How to Decide which Photo Competition is Best for You

As photographers, we know how difficult it can be to wade through the countless competitions out there to figure out which ones to enter. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of six tips that will help you determine which contests are most worth your time.

Get free hot tips! For further photo competition coaching, download 6 Tips for Entering Photo Competitions.

Filter #1: Work toward your goal

While this is the most basic of our six tips, it might also be considered the most important. When you come across a competition, start by taking a look at the juror(s) and finding out what prizes or awards the competition offers. Do they align with your personal goals?

If you’re solely “in it to win it,” cash money and/or gifts may likely be enough. However, should you want to jump-start or advance your career in photography, you will want to confirm that the reward includes some kind of exposure. Want both the prize and the ongoing recognition? Find a well-rounded contest that acknowledges various goals and offers all of the above.

Filter #2: Know their vision

After you take note of your own objectives in entering a competition, you’ll want to take a deeper look at the hosts to learn what their goals are. Do they provide detailed information about how the contest works, as well as what’s expected of you? Or do they just request your credit card information and ask you to submit your image(s)?

If you encounter the latter, the organization is most likely in the business to make a profit. This means the fees they collect will go toward prizes, with the rest going into their pockets.

If your goal is just to win a prize, you may be okay with this. However, should you want more out of the competition, move on and align yourself with an organization whose vision is compatible with yours. This may mean you’re looking for an organization that positions itself as a year-round resource with offerings that are important to you.

Again, there is no right or wrong decision here; we just want you to be sure that your time and money are being invested into the right organization for you.

Filter #3: Be aware of “free”

There are hundreds of competitions that will let you participate at no cost – but are they really free? The fact is, the old adage, “nothing in life is free,” applies to more of these zero-dollar contests than you may think. Scan the fine print of these so-called free events, and you may find that they plan to own the rights to your image and may even sub-license them to third-party companies for their use, too! This means that as you consider entering this contest, you’ll also want to evaluate whether winning that free camera bag you’ll use for a few years is worth losing the rights to your image forever.

On the other hand, the entry fee that you balk at paying will, in many cases, pay off in the end. Those charging an entry fee typically invest that into their competitions, to finance reputable jurors, various promotions (e.g., marketing your selected images) and celebratory events (exhibitions!) – all while allowing you to maintain ownership of your work. So before you skip over a contest simply because they charge an entry fee, look into where that money goes, and remember how you can benefit from what is typically a small investment in the grand scheme of things.

Filter #4: Calculate the costs

Sure, the only fee written in the contest instructions is the entry fee, but have you truly understood the fine print? Exactly what else will you be responsible for?

For example, if the competition will host a physical exhibit to showcase the selected images, will they provide the frame or expect you to frame the work yourself? Who is responsible for the shipping charges, both to and from the venue? You may notice that they will require you to supply the hardware, but not disclose the related fees in detail. Therefore, you’ll need to review the information carefully so that you can determine what it is you’re really going to end up spending to participate in the contest.

Filter #5: Be truly recognized

You can usually count on a competition to post the selected images on their website. However, in today’s digital world, seeing your image on a website might not be as exciting to you as seeing your image on a gallery wall, where people can experience your winning print in person.

Picture your photo perched atop that bright white wall for hundreds to gaze at in awe. Even better, imagine the chance to mingle with photographic peers and industry professionals, discussing your inspiration for the image, making important contacts and getting invaluable advice. Being part of a physical exhibition can give you networking opportunities that might be otherwise difficult to come by, so you want to be sure that you keep this in mind when deciding which competitions are worth your time.

Filter #6: Stay exposed

So, you’ve found a contest that’s going to praise your work all over the Internet, but have you looked into just how long you’ll be featured? Many competitions will remove all traces of your win shortly after the contest is over, in order to make room for the latest and greatest group of participants. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are hosts out there who remain interested in positioning themselves as a partner and trusted source to all of their selected photographers, no matter the year. If this is important to you, it may be a better option to align yourself with a competition that will continue to showcase your photograph(s) long after you’ve won.

Next Step: Set up your shot

We hope that these six filters help you determine which of the innumerable photo competitions out there truly promise to meet your needs. Once you choose one that’s right for you, you’ll need to consider how to make your entry stand out and increase your chances of success. Download Six Tips for Entering Photo Competitions for more words to the wise from ONWARD.

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