There’s less than a month left to enter our annual photo contest The World We Live In. We are looking forward to seeing your images! And we also know from our survey that there are a good number of you out there who considered entering last year…but didn’t. Some people thought about it, but hesitated (or procrastinated?) and just didn’t get it done. Some people just chickened out, but wished they had entered. If you fall into either of these categories, you aren’t alone. But I’d like to encourage you to go for it this year.
Yes, it is intimidating to try something new, and I totally understand that risking “failure” is scary. But I personally think the biggest risk in life is not failure, but never having tried something that you actually wanted to do. Maybe you dream of taking a flying trapeze class, or maybe you’re in the group that wanted to submit to The World We Live In and chickened out, but I think part of what makes life exciting is trying new things and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and just into the zone a little beyond what you think you are capable of. You never know—you might discover you are capable of more than you would have imagined and what you discover on the journey might be pretty spectacular!
Why you should participate in photo contests…
• You’ll become a better photographer. Comparing your work with that of others will help you refine your artistic process and improve your skills. Often what makes one image stronger than another are details and nuances.
• It’s a great opportunity to edit your images. Going through your photos with a clear objective in mind—and then choosing the right ones to submit—will offer you a fresh point of view on your work.
• Art should be shared. Don’t keep your art in a cage; set it free! Be proud of your creations, and show the world what you can do.
• Receiving recognition for your work is beneficial. Focus on competitions that have a panel of judges to select winners. If photography is how you want to earn your living, target contests that offer professional recognition. Awards make an impact on a resumé.
• It can nourish your creativity. Use the photo contest themes as inspiration to get out there and capture new shots.
• Why not? You think you’re not good enough? Nonsense! Even if you dedicate only a small portion of your free time to photography, you should have at least one photo that’s worth entering in a contest. One thing is certain: if you do not participate, you will not win.
How to prepare (and increase your chances of winning too)
• Do some research on the various types of photo contests out there. Choose to submit to the most appealing in terms of prizes, recognition and personal challenge.
• Mark your calendar. Knowing deadlines in advance will leave you plenty of time to choose and edit your images.
• Inform yourself about the rules and regulations before entering a photo contest, and carefully follow the instructions. Avoid contests that seem unclear or disrespectful of your rights as a photographer.
• Do not add your watermark or signature in the image you want to submit. This is usually distracting and will interfere with the overall quality of your work. Moreover, a photo contest selection process should be anonymous—you don’t want any of the judges saying, “Hey, this one’s from my friend Alex,” do you?
• Avoid overdoing it in Photoshop. Good photo editing shouldn’t show. An adjustment that gets pushed over the top can completely ruin your image, so moderation is key.
• Make your selection process fun. Invite a friend or two over to review the images you are considering submitting. You’ll have a great time and get some fresh critiques.
• Flip through your images in thumbnail size. If an image still has impact at that size, it’s probably a good one.
• Respect the provided themes. If a photo doesn’t correspond well with the themes, save it for another contest.
• Consider your audience and choose appropriate images to submit. For example, if it is a family-friendly contest, the images should be appropriate for young viewers.
• Do not submit three versions of the same image. There is no need to send the vertical version, the one slightly cropped on the right and the black-and-white version of the same image. It won’t help your cause. Choose the best version, and that’s it.
• Touch up your work as necessary by fine-tuning the contrast, sharpness and composition. Pay attention to details—and know when to stop.
• Follow your instinct. Though family and friends can offer valuable feedback, when it comes to the final selection of the images you want to submit, trust your eye and creative intention as the photographer. If one image stands out for you, it probably will for others too.
Of course, if we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes we don’t enter contests because we would rather not know that our images wouldn’t win. But I would suggest that even that (painful) realization has value. Instead of being angry with the judges for not choosing your work, try to learn from the winning images, even if you don’t like some of them. How did these images stand out from the crowd? Are there things you can learn from them about composition, contrast or the way the theme is explored? If you approach it as a learning experience, you can grow from the process, whether or not you win. And over time, the insights you gain will help you improve your work… which is the real goal after all.