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5 Tips for Entering Photography Competitions

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

Photo competitions are opportunities for photographers to show off their amazing images and score some recognition.  They also provide rewards for hard efforts out in the field.

I recently had the opportunity to judge the Landscape Category as part of the annual Sony Alpha Awards. There were several different genre categories, and as a previous winner of the Landscape Awards, I was asked to serve on the judge’s panel.

Here are 5 things I learned from being both a contestant and a category judge.

1. Try to get the image as right out of camera as possible.

This is the reference point for where the image concept began. Photos can be easily manipulated with Photoshop, and artificial intelligence can even replace skies. The original, unedited file shows the baseline of an image prior to processing. The timestamp shows whether the photographer has the patience and persistence to capture the best light of the day. Or whether the file was altered to appear as if it were taken in the best light.

Getting horizons and buildings straight in camera also helps with correcting warped perspectives and lines in the image. Nothing is worse than crooked horizons as they clearly signal the end of the of world is coming, and the flat Earthers will be freaking out…..

2. Edit your image.

It’s nice to get the base image right out of the camera, but editing the image is the polish that makes it come to life.

Colour correction and even basic adjustments to exposure and contrast can make an image more appealing. Cleaning up dust spots is essential when the image comes under scrutiny.

There’s a fine balance between over editing and deep diving down the rabbit hole. My suggestion is to look at the base image and construct a plan for what you want to fix and adjust. Then proceed step by step.

3. Don’t submit a cliche of a well known subject.

Competitions bring out some of the most creative images that show what is currently possible within the world of photography.

But to really separate yourself from the field, something unique needs to be presented.

It may be a rare weather occurrence or light that we only dream of. But every photo of the Sydney Opera House or Angkor Wat will be compared to all the other similar images, now and previously entered.

Although I get the opportunity to run workshops around the world, I’m aware that I need to find rare opportunities to make my images stand out. A thunderstorm in the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan is one such example. A lightning strike in the desert is challenging to capture. But the right combination of being in the right place and time, experience, and luck brought me a shot that stood apart from other shots someone else may have achieved.

4. Find the right competition for your photography.

Competitions vary in quality. The quality of competition from a local camera club of a dozen people can be vastly different than an international contest of thousands of professionals who have honed their trade over several years.

If you think you are up to the challenge of bigger competitions, by all means put your name in the hat and show everyone what you are capable of with a camera!

It’s fascinating to see the innovation that comes from new camera equipment and creative techniques. High Dynamic Range (HDR) didn’t exist to most photographers 15 years ago. Nowadays astrophotography can be achieved with phone cameras thanks to the development of camera sensor technology that can see better in the dark than the human eye. There’s no telling what the future holds in terms of innovation and photography competitions.

5. Have fun with competitions.

Challenge yourself to improve and be open to criticism. Recognize that criticism is sometimes constructive, and sometimes not helpful at all. Be willing to pull out the factual points that can help you improve your photography in the long run. There are obvious rewards from these competitions, but also find in yourself the challenge of improvement and defining your style. These points alone should be good enough reason to try your hand at some photography contests.

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