How To Enter A Photo Contest

Notice I said enter a photo contest and not win it.

Winning a photo contest is too dependent on what the judge’s think but I can help you to prepare your images so you can have a better shot at winning.

This post follows last night’s announcement of the winners of Capture Oakville which is taking place this Friday starting at 7 pm at the Queen Elizabeth Park Cultural Centre on Bridge Road in Oakville, Ontario.

You can attend this free event and see the images for yourself.

Entering a contest is a challenge so let’s help you shoot and present the best images possible.

So the first rule of entering a photo contest is follow the rules.

At last night’s meeting of the Oakville Camera Club we were treated to a viewing of over 50 images shot by club members that were entered into the competition. There aren’t many rules to entering this contest but your image must fit into one of three themes plus there is a size limitation on the entrees.

Here’s a link to the Grand Prize Winners of previous years.

Why there is a size limitation beats me, but there is one and if you exceed it and several entrees did, while your image will be judged it won’t qualify to win. So learn how to size your images is job one.

Here’s what I’d suggest:

First shoot in raw so you produce a much larger image than what you’d get shooting JPGs. Raw images can be manipulated in software so much more than JPGs. Once you’ve finished working on your image, then save it inside a new file folder as a JPG, which in the Oakville Camera Club rules must be between 250 kilobytes and two megabytes and then send this image as an attachment in an email to the judges.

Don’t vary from the rules!

A major issue in my mind with the images I’ve seen this year and in past years comes down to “why this image” and “why this audience?”

It’s not enough to take a pretty image of something without that image also evoking some kind of emotional response from the judges. Again, notice I don’t say the audience. We are talking about influencing the judges here.

Joe Buissink, the amazing Joe Buissink, Beverly Hills celebrity wedding photographer to the stars told a story during a workshop I attended about submitting a photo to a jury which rejected it because it was out of focus!

Here’s the image which is all over the Internet.film10

When Joe projected this image onto a screen at the workshop I attended  there was an audible gasp from members of the 400-plus audience made up mainly of wedding photographers and want-to-be wedding photographers.

Don’t you agree this out of focus image says everything that needs to be said about the sanctity and sacredness of the act of young woman putting her trust, her faith, her love, even her life into the hands of a young man of whom much will be asked and much will, we hope, be given. It cries out “marriage”. And all this was captured in a single moment by a gifted photographer at the height of his powers and then it was rejected.

This is one of the reasons I don’t enter contests.

Also¬†after shooting a professional for years I don’t think it’s a fair thing to do. Oh I’m not saying I’d win every time or even occasionally would I win but it’s like an ageing prize fighter entering an amateur tournament. He might not win but he’d do a lot of damage on the way. It’s the same for me. I wouldn’t make the mistakes I saw last night and for me to win or even enter would take away something from an amateur photo competition.

Besides I shoot only for two reasons:PB180102-Edit

One: Somebody is paying me; or two: I’m shooting for my own express pleasure. (The photo of the attractive young model was shot at Jen Rosenbaum’s fabulous Boudoir Workshop which was held in Toronto two weeks ago at the trendy boutique Gladstone Hotel. I desaturated it and used gritty settings to create this image which I like very much but would never win anything anywhere for any reason!)

Let’s quickly review the simple things you should do to your image and then I want to end with the concept of meaning.

So your image needs to be properly exposed.Best if it was shot using a tripod. Buy a light meter and learn how to use it so you start with great exposures and have to rely on software to save a badly exposed image.

651253I’d recommend buying a PassPort Checker which works with Lightroom and Photoshop to create a custom camera profile. Remember we’re talking contest-quality images here.

Crop your images. Closer is better IMHO. Get rid of extraneous garbage in the image by cropping or using the healing and clone tools in Photoshop.

Don’t get carried away and overly saturate your colours in post production. One of the ways to avoid this is calibrate your monitor. I do for every big job using a Datacolor Spyder.838844

There are better ones out there and some are lots more expensive (and can calibrate printers which is very cool) but this one does the job at around $100.

Learn composition. Understand when and when not to use the Rule of Thirds, the Vanishing Point, near-far composition and lots of other artistic styles that will improve your shooting. Look for patterns and colours and interesting uses of shadows and know when black and white works and when to use colour or even desaturated colour (which was done last night to one image by one of the judges who just showed what could be done to improve one of the images).

Play with software. The NIK and Alien Skin external software editors can do amazing things to ordinary images but an ordinary image still needs to follow the rules of composition and be interesting.

So this brings me to my final point about why this photo? Any award-winning photo has got to be interesting. A shot of fall colours has got to have some merit beyond just being a pretty picture._DSC7943

When I went to Algonquin Park to shoot the fall colours this year I didn’t do it with the intent to win a contest but to shoot images I wanted to capture like this one. It’s a pretty picture.

Finally if you want to get radically better shoot more.

Shoot a lot more. Take lessons from the pros whether online (I love or in person. (I do two or three workshops taught be the best expert shooters in the world annually.)

And enter every contest you can.

it’s the only way (a) you’ll learn; (b) you’ll get better; and (c) you’ll start to win contests.