Some Tips on Entering Photo Competitions (Not just ONWARD!)

Read the rules and guidelines

Every photo competitions has a different set of regulations, from its theme, to the file size of submissions, to required dimensions of work to be displayed. There’s no sense in wasting your time (and entrance fee!) entering a contest that you’ll get disqualified from for not reading the fine print!

Do your research

Do some research about who is hosting the competition and who the juror is. If a gallery that specializes in documentary work runs the contest, then perhaps your still life work would not be a good fit. Unless, of course, they are looking to mount a show that purposefully varies from their usual repertoire.

Researching previous winners’ work may provide some insight into the type of work that’s typically selected. However, if there is a different juror each year, the style of imagery chosen may vary significantly.

Looking into the juror’s own work may give you an idea of how their tastes run. That said, good jurors can look beyond their own personal preferences and appreciate a variety of styles, so don’t feel you need to emulate his or her past work with your submission.

Select strong individual images

Unless the competition you’re entering is specifically project-based, your photographs will be judged individually. Therefore, you want to select images that have a strong impact when standing alone.

Achieve “impact”

How can you tell if an image has impact? This can be very subjective; however, you do want to ensure that your photograph will stand out from the other submissions, particularly for competitions that are themed.

Images that draw in and engage viewers have impact. Whether it’s through strong composition, exceptional use of light, the creation of a narrative, bold use of color or contrast, or a more intangible feeling – what some people call the “soul” of an image – the ability to visually or emotionally effect the viewer will leave a lasting impression. Although there is no single “right” way to achieve impact with your images, you’ll know it when you see it. And so will the jurors!

Break the rules only after you’ve mastered them

A good juror can tell if you’re bending (or breaking) the rules through choice or ineptitude, so be sure that the images you select showcase your technical expertise, or show that you’re comfortable enough with the rules to make a purposeful and specific decision to deviate from them. Unusual choices can be part of what defines your unique vision, or they can detract from your work if not made with conviction.

Choose images that are exhibition-ready

You may not get the chance to print your photograph between the time that you’re notified of your acceptance and when you need to get the print to the gallery, so only submit images for which you have final prints at the correct size ready to go. This would be a most inopportune time to find out that your local photo supply store is out of paper, the RA-4 machine is down, or the calibration is off on your digital set up, so don’t leave it to chance!

Do you have any other helpful hints to add to the list? Leave your tips in the comments below!

*image by Nigel Bennet, ONWARD ’12 Winner