How to make a contest submission

- - Awards

I was talking with Heidi Volpe (former AD at LA Times Magazine) about some of the things she’s working on in the right now (we have projects we’re working on together so we talk a lot) and I asked if she would write about them from time to time to give people a different perspective on the industry. Here’s her first entry:

For the past four years I’ve been invited to attend speed dating reviews at Art Center of Design in LA which is basically a panel of professionals who look at student work (really fast) and this year I was also invited to look over the work of graduating 7th term photography students (it’s an 8 term program that take 2 years and 8 months to complete if you go nonstop.) This was a two-on-one for the students Dennis Keeley the Photo Chair and I. He ran the show and he gave some insightful feedback, it was amazing to hear him talk about the work. I managed to cough once and awhile *kidding.*

This is an opportunity for the students to get some industry feedback and forces them to articulate their work to a potential client and prepare them for the big bad world out there.

Most recently I was invited by Everard Williams, Associate Photo Chair at Art Center to help curate the work that goes into their student gallery. I spent the day with Everard, and Alexandra Tumbas, my former intern at the Times (also a terrific photographer and photo editor), who’s now the Assistant Photo Editor, at C Magazine. We looked at a lot of strong work for the upcoming show.

The work was strong but there’s an aspect to entering a contest or review that seems to be overlooked and this is the actual submission process so i thought I’d share with you a few tips on how to make a submission.

Typically very specific guidelines are given for any submission. This is a time consuming effort for the reviewers, so the selection process needs to be as efficient as possible.

Rule #1: Read the guidelines

Rule #2: Read the guidelines

I was really surprised how much digital work did not follow the specs, when files were submitted as psd, at 85 megs, they took forever to open. When you are looking about 200+ images you can image how long 45 seconds feels.

While I was working at the Los Angeles Times Magazine we submitted a lot of our work to The Society of Publication Designers and the Society of News Design. SPD is organization that focuses primarily on the visual communication of print and online editorial professionals. SND is the same structure but focused on international Newspapers.

We spent an incredible amount of time getting our entries together. There was a team of people selected to oversee the assembly of the submissions, one person keyed in all the entries into an excel document, freelancers were hired to help and staff stayed as late as 1:00 am and worked weekends to make the deadlines and submit properly. At the end of the contest as a paper we had over 300 entries.

If an entry was not correctly filled out, it did not get considered. End of story. The kick in the pants here is not only did you lose your entry fee, you don’t even get a shot at losing.

Rule #3: Care about your presentation

I was really impressed with students that took the time to pull together a nice edit of matted images. Some submitted a loose box of images all different sizes and it make it a little harder to judge. When they had such a range of work, it made it more difficult to look at as a body because the viewing process was shattered by the varying sizes. It’s easier to compare things uniformly.

Rule #4
Include your best work always, and edit it.

Don’t overwhelm the judges, having a too large of a submission can hurt you more then help you.

Rule #5
Don’t include personal notes or attacks on the judging process. One girl had a hand written note in her submission on a piece of graph paper

FACT: I am graduating this term

FACT: I have submitted for gallery 9 times and never been selected

Um, that would go over really well when you are asking for a grant or a show.

Rule #5
Label your work with your name. I know simple but one CD had no information on it. Memorex CD-R doesn’t cut it.

The Student Gallery opens Dec 12. Art Center has a calendar and all their lectures are open to the public.

UPDATE: Some images from the review (here).

There Are 16 Comments On This Article.

  1. I’ve often referred people to this short piece by Eliot Shepard, “Advice for those considering entry into the Hey Hot Shot competition at the Jen Bekman Gallery,” though of course it applies to almost all photo competitions, not just Bekman’s.

    I was also a judge in several of Bekman’s competitions and I can vouch for Eliot’s wisdom. My strongest piece of advice has always been: Go narrow and deep rather than wide and shallow — that is, I want to see one great series or project, not proof that the photographer can do many different things. Nothing was more distracting and disappointing than seeing a great, intriguing entry followed by others that were completely unrelated.

  2. le cinémasagiste

    Rule #5
    Don’t include personal notes

    I bet a personal note from President Franklin wouldn’t hurt your chances though…? (wink wink nudge nudge)

  3. I’d also suggest people attend the judging of POY (or CPOY) in Columbia, Missouri at least once. The judging is entirely open, and you get to sit and watch thousands of photos projected, and each one judged individually, even if they only look at each photo for a second or two. The judges discussions of images in the final rounds of each category are when you really learn a lot about photography. It is definitely worth a week of your time.

    @3: Ben Franklin was never President.

    • le cinémasagiste

      @Michael, upon further review, the dead guys on the $10 and $10,000 bills were never presidents either. I’ve been duped my whole life thinking otherwise. I shoulda’ finished high school.

    • Hi Eric,

      If you are in the area you should go see the show, if you are not in LA, we may try and post the entire show online.

  4. Maybe you like to contact Mr. Chris Hinterobermayr of Austria. He hosts and organizes two of the world’s major contests / competitions. For years now he and his staff have organized the ‘Trierenberg (former Hasselblad) Austrian Super Circuit’ in a very professional manner. That’s why Sheik Al-Thani of Quatar, the world’s greatest art collector and patron (he has they money to do it *smile), gave ‘his’ contest to him. With the goal to make it the #1 photo-related (photography and photo-art) contest in the world.
    The organization has to handle more than 300 submission, judgement is done in 4 salons (to handle all the submitted stuff), prints and projected images, awarded (and a selection of accepted images) have a gallery-like showcase in conjunction with a pro digital AV show, and the ‘catalogue’ is a coffee table book of highest quality, etc …

    He is really a very nice guy and due to his longtime experience he likely would have some valuable hints. If you like to contact him, just put in the contests above in google or drop me an email for his contact-infos.

    Btw, I’m not a very friend of this ‘speed dating’ thingo. I don’t think it is possible to judge a photograph within a time-frame of only 1 to 2 seconds. Some could, some couldn’t. But some images will need their time to evolve (especially the ‘better’ ones), to start to talk to the viewer / judge.

    It’s just like rushing through the Louvre (usually a tourist’s habit … Hey, at least I was there)

    In my opinion this is not very fair to the contributors.
    A host and a judge should always keep one thing in mind: many photographers take a contest or competition VERY VERY seriously (too serious in my book). Some struggle with their life (or at least with their photography) if they don’t get any attention there. (I’ve experienced this several times now with some photogs). Judges bear responsibility – take it serious as well, please.

    Best, Reini

    • Sorry if the post was unclear. We did not judge the images during the speed sessions. We took quite a bit of time selecting, the re-editing the work for the show.
      The speed dating was a completely separate day. This day is devoted to students meeting with industry folks, usually about 13-18 of us show up and we have about 15 minutes with each student. It gives them an opportunity to talk to us about their work. Great practice I think. Plus we do give feedback. I always find these sessions very rewarding + inspiring for all involved.

  5. it has been interesting reading the comments here. i would like to thank heidi for her contributions and criticism during the review process. this process takes a lot of time and the willingness of outside contributors to help bring it all together. this gallery selection process happens 3 times a year and each time the submissions are greater and of higher quality. i would like to extend a personal invite to all those locally (so. california) to come to art center and take a look at the graduating show and the gallery of student that is referenced above.

    again thanks to heidi and alexandra.


  6. Gary Wenner

    I was surprised to see that it say “former art director” for Heidi. Was she let go due to the recessions we’re having and what types of things is she working on now? I’m sure they’re great!