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The Dirty Truth About Photography Competitions
Offers to enter contests cross my desk nearly every day. Some of them manage to warrant a brief look, but many aren’t worth the time or investment.
As a photographer, there a few important questions you need to ask yourself before submitting your valuable images to a magazine, corporation, or other entity holding a contest. Questions like, why are they holding a contest in the first place? How much will it cost me? Will winning benefit me in any way? How much will I lose if I actually lose?
The first question is certainly the most important as it will start your path towards answering the rest.
Why is this contest being held?
Magazines, corporations or any other image-intensive industry needs imagery to market and thrive. Purchasing imagery can become quite expensive with individual licensing terms, annual contracts and other photographer-imposed fees. What better way to increase one’s library for free than to have a contest? Not only that, but some contests require you to pay a certain amount per image submitted. Now the entity in question is not only receiving a vast usable library, but also they’re getting paid to do so. A pretty ingenious tactic.
While most organizations hosting a contest are doing so purely for their own benefit, there are some magazines and businesses out there that conduct contests for the benefit of the photographer. Finding those organizations is actually quite easy. What are your peers doing? What names seem to pop up in the industry more often than others? Do your peers showcase certain winnings in their portfolios, and if so, who hosted those competitions? If you’ve never heard of the organization hosting the competition or if it’s not an industry-wide accolade, be cautious and continue on by reading the fine print.
Once you make it past the hoopla that first interested you in the competition, READ THE FINE PRINT! Many ask for a small fee as either an entry cost or a per image fee. While this usually raises the first red flag towards the validity of a competition, even some photographer-friendly contests need to raise prize money some how. Regardless, you still need to ask yourself if it is a wise investment.
Next, check out the licensing rights awarded to the host of the competition. You heard me right…awarded to them! Suppose you win $500 from this competition, but the host of the event retains the rights to use your image for whatever they want. Realistically, you’ve just won a business bid for the lowest price of an image aimed at a corporation’s marketing effort. Instead of receiving $500 for the use of your image, you could have made thousands through licensing. And if it cost you to enter the competition, you’ve just earned a lot less.
Another drawback to winning a competition is the diminishing value of your photography. Unless the accolades of winning the competition will improve your business, reputation, or even your well being, the results of winning will end up in one of your finest images being used over and over to the point of it being worthless to others.
There’s no question that winning a photography competition boosts one’s ego and self worth. For that, they have a special place in the photography industry for those savvy enough to enter the right ones. But remember, competitions are judged by individuals with a preference towards certain styles. If you submit a spectacular image that just doesn’t suit their style, you’re not going to win. This may very well have an adverse effect on a blossoming young photographer.
Besides all of the reasons listed above, I’ve learned over the years that the real competitions are held each and every day with each and every client. If an image is sold, I won. I’ve learned that I don’t need a panel of judges to tell me whether I am a good photographer or not.
Entering a competition is a bigger decision than one might think, both emotionally and financially. So no matter what you do, read the fine print and be very, very careful!