Does Being an 'Award-Winning Photographer' Actually Carry Any Merit These Days?

Does Being an 'Award-Winning Photographer' Actually Carry Any Merit These Days?

“Award-winning photographer.” Now, more than ever, I see the term popping up in a biography. But I wondered, does it hold any merit in 2018? With so many claiming to have received awards — most of which I’ve never heard of — it’s become a pet peeve of mine. Has the prestige of winning a photography award been diminished?

The problem with competitions and photography in general is that the market has become over-saturated. Contests pop up on a near-daily basis, to the extent it’s almost impossible to keep track of the reputability of individual awards or the boards dishing them out. The credibility of many is questionable at best, given that a large proportion now charge participants to take part.

For some photographers, it’s noted on their site or SEO banner even before their name, which feels like somewhat of a desperate attempt at grabbing the attention of potential customers, as opposed to relying on the strength of their work to book jobs.

What seems to be a recurring theme is the desire to omit the name of which awards have been conquered exactly. It raises concern that these photographers have perhaps won small-time, local honors and are relying on the general public — as potential clients - not being familiar with such awards. In that sense, anyone can be an award-winning photographer.

With all this comes a level of pretentiousness. One of my favorite lines that I’ve lifted from photographers’ bios included quotes about having “the unrivaled reputation.” Another talked of his “wealth of accolades,” while another put it bluntly when he referred to himself as “the best of the best.” All of this feels somewhat wishy-washy, a way of bulking out their About Me page in a largely competitive market. In truth, what is stopping me from listing myself as one of the most prestigious, acclaimed, and in-demand photographers in the UK? At this stage, despite that statement being fabricated and entirely subjective, not much at all.

The truth is, I actually prefer the work of my peers or some of the emerging photographers I’ve discovered through the likes of Instagram than some of the award-winners I’ve come across. One I discovered when conducting research for this article boasted of having over 70 awards to his name, and if I’m being frank, his work, to me, wasn’t anything particularly worthy of note. Adequate, sure. Happy clients, I don’t doubt. Worthy of 70 awards? Debatable.

Me searching for all the awards I don't have.

I recently wrote about Steve Irwin’s photographer son receiving high praise at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards in London. It’s really encouraging to see someone so young have their work highlighted in this way. I highly rate his pictures, especially given his young age, and think he deserves all the attention that’ll follow such a mention. So it’s not to say that award ceremonies are entirely defunct, I just feel they are too heavily relied upon to try and create some sort of false credibility. Photography is subjective, and photographers should be judged on their work, and not the praise of a small board of judges.

I had to ask the question: is there any correlation between winning awards and attracting new clients? In other words, does the average member of the general public with little-to-no photographic experience actively search for a wedding photographer with a series of accolades? From experience, it’s never come up in a topic of conversation with any clients or potential customers. I’m self-taught, and never have I been asked to present my academic achievements or proof of photography education. More often than not, word of mouth and a recommendation from friends will do more for you than any award.

The pictures are what matters. A portfolio and your recent work are what people care about. Everybody has different tastes, and will select a photographer whom they feel represents their style.

Ultimately, it depends what each respective photographer is seeking to attain. But in the digital age, as photography becomes more accessible to the masses, there’s a notable shift away from the importance of winning awards, and thus, you shouldn’t evaluate your success based on how many awards you (haven’t) won.

Lead image credit: Jason Leung on Unsplash.

Photo inset: my own.

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Previous comments
Mr Hogwallop's picture

I think maybe "award winning" is part of the current way of the photography business. When I grew up, the business was pretty much photographers shooting pictures for clients. Could be for wedding clients, corporate, advertising, editorial, but they were clients. Client hires photographer to take photos for money.
That is the old business model. Today there are fewer clients who pay money. Photographers are their own client. It seems that many photographers spend most of the time shooting"content" for their IG feeds looking for likes and followers. A lot of time is spent putting on workshops, reviews and the "Hi Guys!" videos made by every Tom, Dick and Mary for Youtube, some know what they are doing some are just in it as an "influencer" looking for swag, trips and the chance to be a "brand ambassador" spokesmodel. But there's money in it...not really taking pictures but still in the industry

Being an award winning photographer would help in the SEO or the chance of being picked as a master of the photography domain influencer. the organizers of awards also seem to do ok financially..

Yes, I won a few awards but it was a long time ago.

Percy Ortiz's picture

My son gave me a small trophy for Xmas that says "Best Dad" so now i use "award winning Photographer" on my resume ;)

g coll's picture

There are also many of us who prefer to go through our photography career without entering a single competition. Not everyone is looking for recognition but simply to produce great work for our clients. I suspect this is the majority actually.

David Crossley's picture

Unsplash Jack?

Jason Lorette's picture

If for example, National Geographic gave me an award, or Vogue gave me an award I may very well state the fact that I am award winning (maybe) and actually list that award by name. That said, if it's from a local camera shop or something random online, I may say "hey look what happened" on Social Media but it's not going in any "about" pages or the like, that's just silly, to me anyway.

Lisa Morales's picture

I read this with a motherly smirk. At 27, you have no credibility with me on an historical perspective. How do I know you are 27? It's the lead on your bio tagline. Why? Are you responsible for your birthday? In an opinion piece on labels and accomplishments it made me chuckle, in an oldster kind of way. Having only just won my very first camera club competition as a brand new photographer, I take umbrage! Is that single win going on my website, no. But I truly value the opinion of my more experienced and learned fellow club members-some of whom are national judges-and the judge's critique. It's how we learn. Keep doing amazing things young man, you've a long career ahead.

David Neesley's picture

Ahhh the Photo awards. Film festivals on the international level abound, entry's are made in countless categories, attendees show up by the droves, buy a table for for who knows how much for the entire crew. The tension mounts, the nominees are announced, the envelope is opened and you have won "Best in Show" spatters of applause, and you're handed a statuette herded in to a back room for a press photo and come Monday morning, your gold statue graces the shelf in your office.6 months from now it will be used as a door stop, and then put in a card board box. Because it means nothing. Next year every soccer mom on the face of the planet will own the same gear you do, and will be operated in full auto, with no experience and as long as the word PINK appears in your film the worst you can expect is an honorable mention but since the judges are mostly women you're in like Flynn. Movie deals will be offered, budgets of major scale and oh yeah you'll hire all the "GUYS" that were used to win last year. Isn't OJT a marvelous thing?

David Brian's picture

Industry awards in our country has become an absolute joke, In virtually every field. Case in point: the grammys last year, cardi B is the best new artist....of all the talent in this world they give that award to Cardi B?.... That is the best that we can do?

Paul Scharff's picture

I've never sought awards. I look at my client list and bank account and judge my competence and success through them.

Leslie Nicole's picture

I agree with the spirit of what you are saying. I've never bothered entering competitions as I am too busy working and accolades just haven't been important to me. However as I'm launching online & in-person classes and want to start concentrating on selling my own artwork, I'm thinking about starting to enter competitions. Whether valid or not, there is a perception to being introduced as an award-winning photographer to the general public. Recently, I saw a photographer's work featured in a blog post of a photography site and they were introduced as an award winning photographer. Their work was fine, but just fine. It's difficult to be so honest, but I do feel that I'm doing myself a disservice to not put my work at that same level of recognition. With that said, I would hope I will be able to win an award from a meritorious competition. (Like IGPOTY). So, yeah, I'm finally at the point where I have decided it is important to me to have a little bit of external validation.