The Genuine Side of Photography Contests

Why should I participate or not in photography contests? How to succeed or fail? The struggle of the Ego, The truth behind the contests, and some Judge tips to get awards and/or international ranking

To contest or not to contest, that is the question!

At least the one that we are going to analyze in this post :) From an early age I have admired rankings! They are great, aren't they?... The fastest man on earth, the movie director who got two academy awards, the 50 richest people in the world, the great restaurant behind the corner with one Michelin star, etc etc etc...

I don’t deny that when I first ran for a competition in high school I arrived 2nd, and I was unhappy! Yes, unhappy! Why? Because I was not the best, just the second best hahaha. This makes me laugh now that I’m an adult, I perceive it differently :-) Besides that, in my life I participated in a lot of contests, actually until last year that I realized that is time for me, to think more about me and my photography instead of participating, if you know what I mean. But let me share with you more about my experience with the contests!

In the last five years, the contests (specially the international wedding contests) helped me to expand my brand in a different scale, not just locally but internationally

Thanks to contests I met many people, as educator I taught to amazing students (to teach is one of the things I love the most), I got new clients, I traveled a lot, and sometimes I felt as one of the bests.

Yes, here it is, when the black sheep comes:

the EGO

Yes, it’s still yourself and it is supposed to be your friend, but sometimes the ego is not nice and it can make it seem like you feel bigger than you are. Everyone, I guess, have had a bad feeling about the ego in the past (or maybe now). Ego can be tricky, right? But this is not a post about ego, it’s about the good side of contests, so please let’s keep on track ;-)

Thanks to my career path I’ve had the privilege to judge for associations, contests and conferences. Sometimes I’ve judged physical prints, carefully printed assembled and prepared by the owner, sometimes I took a look at more than 15,000 photos. I really enjoy the process and I learn a lot from the participants, every time.

One thing is sure, there is so much outstanding talent around the world!

There are many photography competitions in the world today, some legitimate, some really amazing year after year, others less serious, some active since ever haha, some born yesterday... But just remember: The fact you win a prize does not make you a better photographer, absolutely! You're still the same photographer as you were yesterday, but with an extra award. Your work is more recognized now, really congratulations. But tomorrow I still will treat you as yesterday.

This is a talk I've had many times with different colleagues in photography; So I decided it was nice to share with you two big topics about contests:

The first part, talking about the reason why you should participate. I won’t entry of course in details of any special contest, because each contest has different rules, a different score method, different prizes, takes place every two weeks or yearly, etc. So the factors to judge an image is precise and determined for each contest.

The second part is about some tips to get some awards. Oh yeah, if I can help, is my pleasure. I mean, to share which are the things that I’m valuing more when I’m judging a photo and the key points to what a great photograph should have.

Let’s start!

P.S. The photos of this post, they are not winning photos :-)

— PART |

SHOULD I PARTICIPATE IN THE PHOTOGRAPHY CONTESTS and WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?

The reasons are several and none is more important than another, so here they are in no particular order:

Better SEO

From the point of view of SEO (search engine optimization), an association, directory or online community website with a high Alexa ranking will generate quality visits to your site because each click worths more than more clicks from sites with a lower page rank.

Getting traffic from a high quality website will give your own site more importance, at the eyes of Google

Your mom or husband linking to your site from Facebook is not as good as a link to your site from the New York Times :) The credibility and objectivity is very different, right? LOL.

If you're lucky to have one or more contest winning photos placed in a contest, you will rank higher on the directory pages of the sites

Let’s say you are a 2nd place overall, your name will appear before someone that is in 21th place, right? Maybe only for the first three winners there is a link to their websites or portfolio. So, What is the consequence of this?... For example, if a person searches on Google for "best commercial photographer Mexico" the links that appear first are usually the photographic community, associations or directories. And there is a difference for people searching for "best commercial photographer Mexico" and others searching for “comercial photographer Mexico city”. We all know the more specific the search terms and phrases, the more specific the results will be.

If a client find you in a directory of commercial photographers because he/she was searching for "the best", this customer may give a higher value to the idea of “rankings” than a customer who prefers to listen to the experience and personal recommendations of a close person such as a friend.

Of course the fact that you are in a directory as "The best" it doesn't absolutely mean you are. Many associations use these keywords for SEO and Marketing strategies. And the worst of this is that we are overpopulated by award winning contests and best photographers.

