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Thinking About Entering a Photo Contest?

So, you've been spending a lot of time reviewing and reworking your best images and think you may have what it takes. Before entering a photo contest, though, make sure you understand the rules. Not all competitions are what they appear to be.

It can be flattering to win an award in a photography contest. Even if you don't win the grand prize, the recognition can feel great. And the exposure could lead to even bigger and better things. Even if you don't succeed, accepting the challenge by entering can be both fun and educational.

This whole thing is kind of like entering the lottery. Many photographers who enter contests do so in the hope that they'll win, even while secretly admitting they probably won't. Others feel it is their destiny to win because they've developed a talent for this sort of thing.

To win in a photo contest takes either skill or luck. Honestly, both would be nice. Competition in the more well-known ones can be fierce. Judges worth their salt will be looking for any imperfections, both technical and artistic. But esthetic judgments can be subjective, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In the end, there's no way to outguess what judges will like, even when the contest publishes their names and bios in advance. To at least some degree, catching the eye of a judge seems to benefit from a degree of luck. But knowing this can also feed a tendency to rationalize a loss, especially one when you felt confident of doing well. Without taking up whether there are rare exceptions, judges to an excellent job in discharging their duties, but don't dismiss the possibility that there exists more than one equally good way to solve the puzzle. If a contest has more than one judge, it's not unusual for them to disagree on occasion.

Judging will never be an exact science. If you've ever served as a judge in a local competition, you know what I'm talking about. If you have a photo you feel certain should have done better, express that confidence by entering it in a different contest. If it fails to place in more than one, do a bit of soul searching before deciding on submitting it to more. Sometimes, these judges do know what they're doing.

Companies and sites that run photo contests know we can't resist. They do their best to tempt all of us into entering. By dangling those accolades and prizes, they're trying to get greater participation. Running a contest costs them money, and few are in it purely as an altruistic enterprise. They may benefit only by generating more advertising clicks from increased site traffic. Many subsidize the costs by charging entrance fees. Within reason, such policies are both understandable and necessary.

But other contests have more ulterior motives.

A growing number of contests these days have become a means of acquiring inexpensive stock photography for their sponsors and agents. If you win a competition, it's understandable that, along with your prize, you agree that the sponsor can use your image as part of advertisements for future contests. I like that. They're basically just reminding their audience of your win from time to time. But some contests now expand that to include the use of all images entered, winners and losers. And then expand what rights you relinquish further to permit publication in unrelated and subsidiary usages. Enter a photo contest with some company and find your images being used, sometimes without credit, in ads for products sold by that company. Or, if the competition is affiliated with an advertising company directly, you might have to accept them legally using your images in any context without additional requests for permission or compensation. Forever.

Not all contests are shady, but some are. Don't just fall under their spell and enter in hopes of fame and fortune. Read the fine print, and make sure you are comfortable with the terms and conditions for entering.

Now go out there and win.

Date posted: July 19, 2020


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