7 Tips For Winning Your First Photo Competition

The Internet and other media are so rich with photos that there seems to be more interest in photography that ever before. That’s led to a large number of photo contests. Entering photo contests can be a great way to sharpen you skills and get your name out there as a talented photographer.

Let’s look at some tips that will improve your chances at winning.

1. Understand the rules. A friend once flunked a true-false test in middle school. The instructions were, “Mark all the true answers with a T.” He marked both the true and the false answers. He didn’t follow directions.

Read and re-read the rules. There will be basic entry limitations as well as restrictions on the content of the photos themselves. If you’re limited to one entry, don’t re-enter every day. Are model releases required? If some subjects are taboo, don’t push the envelope.

2. Study previous winners. If your photo contest has a history, review the work of previous winners. Try to understand what made those photos catch the eye of the judges. Were the photos artistic, did they tell a human story or did they exhibit certain technical attributes that made them stand out?

3. Be original. Although it’s smart to look at previous winners, you’re only looking to get a sense of what’s going through the judge’s mind. Don’t copy any previous winners. And just as important: avoid photographic clichés. If you’ve seen a version of your photo painted on black velvet and sold at the flea market, it’s probably not the photograph you want to enter.

While truly original subjects are difficult—if not impossible—to identify, ask yourself what makes yours original or superior to others.

4. Dont settle for less than technical excellence. Be your own hardest judge. Don’t submit a photo that has any technical flaw. You may think that it’s so small no one will notice. They will. And once you see a technical flaw, you won’t be able to “un-see” it.  Neither will a judge.

5. Tell a story. If the rules allow or call for people in your composition, be sure there is emotional content. If your photo tells or suggests a story, it can be very powerful. If people have a “gut reaction” to your photo, it will certainly be considered by the judges. Sometimes the “story” can be as subtle as a smile; people have been speculating about the Mona Lisa’s smile for centuries.

6. Insist on great composition. All successful works of art have a strong composition. We’ve discussed some approaches to composition here before. Study up a little on composition and when you analyze previous winners, see how the images were composed. If you start out with a poorly composed image in your viewfinder, you’ll never be able to turn it into an award-winning photograph.

7. Lather-Rinse-Repeat. Don’t expect to win contests immediately, but see them all as learning opportunities. They are great ways for us to sharpen our skills and push us in directions we might not otherwise go. Continue to seek photo contests and enter again. And if you lose, what’s the worse that can happen? You’ll be able to add some excellent photos to your personal portfolio!