by Skip Cohen
It's that time of year when photographers start thinking about entering prints in competition. Things have changed a little since I first published this post a few years ago, but not in terms of the basics. If you're going to enter print competition at any of the major or local conventions this year then let's at least get you thinking about the process.
I know WPPI has a January 8 submission deadline and many of you have regional competitions you're considering, so now is the time to think it all through. For more detailed information on WPPI's print competition visit their site with a click below. In the mean time, here are some tried and true tips...
1. Pay attention to the rules! I know that seems pretty basic, but pay attention to the allowable file size if you're entering on line and actual size if you're entering prints.
2. In regards to WPPI's 16x20 competition, it's still the same question that always comes up, "How big should the image be?' Here's the program: 16x20 refers to the size of the presentation, the board the image is mounted on. The actual image can be any size as long as it doesn't exceed 16x20. Typically I'd guess most prints I saw over the years were 11x14, mounted on a 16x20 board, but the size is up to you and should be dependent on impact.
3. Impact! It's a great word to remember when entering competition - it's the secret of success. Your goal with every image should be to make the judges scream, "Wow". Over the years I’ve been fascinated by how many artists just miss the point. Seriously, in your heart, even if your own mother told you your work is wonderful, you know whether it's amazing or mediocre. Don't waste your time with images that whisper "wow" - go for the screaming, "WOWs".
4. Less is more! We still have too many “filter junkies” in this industry. You know who you are! If it wasn’t a great image to begin with, most people can’t clean it up unless their name is John Paul, Julieanne or Eddie, just to name a few of the geniuses out there. And, if they were to clean up a “bad image” then the end product would have no resemblance to the original image. In its own right it would be a work of art. Back off the filters and don’t over do it!
5. What’s in a name? A lot, so take the time to be creative in the title of each submission. It’s hard to be unique, but keep in the back of your mind that “First Love”, “Morning After” and “Young Love” have already been used – about 10,000 times.
6. Exposure, composition and printing – is it your best work? If you were the client would you buy the print? I’m surprised when so often, especially the printing quality is poor.
7. Pay attention to the categories you enter. I hung two prints one year in PPA which were underwater shots on chromes. I know part of the reason they scored well was because they were unique – there were no other entries like them. I hung one print in WPPI with a whale and her cub, another underwater shot and again, alone in the type of image being submitted. So, when you’re trying to decide what category to enter a print under, take the time to consider all the possibilities.
8. Sit in on judging. I realize it’s not always possible, but ideally if you’re going to enter print competition then it should be AFTER you’ve observed the judging process. The first time I entered in WPPI competition I went in to listen, thinking I’d stay for an hour – well, I stayed for most of the day! It’s the most educational event WPPI offers and very few people realize it. Every print is judged by a panel of professional photographers, most of them instructors themselves. Just listening to their comments about a print is invaluable and an incredible educational experience.
9. It’s better to enter than NOT enter. Entering prints in competition isn’t just about scoring or the recognition. There’s a spinoff benefit that falls under the "you-never-know" category. Twice I saw images picked for Rangefinder Magazine covers entered originally in competition. Here's a prime example:
As we were looking for a great image demonstrating portrait lighting one year, we received a press release from Adobe. Just a normal press release, but the third place winner had an image that was perfect for our needs. The photographer, a student, found he’d not only placed third in an Adobe contest, but locked in the cover of Rangefinder Magazine before he’d even graduated! You never know what doors an image might open.
10. Most important of all, when you do enter, don’t take it too seriously. Enter with the expectation that it’s simply going to be a learning experience. Remember too, “beauty is in the eyes of the checkbook holder” (Dean Collins). Just because a group of independent judges didn’t jump up and down over your print doesn’t mean your client didn’t love it! Entering prints in competition takes a special mindset that allows you to just sit back, enjoy a little feedback – be it good or bad – and learn from the experience.
Most important of all, print competition represents one of the many ways you can be involved more in the industry. It's an opportunity to learn, to network and after hearing the feedback, a way to fine-tune your skill set! And remember, this isn't about winning, it's about putting in your best effort and learning how to create the ultimate image.
I found a great quote from Gandhi that just seems to fit:
"Satisfaction does not come with achievement, but with effort. Full effort is full victory."
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.