In the other hand, you don’t have to be happy to receive much traffic from a website you don’t want to, instead of achieving the goal of helping you reach a niche market that is deeply related and identified with your style of photography. Nowadays, there are so many directories only looking for money... at least they are very easy to distinguish.

More diffusion, more bookings

Having a picture placed in a great directory, re-posted by a particular "someone" or just having an amazing diffusion thanks to the contest results, it will probably help you get in touch with potential customers.

Some people looks for a particular vision or art, instead sometimes they just ask who is the best

And it doesn’t matter how much you trust the association or the festival or whatever it is, they just say that, in a large scale, you’re the best. Only for them, but if many people trust them, you will be the best for them too. Can you see my point here? So be prepared on receiving more traffic to your website :-)

Improve Your Photography

Taking part in competitions can make you feel alive, photographically speaking. The contests can test you, challenge you, and make you understand if your pictures are different from the ordinary. You understand rules (some will be new, some so wrong, some will make you understand the criteria of objectivity).

Besides, it is always good for yourself to analyze your own photographs

And this, trust me it really helps! Be humble but hungry about your passion, never lose the compass.

Networking

If I were you, I wouldn’t miss the chance to take advantage to have award winning photos. Showcasing your work to the world may help to book more jobs and to meet new friends and fellow photographers from around the world.

To participate in contest is not just about to win, it’s about all the process and the conscience of being part of something bigger than just a prize

And during all the process of analyzing the contest conditions itself, seek at past winners, start to google their names and learn about them, etc etc.. During all this process there is so much to understand.

That’s why community is a key part of participating

Every one should add their own grain of sand trying to build something great. And it doesn’t matter how big or small is a particular community, be humble to learn and be a better photographer every day.

— PART ||

WHAT DOES A JUDGE LOOKS FOR IN A CANDIDATE WINNING PHOTO?

Would like to share with you guys a few simple tips to let you understand, what does a judge looks for in a candidate winning photo and the details you should look out for, when submitting images to a competition.

I iterate that these are my personal points of view. These are not rules you must follow and it may even go against what you believe to be true. Nevertheless, I hope that you find my tips helpful in any possible way.

Here we go!

Again, in no particular order:

Have a purpose in your shot

The “HOW” is important, however the “WHY” is crucial!

Edit your photos correctly

So many pictures nowadays are maybe not awarded because of the extreme retouch, or vignette, or HDR, or just the abuse of the dodge & burn technique and the selective color technique.

The picture may be great with complete aesthetics, but it may not look real at all due to the overdone retouch


Apply a proper editing method

Similar to the previous point, but this trend is so big that it looks like a new school were born in the black and white photos.

Please don’t erase the background painting it with black

It’s ugly. Is very easy to notice in a fraction of a second when a photo had been heavily edited. And it’s so unethical. Although you have a nice moment-driven candid photo, converting it into Black & White doesn’t always help the photo to tell the story right.

Crop accurately

Compose well, and if necessary, crop the photo right or accurately. A good composition by itself has a great huge factor in the overall impression. Keep the key elements in the right place, think about lines, perspective, shadows...

Before to expose, I prepare my frame. I highly prefer an underexposed photo with a nice composition straight from camera, than a perfect exposure but with a bad composition

Does it make sense?

Enhance the moment

If the moment is priceless, it doesn’t mean that the picture itself will be fantastic, either. Work harder to make with a great moment a better image.

Create unique photos

We all see many deja-vu at contests, kind of photos seen and seen before.

Think more & different to make a great moment unique, with a strong storytelling! I know it is not easy.

It’s always a challenge to see the same things in a different way

I hope you like challenges, They are your friends! That’s why it’s not easy to win an award, judges look for the best! ... And if it were easy, please change of contest ;-)

symmetry is symmetry

Are you doing symmetry? ok, great. Do it with perfect symmetry, not just 90%; because then it’s not symmetry.

Identify your winner shot

If you are sending individual photos as single entires (not collection of photos for the same story): Don’t send two or three photos of the same exactly scene. Just choose the best one! You are competing with yourself, however the main idea is to compete with other colleagues :-) So, choose the best option for that particular scene, and the best for the next scene, and so on.

Find your real voice in your photos

Don’t try emulating the skills of your idols, you just can’t. Copying the original doesn’t make your photo better than the original. You are more than welcomed to be inspired by them, but make sure to put your own voice in all your photographs.

As always, hope this is good information for you.

See you around!

D.

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