Last year I entered 3 photography competitions, the Natural Landscape Photography Awards, the Paper Arts Collective Photographic Print Competition, and New Mexico Magazine’s Annual Photo Contest, all for different reasons. Allow me to go through my process, mindset and which ones I may not enter submissions again.
The NLPA, was in its first year and created by some well-respected landscape photographers. Their rules were very clear and the judging followed a “golden rule” to adhere to “capturing the beauty of the landscape in a realistic manner”, one I can fully support. The choice of judges was excellent. The prizes were nice but I was indifferent to the because I didn’t enter to win. Say what??? Yep. I entered purely to go through the process and experience the growth of preparing images for judging. Before deciding to enter I checked in with myself about my reasons for going through the process. I wanted to grow in new ways AND support a new competition with values I respect. Since I was only 1.5 years into my photo journey, I knew having any expectations of winning would be hard to manage so I gave them up completely (and that felt good).
My process: 1. choose images, 2. cull them to 14 (and ultimately 12), 3. edit to the best of my abilities, 4. get outside feedback and help, 5. make my own decisions about final images and editing, 6. submit with no regrets or expectations! I loved this process and learned a ton! I learned how to be more discerning in choosing my “best” work. And, yes, I submitted images that I personally enjoyed vs. entering images that I thought the judges would like. Ultimately, this process was for me and not for someone else. I learned how to accept critical feedback – not making about me as a person was huge part of the mindset work. I learned more editing skills and what to look for in composition, color and light. I learned how to make these decisions for ME and be happy with my choices. Check out my gallery of these images here and see my results of the competition at the end of this blog.
I also entered a print competition. I didn’t put as much effort into my submissions for this but, like my first competition experience, I did check in with myself that I was doing it for reasons I was happy with. I thought it might be fun to submit actual printed images since so many competitions are all digital. I enjoyed exercising my new printing skills which include choosing the right paper for certain images and actually getting a quality print. I didn’t win but my friend, Micheal, did with an amazing image – check it out! Ultimately I decided I won’t do this one again. The actual winning exhibition is on the East Coast and I didn’t like not getting any feedback on my prints. I believe this is normal for competitions but I’ll save myself the trouble in the future.
The last one I entered was the one from New Mexico Magazine last October. I did it on a whim on the very last day with no image preparation. I submitted 5 images, all from White Sands National Park. I’ve been working on creating a White Sands gallery (see it here) so I had some I was happy to share with the world. Even though this one was last minute (literally!) I actually did have hope that I could possibly win BUT also no expectations that might cause some major disappointment. Obviously my process was more simple that my first competition but I attribute that to consistently editing and making decisions about “good” work. I was notified in November that I was a “finalist” with no hint at what that might mean and had to wait until the magazine came out in early January to find out. And….I WON THE WHOLE THING!!! I’m still in a little shock and for someone with no exceptions, I’m really thrilled! See the article here along with the other winning images. I’m currently undecided if I will enter this one again.
If you are considering entering a competition, here are some process and mindset questions that may be helpful for you to consider:
- What are your reasons for entering? And, do you like them? If gaining fame is one of them, I encourage you to reconsider or find alternate reasons that actually improve your skills as an artist.
- What work will you submit and how will you decide this? Is it to please the judges or yourself? If its to please judges, do your entries fall in line with your own creative voice? Would you want to be recognized for work that you thought was not completely representative of YOU as an artist?
- Will you get feedback on your work and, if so, how will you get it? Who do you trust to see the best in your work AND show you where you are lacking?
- What are your expections, if any, for the outcome of the competition? Trust me, you can have zero expectations AND submit your best work ever.
Entering competitions can be a wonderful tool for personal improvement with the possibility of some nice recognition. A word of caution, do your research on motives behind the contest, judges and especially what happens to your image. I’ve enjoyed seeing the results from all the competitions. There are truly some amazing artists out there!