How to prepare your photographs for contests and competitions

At any given time of the year, you can find countless competitions with open calls for entries. Submitting for awards can allow you the opportunity for worldwide exposure and give you the satisfaction of achieving with your art. Perhaps even more importantly, entering competitions forces you to put your work out into the world by evaluating your portfolio, a practice  that will help you grow and progress as a photographer.

With all of the different competitions out there, it can be difficult to narrow down those that are a good fit for you and your work. Whether it be a gallery competition, a blog contest, social media exposure, or anything else, I am here to help you know which contests are right for you how to prepare for them. With these tips and tricks, your submissions will go smoothly and you will increase your chances of winning!

1. Read the contest terms & conditions

Take the time to know all the details. What subjects and categories is your contest searching for? What kinds of freedoms or restrictions do you have in editing? (Some creative categories allows textures, layers, etc., while others not allow even minor cloning work.) Does the competition have guidelines for image file sizes? Is there a limit to the number of images you may submit? Are there feed associated with participation? What is the deadline for submitting your images?

When I find a competition that I know I want to participate in, I add the deadline to my Google calendar. This way, I get alerts that will keep me updated as various deadlines approach and I am sure not to miss an opportunity. You can also sign-up for email updates from some competitions and they will keep you updated as the submission cutoff nears.

2. Evaluate your portfolio and choose your best images

Take a look at past winners of the competition and see if you can find any patterns in their photographs. Then look at your own work. Find strong images that you think would fall in line with the aesthetic preferences of the competition. Subject matter, processing style, use of light and countless other variables come into play when judging a competition and you want to be sure to speak to this specific audience. More than anything, submit work of which you are proud and trust your gut when narrowing down photos for any contest.

3. Choose your WOW pictures

After your first look through your portfolio, revisit your selections. Determine which photos have that WOW factor that you know will leave an impression on the judging panel. Will your artwork stand out amongst the others in the competition?

Before choosing my final submissions, I look at my images in a grid. This technique has been used for years by editors of fashion magazines. The method is simple: look at your images in a grid and see which ones catch your eye when placed next to the other images. If it draws your attention, it is likely to draw the attention of a judge, too!

Want a great place to share those WOW pictures?! Share them in the monthly Clickin Moms forum photo contest! With a new theme each month, amazing prizes, fellow photographers there to encourage you, and a chance to be featured here on the Clickin Moms Blog, it’s a win!

4. Define Strong Elements of the Frame

When you have selected an image that draws your eye, take the time to define why it stands out in a crowd. Is there a defining moment? Is there a strong emotion that pulls at your heart? Is the light simply amazing? Dos the composition draw you into the frame? Is there a clear story that connects the viewer to the scene?

Once you know what makes your image strong, be sure that it still falls in line with the character of the competition. Do the outstanding elements of your image fall in line with the outstanding elements of past winners of this particular contest? You don’t necessarily have to fall in line with the previous winners, but it is always good to use them as a baseline.

5. Originality

Being true to yourself is always going to be the best thing you can do for success in competitions. Is your image fresh and new? Is it true to your creative voice? Are you offering a unique perspective that is true to you and drawing the viewer into your world?

It can be a challenge to answer these questions! You are YOU and so identifying your work as different can be difficult! The more you practice identifying your own unique style in your work, the easier this becomes. The more you listen to your heart behind the camera, the more likely your images will be true to you and will catch the attention of competition judges.

Related: How to find your personal photography and editing style

6. Keep a clean frame

Check your frame and background: are there any distracting elements that might pull the judges’ eyes away from the amazing parts of your photograph? If so, can you remove these elements? Or should you choose a different photograph?

I recently received an award for an image with bride standing in the door frame. It was such a simple image and when I received news about this award I looked at the image again to see why it might have been chosen for an award. I think that the simplicity is what made it so strong. I had taken the time to clone out all of the little distractions around the bride and it resulted in an image that was focused on just her and the light and the overall effect was that much more powerful. Be sure to take your time, look at your last edit again, and make sure everything is just the way you want it!

7. Give yourself a break

Have you ever stared at the computer screen for so long only to come back and realize that you missed BIG things in your editing? Sometimes you simply need to give yourself a little break (or two or three) and come to re-edit a few times before you feel happy with final results. Take a break if you feel overwhelmed by something and then come back to the image later with a fresh head.

I had a case when I been struggling with one particular edit. The color was killing me! I did at least ten different edits and simply could not get it to look the way I wanted it to. I finally walked away from the computer, gave myself (and my eyes!) a rest, and came back to edit the photo and win an award with it!

8. Print your images

Some competitions require you to provide printed photographs to enter. However, even if it isn’t required I always recommend printing your work. This allows you to see how the image looks and feels on paper which is decidedly different than on a screen. Computer monitors vary but a professional lab will be sure to calibrate their printers to ensure that the photos are consistent and true.

One time, I printed a set of images and one of them was simply not looking the way I wanted, so I replaced it with another image that printed more consistently with the rest of the set. I am convinced that this last-minute change was what helped me win that competition! There also was another time when the judges discussed my entry and commented that while they loved the digital image, the printed version did not speak to them in the same way. Be sure you have seen your images in print before submitting them!

9. Ask for advice

Having an extra set of eyes on your work, while it can be nerve-wracking, is never a bad idea. Choose a trusted person or community. A Facebook group of photographer friends, the critique forum on Clickin Moms, or a respected mentor can give you invaluable advice if you are having trouble choosing an image for a competition.

10. Trust your heart

Asking for the advice of others can be helpful, but if I disagree I always go with my own heart. I once asked my dear husband to help me choose images for a competition and he rejected a picture that I simply loved. I went with my heart and submitted the photo anyway and guess what? I won an award!

Winning an award is not a final destination. It can bring you some personal satisfaction and exposure which is great for marketing, but it should never stop you from future efforts. Don’t allow a rejection to defeat you or a win to allow you to rest on your laurels. Rather, take participation in competitions as an opportunity to evaluate your work, grow, and progress toward the artist that you are meant to be.

You can join Olga in her Click Photo School breakout, Tales of the Moment: Your Secret Formula for Picture Perfect out now! 

About the Author:

Clickin Moms member Olga Levien is an award-winning New Zealand artist, mum, and mentor. She is an everyday storyteller seeking adventures and capturing her two active little ones. She is the author of the Click Photo School breakout Tales of the Moment.

2 Comments

  1. Chrstopher Hall Aug 13 2018 at 2:11 am - Reply

    I am looking at doing more competition work this year so going to find these tips really helpful.

  2. idb Oct 03 2018 at 5:16 am - Reply

    I just came across this article. Great points, but I would expect to have some technical side to it as well, since it is an important part of the process.
    Such as: the best way to export/save from PS (LR, etc) for web specifications in order not to lose details when the size has to be significantly reduced or for fine print – what is the best way to have the image come out looking the way it is on your screen? What if it needs to be send/emailed to the printer? The technical aspect can be a big scary unknown…

    Perhaps part 2, please?

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