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10 Tips For Entering A Photo Contest

Winning your first contest is a rite of passage for new photographers. But with so many submissions, it’s often hard for an image to even make the final cut, let alone take the top honors. So how do you take an image that stands out from the rest? Of course, a winning photographer will have an understanding of the technical aspects as well as the creative side, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Here are ten tips for entering a photography contest.

1. Get familiar with the rules

Each photography contest will have a bit different set of rules. Don’t waste your time by entering a photography contest yet only briefly glance through the rules. Double check them to be sure your image is in the right genre. Make sure your image follows every guideline. Images that don’t are tossed out early, and winning images follow the guidelines to a T.

2. Identify what they’re looking for

Beyond just the rules though, what are the judges looking for? Dig into the contest a bit more. What organisation hosts the contest? What type of things does the organisation support? Are they looking for a certain genre? Do they prefer images that follow the rules, or creatively break them? By doing a little research about the contest, and the organisation hosting it, you’ll have the background knowledge to choose not just your best image, but the image they’ll think is best.

3. Look through the past winners

While you are looking through the information about the contest, check out the winners from the last contest if you can. They’ll give you an even better idea of what the judges are looking for. Are the images more traditional, or do they break out of things like the rule of thirds? What kinds of subjects do they depict? And, perhaps the most important one, what image of your own would stand out when mixed with images like these?

4. Be outside the ordinary

Imagine sitting in a room just looking at pictures for the entire day, or even a few days in a row. A lot of the entries probably just start to blend together, which is why it’s a good idea to submit something that’s not so easy to skim over. Don’t submit an image that’s simply just another sunset photo, for example, but one that goes above and beyond the average sunset shot.

Photo Contests5. Fit the theme

Most photography contests are centered around a theme. Some are based on broad sub-genres, like landscapes, while others have more specific topics, like mountains. You can bet that the judges will choose an image that’s perfectly suited for the topic, and not one that’s a bit of a stretch to include. If you have a great image that doesn’t quite fit the contest, look for another contest. There are so many out there, chances are, you’ll find one that your image would work perfectly for.

6. Ensure every element is technically correct

Photos that win contests have good exposures, pin-sharp subjects and excellent colors. If you have a great composition, interesting subject and dead-on exposure, but your subject isn’t quite in full focus, that image isn’t likely to win any contests. While some contests encourage things like breaking compositional rules, most will instantly discard an entry that’s not sharp or has another fatal technical flaw like bad white balance or an underexposure.

Go the extra mile7. Go the extra mile

While sometimes photographers win a contest by being in the right place at the right time, many put forth some serious effort to capture that winning image. Hiking a little farther, climbing that tree for the perfect perspective, getting up early or staying out late. Those are often the photo shoots that result in contest-winning images. Go the extra mile, and you’ll end up with a shot that no one else had the ambition to try.

8. Choose a photo that makes the viewer ask questions

While a photograph is a single moment in time, the best photographs show that there’s a before and after, that there’s a story. If your image prompts viewers to ask questions, chances are, that image has a good story, and could fare pretty well in a contest. Questions like where is that path heading and what is she thinking gets the viewer thinking about more than just that single moment in time.

9. More isn’t always better

A minimalist approach to photography contests is often best. Don’t try to fit too many things into the image, instead make sure there’s nothing to distract from the subject. Don’t give into the temptation to try multiple creative techniques into a single photo. And of course, don’t over edit in Photoshop. Keep the character of the original image intact as you edit.

Don't get discouraged10. Don’t get discouraged

Photography contests often receive thousands of images. If yours doesn’t win, that doesn’t mean you’re not a good photographer. Keep shooting, and continue submitting images to contests. Your image may have made it to one of the final rounds, or perhaps it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. Whatever the reason, keep working to improve your photography. You’ll get there.

Photography contest are a great way to put your work out in front of an audience while gaining some credibility at the same time. But to get your image to the final round of judging, you’ll need to understand the rules and what they’re looking for. Put in the extra effort to take that image, but keep a minimalist mindset. Keep shooting, and keep submitting.

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