Are photography competitions good for your soul? The idea of diving headfirst into the promising ocean of photographic competitions is one that can be appealing. Imagine yourself surrounded by admirers – fame, and accolades aplenty for your work. The thought is pretty appealing, isn’t it?

But for most of us, that cool blue water of success turns out to be little more than a dream. Most competitions for most photographers and artists end with little more than a rejection letter, or a place on the shortlist if you’re very lucky.

What is there to gain?

Well, to be quite frank, there’s an awful lot to gain from entering your photography work into competitions. And pretty much all competitions will help you grow and improve as a photographer if you put some thought into the images you’re selecting.

Internet competitions can be a good way of working out which are your better images.

You can use competitions for different purposes. For instance, local club competitions or some of the online competition sites can be good for working out which variations of images appeal to people more. If you’re a little stuck with an image, then entering a local club competition might help you see some of the flaws in your shot.

Prizes, notoriety, or self-improvement?

At the top of the scale, there are huge cash awards and even residencies to win through photographic competitions. Of course, you can’t just make a living by winning competitions with your photos, but the kind of cash prizes that some competitions award will certainly pay a good chunk of your living expenses for a while!

But for most of us, what we gain is a wider audience and a better sense of our work. And these things are both important to photographers in their own way.

Having an audience isn’t just important for pros, it can open all kinds of doors for amateurs too. Plus, as much as we sometimes loathe to admit it – nice comments and ‘likes’ can go a long way to making us feel good about our work.

The process of selecting images to enter into a competition can be extremely powerful for your work. Trying to narrow all the photos you’ve taken into just a small handful that fit a brief is a difficult process. But this process should tell you something about yourself and your work, and perhaps even push your future work in a particular direction.

Entering competitions can be a great learning experience.

Protecting your mental health

We don’t always win competitions. Of course, it would be impossible for everyone to win every competition that they entered. Not placing in shortlists time and time again can be tough on our mental health.

You must make sure you’re entering competitions for good reasons, and not those that end up lowering your mood when you face rejection. Finding these reasons can be difficult even for seasoned photographers.

So how can you change bad reasons to good?

Think about why you’re entering competitions

Every now and then I like to reassess where I am with my competition goals to make sure I’m on track, and I invite you to do the same right now. Take a notepad and a pen and spend no more than five minutes jotting down the reasons that you might want to enter competitions.

Once you’ve taken some time to make that list, grab a coffee and review it. Take particular note of reasons that relate to your self-esteem. They could be reasons such as “I want to win competitions to prove I’m not a bad photographer,” or “I want to win competitions to show that time spent on my hobby is worthwhile.”

By framing your ambitions in this way, you’re dangerously close to resting your photographing (and personal) self-esteem on the result of the competition. Screw up the competition, and your photographic self-esteem drops. Photography should be pleasurable and fun to participate in, and competitions should support that.

Setting better goals

Instead, try to focus on goals that aren’t tied to your self-esteem. Hone in on more positive reasons to enter competitions such as “I want to enter competitions to help me develop my photographic voice” or “I want to enter competitions to encourage me to shoot a wider variety of subjects.”

These goals are not only much more achievable, but we don’t face the same kind of mood drop if we end up not winning. We have met our goal because our goal was simply to refine our work or shoot more variety. Anything additional, like placing on a shortlist, is a bonus.

Don’t forget to be kind to yourself

It’s important when entering competitions to be kind to yourself. Winning a competition can be a glorious feeling, but allow yourself to fail too. Failing is a very human trait, and it’s not something you will be able to escape.

Have compassion for yourself when the lows happen. Treat yourself to something you enjoy photographically and then go back out and get those goals on track.

Ultimately, you mustn’t allow competitions to have power over you. If the results of competitions become tied to the worth of your photography, then you’re on a rocky path that could end up with you falling out of love with photography. And you wouldn’t be here on this site if you didn’t love taking pictures.

Finding competitions to enter

If you start building your network of photographers who also enter competitions, you’ll start hearing about opportunities via word of mouth. But that’s not the only way to find new places to enter your photographs.

I use a service by Google called Alerts to keep up to date with what competitions are opening for entries. All you need is a Google account, and you can set the service up to send you regular alerts every time it picks up new content using the keywords you define.

These alerts have led me to hear about some interesting photography competitions that I wouldn’t have otherwise found.

So are photography competitions good for your soul?

In my opinion, they certainly can be. I feel that they help me develop my practice as a photographer, allow me to experiment freely, and allow me to be judged amongst my peers. Those three things are very important to me.

Competitions can also be a great chance to meet new photographers and discover new work. Going to your local camera club, or even the exhibition from a larger competition can be both productive and exciting!

But you must take steps to understand why you want to enter competitions with your photography and if you’re entering for good reasons. When stepping into the competitive photography arena, you first of all need to take steps to protect your mental health and ensure you’re not putting yourself at risk.

The post Are Photography Competitions Good for Your Soul? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.


Here are just a few winning photos. Do yours compare:

This is the winning image from Caron Steele. She said: ‘On arriving in Greece to photograph the Dalmatian pelicans in their breeding plumage I discovered that Lake Kerkini, their favoured haunt, had frozen for the first time in 16 years. All the pelicans had flown off. Fortunately, a few holes started to thaw in the lake and the birds slowly began to return. Unused to the slippery icy surface of the lake they regaled us with hilarious antics as they slid across the lake surface trying to retain control as they took off and landed. I was lucky enough to capture one such rare moment when this magnificent pelican ran towards me across the ice at dusk before taking off. It was a truly unique experience, both magical and comical at the same time. And the image remains a moment of pure joy captured forever’. The picture swept the board. It won people’s choice and best portrait on top of earning Ms Steele the overall prize

Cruz was on an organized night dive in the Lembeh Strait off North Sulawesi, Indonesia and, as an eager photographer, held back from the group to allow slower swimmers to take photos. He found himself over a sand flat, in just 10 feet of water. He encountered the pair of bigfin reef squid. They were engaged in courtship, involving a fast‑changing communication of lines, spots and stripes of varying shades and colors. One immediately jetted away, but the other hovered just long enough for Cruz to capture one instant of its glowing underwater show.

“Dreaming Merlin.” 
Courtesy of Denise Czichocki/The Kennel Club
This is Merlin, a 14-year-old rescued Podengo. “I was lucky to find this beautiful magnolia tree near my home in Switzerland. And still more lucky to get the chance to take photos of wonderful dogs in these magnolia,” Czichocki told the Kennel Club.
“Merlin was one of them. It wasn’t easy to take photos of him because of his absolutely deafness. … He gave me so many beautiful moments as you can see in this picture. This is Merlin, beautiful, dreamy and kind of wise. A wonderful old dog with so much charisma.”

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