Photo Contests… Should You Enter?

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Photography for some is a giant competition.

Do I have the latest camera body? Is my lens the sharpest out there?

You only need to browse a few of the photography forums to see how competitive some people are. Brand X makes the shapest lens, has the best bokeh, has the fastet autofocus and on and on and on.

It’s pretty funny really because anytime I have googled one of these forum warriors to see what their photos look like I quickly realized that their photographs didn’t come close to meeting the expectations that they had painted in my mind.

We watch the Olympics every four years to see who is the fastest or best at their sport. Take sprinting for example, the winner really is the winner. You cannot deny that the person who crossed the finish line first is the winner. So what about photo contests?

It’s not the same for any kind of art competition. There really isn’t a definitive best picture for one simple reason, my idea of best might be different than your idea but both of our ideas are equally valid.

Many years ago where I worked they had an annual photo awards for western Canada. I entered them for a couple of years not because I needed or wanted to be labelled best or worst photographer in western Canada but because it was an effective way of getting your name out there. Again who can say this photographer or that is the best? There isn’t any such thing in my mind.

I am long retired and haven’t entered one of those work related awards/contests in many, many years but the idea of a photo contest is kind of appealing to me still.

For a few years it was difficult to enter any contests at all for the simple reason that almost everything that I shot went to stock photo agencies and with it the rights to those photos. It would be impossible for me to enter a photo and have it used by the contest in some kind of promotion and yet have exclusivity with the stock agency when selling to a client.

I have not submitted any photos for stock for a few years now. One of the agencies that I used to submit to seems to be on the verge of bankruptcy and I still have money owing to me from a couple of years ago. Why then would I submit more photos to them? I would be crazy to do so. The other agency? They pay regularly but stock fees have become so low compared to what they used to be I make more money selling prints than I do through stock for the past couple of years. My main reason for selling prints/stock these days is because it provides me with a tax break on photo equipment and related expenses.

I entered a contest last year, a very well known one with a few black and whites and had completely forgotten about it until I got a reminder in email last week that they deadline for the current years contest is about a month away. Because the last few years of photos I own exclusively I am able to enter without any restrictions but the question is WHY ENTER?

I am certainly not entering to become famous. Fame is something that I could not care less about. In fact, I do all that I can to remain semi-anonymous. I am about as low profile as can be on the internet.

No fame is not the reason. Being retired I’m not looking to get my name out there and garner more work. So then why?

I am only entering because there is a nice cash reward. I am not losing the rights to the photos that might place or win. No one is going to use the contest as a cheap way to get photos. It’s just the cash.

So, having said that what should you look for before deciding to enter a contest?

Rights. Usage.

NEVER. NEVER. NEVER. Never give up the rights to your photos.

Make sure that if you do win and only if you win that the company can use your photo for promotion for a limited time.

Lastly, remember that this isn’t the Olympics. There really isn’t a true winner only someone that the judges chose based upon their tastes. Given a different set of judges or a different year, this years winners might be losers in any other year. Don’t let your ego get tied up with winning or losing and for God’s sake DON’T go placing the little badges that you get for winning or placing in the contest all over your web site. Nothing is tackier than that.

On another note, the weather here has been foul for photos and I have been itching to get out. My creative fire is burning and I am going to explode. Soon.

Happy shooting,



~ by Dan Jurak on August 25, 2016.

8 Responses to “Photo Contests… Should You Enter?”

  1. I have never entered a photo contest. One of the reasons is because I don’t think winning such an event means something except being the first. Very often the next year many admissions are copies from the winning image the year before. I also tend to guard my rights. Mostly I make photographs because it channels my creativity. If it makes others happy, or I touch them with one of my images, I am a winner already. But apart from that I never suffered from “mine is bigger than yours”.

  2. Hi Stephan, I agree about the “mine is bigger than yours” statement. Getting past that, I retain the rights to the photos entered and if lucky, because that is what it really is, luck, will be a few dollars richer.


  3. A thoughtful post, Dan. I have never really been drawn to contests, but I don’t see the harm in them if that’s what some photographers want to do. But I also don’t see much merit. Like you, I think on any given contest, another set of judges would choose differently. I don’t think art is a competition against others. To me, the goal is and should be to satisfy oneself. Then if what you create also touches other people, that’s way cool––– an extra bonus. I have friends who have entered contests, and who have won, and I congratulate them because it means something to them. And if they win some money, hey, even better.

  4. Hi Frank, I think every creative person will ultimately reach a point in their development that they stop creating for others and instead create for themselves. If someone else derives enjoyment from your creations that is icing on the cake.

  5. Upgrades, upgrades, it drives me crazy , occasionally to envy, but I am still using my Rebel XS and batteries that are almost obsolete, and, shock of shocks, still Lightroom 3. I belong to a camera club which helps me to enter for feedback and get ideas that inspire me to try new things.I am seeing lots of contests on-line and appreciate the comments about giving your rights away to some of the stock companies-did hear they are paying less and less.Some people like my work-enough to sell cards-money is always good to support my habit. But the main thing is doing it because I ENJOY it.

  6. Jane, you are an example of what photography should really be about, doing it for the joy of it.

    Contests are and will always be a way for companies to get cheap/free access to lots of high quality images. The first thing to look at when considering whether to enter or not should be what rights you give away.


  7. Never entered a contest. Not that good enough (yet). Maybe some day.

  8. Hi Sheila, don’t be too hard on yourself. You never know what the judges will be find appealing.


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