Most photographers will at some point aspire to win a major photography competition. Whether you’re a professional or a keen amateur, winning a competition can bring significant prestige and prize money. However, not all photography competitions are created equal, and the rules, prizes and T&C’s can vary significantly. In this article, I tell you about 6 things you should check before entering any photography competition.
1 – Competition Reputation
The first thing to check is the reputation of the competition. How long has this competition been running for? Who are the previous winners? Who are the sponsors? A competition like Wildlife Photographer of the Year has been running for decades, is backed by some very well-known organisations, and winners are either very well known in their field or go on to become well known.
This is not to say that smaller, less popular photography competitions shouldn’t be entered. Far from it. But if you do decide to enter one of the smaller photography competitions be sure to thoroughly review the rules. Larger or longer running competitions tend to have more mature rules and recognise the rights of the photographer.
In either case, always read the rules!
2 – Judging
Always look into who will be judging the competition. If you are looking to have your images recognised as award-winning by your peers always make sure the competition will be judged by at least one professional photographer. It’s not unusual for competitions to have sponsors on the judging panel, but you should always ensure that the panel also includes a well-known and respected photographer.
Competitions that are judged by internet votes can be popular (there are some websites dedicated to this), but as with anything that involves the opinion of the internet, I would take the results with a pinch of salt.
3 – The Difference Between Entering and Winning
Obviously, you need to enter a photography competition if you hope to win it. You should carefully read the rules to see if the conditions of entry are the same for someone who enters, and someone who wins (or has an image commended).
Some photography competitions will bind you to the rules even if you just enter and not receive an award, prize, or recognition. This means you could be signing away your rights to an image with no gain to yourself at all. Make sure any licensing or copyright requirements don’t apply if you just enter the photography competition and don't win (or at least progress in the competition)
4 – Image Licensing
If you enter and then get placed in a photography competition you can expect the competition organisers to have some rights over your image. This is particularly true if the competition needs to publish your photos on social media, books, or other publications (physical or digital). What you need to look for here is what those rights are.
Ideally, you will be granting the organisation running the competition a non-exclusive license. The license allows them to use your image in whatever publications or platforms they have specified, but as it’s non-exclusive, you can still use the image elsewhere.
If the competition is asking for copyright or even shared copyright then it’s probably a good idea to avoid entering unless you are sure you want to give up, even partially, your copyright of an image.
5 – Time Frames
If you have an image placed in a photography competition and the organisers will have some sort of license to publish that image, the next thing to check is for how long. Most competitions will ask for a license for up to 2 years, but 5 years isn’t unheard off.
The rules may also state that you may not enter the image into other competitions for a period of time. It’s also worth pointing out that some photography competitions won’t accept images that have previously won a major competition before, so this may not actually be an issue for you.
If the competition doesn’t state any time frames, think very carefully what you might be giving up, especially if the image license or copyright claim is very broad.
6 – Fees and Prizes
The fees and prizes offered by photography competitions vary considerably. You should expect to pay an entrance fee for large, national, or international competitions. However, the prizes can be considerable in some competitions such Landscape Photographer of Year offering a winning prize of £10,000. For many photographers, the kudos of winning such a competition is prize enough though!
Not all competitions offer large prizes. Your prize might be to feature in a local or regional calendar or have your image shown in a local gallery. At this level of photography competition, you shouldn’t really expect there to be an entrance fee. If you are just starting out in photography, then these local competitions are a great way to get your work seen by a wider audience.
However, just because a competition is free doesn’t mean you shouldn’t the rules carefully (see my previous tips).
Photography competitions come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Everything from the competition your local camera club runs, to your local national park calendar competition, all the way up to international level. Whatever the competition it’s critically important that you read the rules, check the fees, and see if the prize is something worth winning. There is probably little point in paying a $100 to enter a competition that could result in your image being displayed in a gallery in New York and you live in the UK.
Check who is judging the competition. Ultimately most photographers want their images judged by their peers so always look for a good and experienced judging panel.
As long as you do some due diligence on the competition you are thinking of entering you should find the whole experience enjoyable. If anything, it forces you to look through your portfolio and select your very best work. Through the process of reviewing my catalogue I’ve even discovered great images that I had previously dismissed!
One last thing to take away is not being to be too disappointed if you don’t get placed in a competition. Photography competitions are fickle things and as humans judge them there will always be some personal bias towards style and content. But if you don’t enter you’ll never win!
So what photography competitions have you entered? Have you ever won? What was the prize and was it worth it? Let me know in the comments below.