I’m pretty sure it’s not just my in-box that’s crammed with photography contest notices these days. Mine are of the “will you share this incredible opportunity with your community” ilk and I’ve stopped even checking to see if it really is “an incredible opportunity” or actually a way to either a.) Make some money off contest fees or b.) Get some usage rights and/or collect images that they’re too lazy to go find themselves.
Now that we’ve entered the dog days of summer and many people are thinking marketing strategy for the fall I thought I’d put a few thoughts about photography contests on the blog.
Avoid contests with 1st, 2nd and 3rd places. Having been on the judging end of a few contests I can say that when forced to all agree on something or put it to a vote the results are, well, average. In a contest like this a better approach would be one judge. The contests like PDN’s Photography Annual and American Photography’s book where there is no ranking simply inclusion are a better format for photography, because it allows for a wider variety of work to be included in the “winners.”
Know your rights. First stop should be http://www.pro-imaging.org an organization thats produced a bill of rights for photography contest organizers. Contests that do not appear on their site need to be carefully researched. Any contest that takes excessive rights to the images submitted is geared towards amateurs and you should steer clear of it.
Entry fees should pay for something. The fees are an important barrier to entry for a contest, because as a contest organizer you want people to limit their entries and to consider them carefully. I cannot imagine wading through all the dreck a free contest will attract. I’ve experienced the fatigue of looking at hundreds and hundreds of images and I can tell you first hand it’s not long before you begin to doubt your choices. So, yes, photographers should want contests to have an entry fee associated with them, but there should be something that fee is going towards and preferably it’s printed and collected or given out to jurors/industry professionals.
Ignore the jury. The chance that someone on the jury will see your image and give you a job is virtually nil. I made a tremendous effort once to write down all the names of the photographers whose work I liked while sifting through entries then tacked that list to my cork board back at the office and that still wasn’t enough to get me to pull the trigger on some amazing people. Expects other jurors to do less. There is an exception. I find that seeing the same photographer and image winning multiple contests is an effective way to sear them into my brain. If you’re got something truly remarkable you may want to “shoot the moon.”
If you win, don’t just stand there. You should enter contests with the sole purpose of using a win to start a conversation with someone you want to work with. I suppose validation is another reason photographers enter, but I think it’s more important to have a marketing goal in mind. I entered contests with my magazine work solely for a section on my resumé for awards.
Contest organizers who want to run a legitimate contest that truly represents an “incredible opportunity” should do the following:
1. Create a pool of winners or use a single judge.
2. Adopt the bill of rights.
3. Make it transparent where the money is going.
4. If you have top tier judges create something they can refer to when hiring.