Whether you’re already working as a professional photographer or simply have your heart set on becoming one someday, it’s important to decide right now to make an investment in yourself. Yes, making an investment in good equipment is part of that equation, but so is making the commitment to invest in opportunities to take your work to the next level.
Photography contests are among the best opportunities out there for up and coming photographers. Entering (and hopefully winning) the right contests is a great way to get your work seen by the right people. Regular participation can help you get a handle on how your work measures up to the work of others in your field as well.
However, photography contests are far from one size fits all. Here we’ll take a look at a few different types and discuss the advantages of each, the better to help you find the very best fit for your own work.
Photo Credit: Aishath Naj
- Local Photography Contests
Many photographers enter the wonderful world of contest participation by checking out the opportunities available in their own back yard. Local newspapers, publications, and organizations often hold photography competitions as a way to encourage community spirit. Winners are often exhibited publicly – a great opportunity to get your work in front of local business owners, photography enthusiasts, and community editors that are sure to be interested. You never know who might be interested in becoming a client!
Although there are certainly exceptions, most local contests are either run by volunteers, so it’s not always possible to submit your entries digitally. Be prepared to have prints made of your work instead. Planning is important for that reason. So is quality – the higher the better.
- Magazine Contests
Just about every photographer is familiar with this type of contest. After all, who doesn’t dream about one day having their work featured in Smithsonian or National Geographic? Getting featured in magazines like these can literally change a photographer’s life. Not only are these prestigious, widely read publications that would look fantastic on any resume, but major magazine contests tend to offer the best material prizes as well.
It’s important to understand that the competition will be fierce, as you’ll be up against some of the most talented photographers in the entire world. Make absolutely certain that you follow the rules of the contest to the letter. Take the time to check out winning entries from the past and consciously consider what probably set those images apart from the rest of the pack. Let the seriousness of the competition inspire you and push you to deliver your very best work.
- Online Photo of the Day Contests
If you’re new to photography contests and would prefer an option that’s less intimidating than some of the alternatives, an Internet photo of the day-style contest might be right up your alley. Most are not terribly demanding technically and the entry process is super simple. (Typically all you need to do is upload a 72 ppi image via a user-friendly interface.) Many are also free to enter, a good option for those that aren’t yet sure they want to commit themselves to an alternative with an entry fee.
If your shot is chosen as the winner of such a contest, it may even advance to a subsequent level – for instance, “photo of the week”, “photo of the month”, or even “photo of the year”. As is the case with other types of photo contests, the exposure and recognition you get from such a win can be considerable depending on who’s hosting the contest. However, it may not always be clear how winners are chosen. Some are simply chosen at random, so be sure to check the FAQs for more information.
Photo Credit: Darya Matrosova
- Peer Review Photography Contests
These days, there’s a multitude of peer review contests to consider. Some are run by websites and photography publications. Others are standalone contests in their own right. Winners are determined by a group of members, judges, or peers that evaluate each entry carefully and then vote on the results.
Peer review contests are a great option for photographers that either don’t mind having their work critiqued or are actively looking for such an experience. That said, they mostly attract seasoned shutterbugs with thick skins and a developed ability to take criticism. The average competitor is also going to be very highly skilled, so as with magazine contests, it’s important to make sure your work demonstrates a comparable degree of skill.
Peer review contests aren’t just a great way to gain a little recognition and compare your work to the work of other photographers. They’re also a good way to determine the true value of your work. You’ll know once and for all what your shortcomings are, as well as your strengths. That’s valuable information you can use to continue to grow in your craft.
Photo Credit: Ales Krivec
- Tourism-Based Photo Contests
If you’re one of the millions of photographers for whom art and travel go hand in hand, then a tourism-based contest is perfect for you. Many print publications hold travel and tourism-based photo contests, but there are plenty of online versions as well. Tourism contests are a great way to narrow down your choices as far as possible entries. For instance, you’re limited to just your pictures of Los Angeles, your urban renewal photos, or your photos of Hawaii depending on the theme of the contest.
If you’re interested in a tourism contest, it’s imperative that you maintain excellent notes in regards to each of your shots. (Your camera’s meta-data isn’t enough, although it’s certainly a start.) If you’re not already in the habit, start. Your notes will help you choose the best possible shot and describe it accurately to contest judges.
You’ll also want to start looking into your options as far as travel contests sooner rather than later. It helps immensely to keep the ones you’re interested in in mind when you’re out on location. Many countries, states, cities, and regions hold annual contests, so your options are wide open.