by Chris Edwards
If you've got a competitive bent AND a great picture, a fun way to see if others agree is to submit it to a photo contest. Who knows...you might win fame, fortune, or at least the satisfaction of seeing your image in print! Photo contests abound, from the local to the national to the international. #PhotoContest
Here are some tips on how to maximize your chances of snagging a prize:
- Start small. Your chances of getting noticed are greatly enhanced if you pick a local contest, such as Chesapeake Magazine's Best of the Bay, rather than huge contest like the National Geographic Photo Contest, which drew 22,000 entries in 2012. You'll also probably find it costs either nothing or just a nominal fee to enter a small contest, compared to the $20 or more required for the big ones.
- Follow the submission rules precisely. Contests vary in how the images should be submitted. You don't want to be disqualified for having strayed from the required protocol. Some competitions ask for images on a CD, some ask that they be uploaded online, and others want prints. They may ask you to provide specific information, say, on the back of a print or on an entry form, about where and when you took the photo and what equipment you used. Check the rules too to see if the photo has to be taken during a certain time frame. If so, please comply. Digital photos have embedded info that indicate when the shot was taken so you can't "cheat" if the submission is made via a file. If it's a print, then it's your conscience that you'll have to heed.
- Check the rules as well to see if a subject release is involved. If you've taken a photo in a public place it's generally OK to submit it, but again, see what the rules say.
- Coming up with a clever caption can't hurt and maybe could give you a small "psychological" edge; but, by the same token, a clumsy one or a bad joke could backfire so when in doubt, just be straightforward ("Sunflower at Dawn," "Osprey", etc.)
- If you can do so, study recent winners from the contest you're considering entering to get a sense of what caught the judges' eyes. For example, one competition may tend to favor "classically beautiful" shots: a mirror-image reflection of fall foliage in a mountain lake, a single pink lotus amid bright green leaves, an closeup of a mother and baby robin, etc. In that situation, an edgy, abstract, "out there" kind of shot is probably NOT going to make the cut. That same shot, however, submitted to a photography or art magazine may be exactly what the judges are looking for.
- Avoid the cliched shot. After a while, many butterfly and blue heron shots start to look the same. Put yourself in the judges' shoes...what would make YOUR butterfly distinctive from 50 others? If it's a subject that we easily see everyday, you're going to have to up the ante. A monarch butterfly on a flower? Pretty. A monarch on the nose of a toddler? Pretty WOW!
- Your shot absolutely has to be technically perfect: well-composed, free of distracting elements, well-exposed, and sharp as a tack. Check the rules on how much editing you can do. Many contests will allow you to make minor edits, such as cropping and brightening/darkening.
- If you're entering a magazine cover contest, submit a vertical photo that leaves room for the magazine's name (check an issue to see how much "real estate" you should reserve ). You don't want the judges to have to work hard to make your image "fit"-- both literally and figuratively.
- Don't take rejections personally. In the end, the choice of who wins, who gets to be a runner-up, and who gets nothing is truly subjective. If you end up with no recognition, laugh it off, tell yourself the judges obviously didn't have the same great taste you did...and, if you love the shot, submit it again to another contest!
Here are three local competitions that are great ways to "get your feet wet:"
The Anne Arundel County Fair, generally held in September, has a number of amateur photography categories by age, print size, color or black and white and subject. See its catalog for rules about mounting your print(s) (submissions are displayed on a special wall).
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources sponsors an annual Maryland calendar contest. Entries are due in late August; categories include birds, wildlife, insects and scenic. Twelve winning shots get featured in the upcoming year's calendar.
Chesapeake Bay Magazine sponsors a Best of the Bay contest, with submissions usually due in March. Here's a link to the 2013 winning shots, which are posted online and published in the June issue.
Best of luck! See you out there shooting!
Chris and Laurie
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