Why you should enter photography competitions (and how to best prepare your shots)

Why you should enter photography competitions (and how to best prepare your shots)

Cover image by Nicola Bertellotti

Boost your photography and get the creative juices flowing by challenging yourself with a photography competition

A Wedding and the Street Seller by Maureen Ruddy Burkhart - the Overall Winner of Picfair's Women Behind the Lens Competition 2018

Entering photography competitions is a fun way to challenge yourself. With probably hundreds of different competitions out there, ranging from small and niche challenges all the way up to huge, global contests there’s bound to be something that suits your photographic style.

Having a specific challenge in mind when shooting can be a great way to unlock your creative potential, or potentially put your existing archive to good use. Beyond that, the kudos that comes from placing or winning competitions looks fantastic to your clients, and potentially opens the door to a lucrative untapped market.

There’s often more to submitting entries to a competition than simply sending them off however. In this piece, we’ll be looking at some of the big reasons why entering competitions is a good idea, how to select your best shots for the best chances of winning, the types of photography competitions you could enter, best practices for submitting images and having a look at how your images might be used should you do well in a particular contest.

1 Why is entering photography competitions a good idea?


There are several reasons why entering competitions can be good for your photography.

"Most competitions offer some sort of brief or theme, which you can work towards rather than photographing somewhat aimlessly... having a particular goal in mind when shooting can really help to motivate you and inspire you. "

First and foremost, having a particular goal in mind when shooting can really help to motivate you and inspire you. Most competitions offer some sort of brief or theme, which you can work towards rather than photographing somewhat aimlessly. You might also be able to submit something which perfectly matches the theme from your existing archive - shaking off the digital dust and bringing new attention to your work is a great motivator for keeping your archive well-organised.

Another key reason why entering competitions is a good idea is that your work will be seen by experts in their field. Sometimes you might get feedback or commentary on why your image worked (or didn’t), helping you to learn and improve - particularly in genres or for subjects you don’t shoot all that often. Pay close attention to who the judges are in any competition you enter - if it’s somebody you rate or respect, all the more reason to enter.

Similarly, the exposure that comes from shortlisting or winning competitions is fantastic. Many contests garner widespread press coverage, publish books, or hold exhibitions.  This could mean that your name will be in front of a potentially very large audience, and you’ll also be able to add any accolades to your CV or portfolio to impress future clients.

Finally there’s the fact that many competitions have prizes up for grabs. This can range from something relatively small, up to huge cash sums or expensive photographic equipment.

Entering competitions is a great motivator - winning or placing in them is even better. Photo by Pawle

2 How to select the best photos for competitions


The best thing you can do to help you with selecting imagery for competition is to do your research. Take a look at previous winners or shortlisted images to give you inspiration as to the type of things that judges like - being careful to make sure that you don’t submit something too similar to previous entries.

"Ask yourself if there’s anything about your photograph that might put off a third-party, such as a technical imperfection, or composition that's not quite perfect."

When going through your archive or potential images to submit, be as harsh and objective as you can be. Ask yourself if there’s anything about your photograph that might put off a third-party, such as a technical imperfection, or composition that's not quite perfect. If you're not sure, it can be helpful to ask a trusted friend for their opinion.

It’s also worth remembering that for some competitions, judges have to sift through hundreds, or even thousands of photos. That could mean that if your photo doesn’t grab them in a couple of seconds, it could end up on the reject pile. Look for photos which have the best possible instant impact - again, asking a friend for their opinion can be really valuable here.

Finally, although it can be tempting, it’s rarely worth entering lots of shots into one competition. Judges expect you to be selective with your work and choose only your best images - narrowing it down to a limited number also saves you money if you have to pay to enter, too.

Plundering your archives for pictures which fit a brief can be a good way to utilise your existing collection. Photo by Nicola Bertellotti

3 Best practices for submitting images to photography competitions


Many competition organisers will tell you of images that have been submitted that are fantastic images - but fall down on a simple technicality within the rules. To avoid this, make sure you read any competition rules as carefully as possible - and probably read them again just to make sure. This could include anything from something relatively simple - such as the correct file size and format, to something more complex, such as the photograph having to be taken at a specific time or location.

"Judges expect you to be selective with your work and choose only your best images..."

Another area where entrants often fall down is by not taking good note of the submission deadline. It’s a simple mistake that can easily be avoided by saving it to an electronic calendar to remind you. It’s also worth submitting a good while before the deadline if you can, just in case of technical problems or hitches that could cause you to miss it.

Perhaps however, the most important thing you can do is to carefully read the brief (if there is one). Don’t try to shoehorn an image into a competition or category simply because you like it, or it’s one of your favourite / best shots. Really ask yourself whether it matches exactly what the organisers and judges are looking for - especially if you’re shooting something specifically for it.

Paying close attention to the rules of the competition (such as timelines and deadlines) is one of the best ways of improving your chances of doing well. Photo by Mike Lesniak

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4 What types of photography competitions are there?

The simple answer here is that whatever your favourite genre is, there’s probably a competition for you.

Some examples of well-known and large competitions include:

- Landscape Photographer of the Year

- Wildlife Photographer of the Year

- Travel Photographer of the Year

- Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

- Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year

- Close-Up Photographer of the Year

Other competitions might cover multiple genres, often having different categories or rounds which you can enter. Some examples here include:

- Sony World Press Photography Awards

- British Photography Awards

- Amateur Photographer of the Year

You might also find smaller competitions which are even more niche, or supply you with specific briefs and themes to cover off. There really is something for every type of photographer out there.

Try doing an online search for the best photography competitions, or if you're looking for something more specific, try something like “best landscape photography competitions”.

There is a competition to suit pretty much every genre of photography - from food to landscapes to portraits to wildlife. The above is competition-winning landscape shot by Picfair photographer Joshua Beniston

5 How will my images from competitions be used?

Before you enter a photography competition, it’s important to check its terms and conditions.

Almost every competition will include a caveat that they can use your imagery in order to promote the winners and shortlisted pictures - which makes perfect sense and simply means your pictures will be used in things such as books, newspaper, magazine and online stories about the competition (and it’s what you want for that all-important exposure).

It’s also fairly standard to find a clause which allows use of your imagery to promote any subsequent competitions.

Where you need to be wary is any competition which seeks to retain the rights to your photographs for any other purpose than promoting the competition, such as for use within unrelated articles, to sell as prints, or use in their own stock libraries. It’s up to you if you think it’s worth entering such a competition - but it’s important to know what you’re dealing with at the outset.

Make sure to check how your images will be used after you’ve submitted them - only submit to competitions when you’re happy with the terms. Photo by Amy Davies
Open for entries: Picfair's Urban Wildlife Photography awards

We invite you to submit your best shots from the urban jungle in this global, open-to-all competition. Enter Picfair's Urban Wildlife Photography awards.