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It seems like you can’t open social media these days without seeing a stream full of ‘winning photos’ from photography competitions…

photo competitions

I probably get five or six emails a week about different contests I can enter…

“Only $50 to enter our quarterly portrait competition!”

“The deadline for our annual wedding photography contest has been extended. DON’T MISS OUT!”

There are THOUSANDS of photography competitions out there and it can feel a bit overwhelming. How do you get into the right mindset to enter a contest?

Well, there are three things you need to understand:

Too many cooks…

Photographers enter contests and competitions for a number of reasons

  • They want to win the prize
  • Validation of their work
  • Credibility established by being a ‘winner’

There’s no problem with wanting to win a new camera or a cash prize, but, for the latter two reasons, an overabundance of contests and winners dilutes the intended result.

If 50% of your competition has also won some sort of award, is it really helping you ‘stand out’ in a crowded market?

While winning more prestigious awards or having a long history of winning can certainly impress a potential client, you have to consider the optics if your potential clients don’t know which awards are prestigious in your field of photography.

Competitions are a business

As long as you understand that these ‘contests’ and ‘competitions’ are just businesses and they have their own agenda, you’ll probably feel a whole lot better about entering.

If you’re solely seeking validation from entering a contest, you’ll probably be disappointed with how they’re handled and potentially with the winning images you see posted.

Most competitions give you very little to no feedback on the technical aspects of your images. If you’re looking for technical feedback, I’d suggest getting a mentor or coach who can give you specifics.

And, sure, you might say that there are ‘free’ competitions out there, but are they REALLY free?

Are you giving them information about yourself? That’s basically helping them do market research.

Are you giving them photos to use to advertise future competitions?

Does the organization running the contest sell services/products that they can in turn use your images to promote? Are they advertising products from outside vendors? Keep in mind, mentioning prizes is advertising a product! Those sponsors don’t give prizes for the fun of it.

Even if they don’t charge you to enter the competition, they may be using the competition for another purpose…

They want to grow their following

That means they don’t always choose photos that are going to appeal to your potential client. They are photos that are going to catch the interest of people who are going to enter the competition. Photos that will make people engage with their social media posts.

Why? Because the larger their following the greater their influence and the more people will enter their NEXT competition!

That means either MORE contest entry money, better sponsors for the next competition, etc.

photography competitions

That’s why you might be confused when you look at the winning photos from, for example, a wedding photography contest, and see a lot of images that are more about the settings and backdrops than the couples themselves.

Seriously, I’ve seen a large percentage of ‘wedding photography’ contest winning photos that are basically landscape or architectural images with the couple taking up maybe 1/32 of the frame (and most of the time, in those cases, they’re in silhouette). Why? Those images are more likely to get likes and comments on social media from a wider audience.

Don’t get frustrated. Keep your head in the right place!

Don’t take this article as advice to never enter a photo competition. If there’s a competition you want to enter, just be sure you go into it with the right mindset!

Have you had a bad photo competition experience? A great experience? Leave a comment or tell me about it on Facebook or Instagram!

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