The Pros and Cons of Photographic Competitions


The rapid and seemingly unstoppable rise of digital photography has also led to the rapid rise of the Photographic Competition. Of course they have been around since photography was invented but in the days of analogue cameras and snail mail most photographers didn’t bother. Of course these days we can easily fire of images to hundreds of competitions electronically, often without much prior though as to what we might be doing. In this article we will have a look and what you might gain and equally importantly what you might lose by entering competitions.

Why You Should Enter Photography Competitions

Of course the reason that sticks out is recognition. We all, as photographers, have a deep longing to be recognized by our peers for having a great eye and expert control of a camera. This is of course a vanity thing but getting recognition by winning or even getting a mention can be a powerful inspiration to go out and take more and better images and of course it will expose the wider world to you, your photography and possibly your photographic website.
Sunrise with Tree by h.koppdelaney, on Flickr

Next up is the fact that most photographic competitions require a specific subject or style. Entering competitions such as these focus our minds on new challenges and techniques within our photography, helping us improve our abilities. They also teach us the art of editing. We may take hundreds of shots in the pursuit of winning but very often that will have to be whittled down to one final image. It makes us look deep and hard at what we have taken and perhaps makes us a little more self critical, this is a very important part of being a better photographer.
hot chocl-art by striatic, on Flickr

Of course you will not win every time, in fact it may be a very rare occurrence that you win a competition, but when you do, there is, for the most part, a good prize to be had. This may be monetary, new photographic equipment or something entirely unrelated, however, whatever you do get, it will be in recognition of your photographic skills.

Why You Shouldn't Enter a Photography Competition

So let’s take a look at some of the concerns in entering photographic competitions. First and foremost, something that has a lot of photographers foaming at the mouth is “the rights grab”. This is basically a sneaky way to gain control of the licensing of a photo you may enter. It may apply to only the winner or it may apply to all entries but the general result at the end of the day is that the competition organizer will get full, unequivocal rights to use you photo and even sell it on. Don’t fall into the trap that only small companies might do this, there have been well documented cases of major worldwide corporations playing this card too. That’s not to say every competition is like this, there are many good, honest competitions out there, but the detail is in the small print, make sure you read the terms and conditions thoroughly.

At Light Stalking we usually refuse to promote competitions with these terms involved. – (Ed)
Freediving Competition: Official Top by jayhem, on Flickr

Tied into this are competitions that require paid entry. Of course the advantage of this are less people are likely to enter, the downside of course is that if you don’t win, its money wasted. Unless you are at the very top of your game, paid competitions are somewhat of a lottery

Next of course is the disappointment. The euphoria of winning is often due to the disappointment of losing so many times. Let's be honest, you are going to lose a lot more than you win and it can require a special kind of tough to keep going after repeated rejections. For some, a few fails may be enough to make them think hard about doing photography and that would be a tragedy, especially if that person has talent.

Lastly is the time aspect. Despite the speed at which you can enter competitions these days, you still have to devote significant time both shooting, editing and preparing the images for entry. You need to carefully weigh the chances of winning with the time spent entering.

As you can see competitions can be a force for both good and bad. You need to look at each competition on its merits. What will you gain by entry weighed with what you might potentially lose. It will always be a gamble, but as with all gambles it pays to stack the odds in your favor.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

The one photo contest I despise the most are those found on Facebook in which the photo with the most “Likes” wins. Later entries will never stand a chance with this type of contest. It is unfortunate, however, that most of the winning photos in contests like these lack any sort of technical merit and usually have their likes inflated by their many friends and family. I have seen many beautiful photos lose to the typical snapshot this way.

You also have the problem with groups such as Facebook, Pinterest etc. not respecting the copyright of the artist. You only have to post a photograph in any of these forums and it is open to all those who wish to abuse the system and claim the work as their own. Not only can your work be re-invented by anyone so inclined, you may also be losing the sale to some unscrupulous individual.

Until these “groups / sites” start to respect the individual artists rights I would suggest not posting your work on them.

The previous 2 comments are recisely why I never enter competitions. Photography is too subjective and influenced by individual personal tastes, preferences and online popularity. What matters to me is if potential clients like my work enough to recommend me and become repeat clients. To me that gets more wins than any comp.

Kudos for an excellent brief article. The only competition I enter is to support my photography club’s annual show. I do that with the understanding of the points made in this article. I’m 78 years young climbing several learning curves supported by Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom. I’m not supposed to be here let alone, to be wasting time and emotions fooling with competitions.

I think the reasons to enter photography competitions far outweigh the reasons not to – as long as the photographer read the small print three times and makes sure the rules do not include abuse of photographers copyright and have specific usage rights. I entered a competition earlier this year (my first time) run by our local BIA and was a finalist – along with 49 others. The thrill of winning is great…and quite beyond description – especially when I didn’t expect to win.
Quite apart from the winning, we finalists all had our photos on exhibition, press coverage, a special gala to recognize us and I’ve been able to talk about it (and my winning photo) to people when selling my prints. I checked the competition rules very carefully before entering. Yes, photography is subjective and you might not win but it’s still fun entering the right ones. It gave additional meaning to my craft. The photo I took was taken months before I even knew about the contest, but the theme was one I was interested in so I thought why not? I am planning on entering another one shortly… I probably won’t win… but I’ll put my name in the hat, because who knows? You never know.

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