There's a huge variety of photography competitions, from your local camera club, to huge global awards and some big prizes if you win. So, how do you win a photography competition, and is there a special formula you can use to reap the rewards?
I've been fortunate enough to be on both sides of the podium, both as a winner on several occasions and as a judge for NPhoto magazine's Photographer of the Year awards. In fact, it was winning a competition about a decade ago that got me seriously interested in following photography as a career, so I know just how impactful they can be for all of us.
So, I've decided to put together a short checklist that you can do each time you enter a competition, whether you're interested in landscapes, portraits, street photography, or anything else. If you have any particularly useful tips you've picked up along the way, feel free to add them down in the comments below to help out others who want to win.
Research Previous Winners
It's important to see what kind of imagery specific photography contests are going for. Fashion photographer of the year probably isn't going to appoint a winner whose subject hasn't thought about the clothes they're wearing. Nor is landscape photographer of the year going to award someone whose horizon is wonky. Look through past winners galleries, and try to find a theme.
Are they all bright, colorful, and full of portraits? Perhaps the judges are looking for gritty street photos that reflect the context of the location. Whatever it is, most competitions have a rough pigeonhole that they aim for when appointing winners.
When I looked at entering the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19, I very nearly didn't bother. It was only due to my partner encouraging me to enter and telling me she thought my image was good that I even sent in the application. I had no idea that a few months later, I'd be traveling to Japan to pick up a gold award. That little seed of doubt could've cost me the whole thing before it even began, so I encourage all photographers to get opinions from others.
Look for Free Entry
There's nothing wrong with paying to enter a competition, especially if there's a good prize at the end of it or a load of cash. But, if you're working on a budget, then there are plenty of free competitions that you can enter and still have a lot of prestige clout behind them. Some great examples of free-entry, prestigious competitions are the Nikon Photo Contest, Sony World Photography Awards, and National Geographic Traveller Photography Competition.
Check These Basic Technical Requirements
First off, you've got to make sure your image is sharp and in focus. Shots that are blurry will often be cast out in the first round of culling. That said, if the purpose behind your photograph is that it's intentionally blurred and it's obvious in the photo, then this is permissible. Next, the shot has to be properly exposed. It must be bright enough to see your subject, and intentional overexposure or underexposure is fine so long as the image is strong enough or requires this adjustment.
Finally, read the entry terms. Normally, competitions ask for relatively low-resolution images in the first instance, so check the resolution, pixel density, file size limit, and file type before entering, and if your image doesn't match up, then convert it in editing software before entering. The same is true for any metadata that's required or whether you're required to shoot on a certain piece of kit or brand of gear. Generally, you're encouraged not to submit watermarked images.
It's a good idea to seek out the opinions of others before ruling out an image, to check your photos meet the eligibility requirements before entering, and to do a little research into the type of competition and its previous winners. This will put you in a good position to win a competition, so long as your image is technically proficient as well as unique or important in its own category.
Main image trophy illustration by Wikirishiaacharya used under Creative Commons.