, both free and paid for every theme imaginable. To find the best open contests, you can use a site like Photo Contest Insider.Use a spreadsheet or calendar to make note of contests and deadlines. Prepare images for each contest ahead of time so you have ample opportunity to select the most appropriate images for the contest. Try setting a goal of entering a certain number of contests each month, and you are bound to improve!
- Stick with the theme. This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you are taking the time to enter a contest, make sure that you read and understand the theme and/or genre. These themes can often be ultra specific. It doesn’t increase your chances of winning by entering images that don’t fit the theme. If the theme is “Winter Wonderland,” you better make sure your image has snow or ice.
- Only your best work. Once you have determined which contests are the best fit for your work, it is time to pick images to enter. Photographers usually have their own favorite images, but those may not be the most well received by the public or judges. A best practice is to look at the past winners of the specific contest you want to enter. This will give you an idea of the type of imagery that does well in that contest. Go back and look at your images and select a handful that seem to fit with the style of past winners.
- Up your odds. A great way to increase your chances of winning is to enter multiple images into a contest that fits your interests. Many sites offer a discount for multiple entries, which is a great way to maximize your investment.
- Write a meaningful description. You may have a pretty photo, but what does it mean to you? Tell the judges about how you took the photo, what challenges you faced or how the moment felt when you clicked the shutter. A story can help elevate the photo from good to great!
- Ask peers for feedback. As part of a continual learning process, try working with a friend or peer to critique each other’s images. This is an opportunity to grow and improve your work, even if it seems uncomfortable at first. Having another set of eyes on your work will help you refine your vision in many ways. Discuss composition, color harmony, contrast, light quality and more.
- Have your portfolio reviewed. If you want to take your work to the next level, try having a portfolio review done. Many contests offer a portfolio (or single image) review done by its judges. You can also reach out to a photographer you admire and see if they would be open to working with you on this. These reviews will be to the point, with a very objective mindset.
- Stay Positive. You aren’t going to win every contest you enter, but that does not mean that your photos aren’t great! Just keep those creative juices flowing and focus on continuous improvement.