Convinced that you haven’t a snowball in hell’s chance of ever winning a photography award or competition? Well how do you know if you have never tried? In the current over saturated market, having an accolade can make all the difference when it comes to standing out from the crowd. At the Farm we encourage the Farmers to go for awards, we even have some winners amongst us. We have our own Farmers Image of the Week which will result in an end of year award for Image of the Year with prizes given out at a fancy dinner at Farmers Market. Being a winner isn’t just luck, I recommend that you have a strategy when entering. When I went in for a major award a few years ago, I didn’t just pluck an image out of the air and hope for the best. I put a lot of thought into it and by following my simple tips and you could increase your own snowball’s chances for any contests.
1. ENTER. Someone is going to win, so why not you? If you simply never enter anything then yes you will never win but you could be surprised at how many other people think the same and don’t go in for awards. In the words of the game show hosts, ‘You have to be in it to win it’. All the major photography magazines run competitions, they are a great way to engage readers but also look out for ones by wedding magazines and international publications. Not every award is a forgone conclusion and many are designed to seek out undiscovered talent.
2. READ THE RULES. Sounds obvious but you simply will not win if you don’t meet their criteria. Name and size the files exactly as they ask you to. Judges will have to sift through many entries and won’t waste their time on those that didn’t get the fundamentals in place. No matter how ambitious you are, don’t try to bend the rules. How embarrassing would it be to win an award only to have to give it back for slightly tweaking the truth? So don’t enter an image from a styled shoot and try to pass it off as a real situation or put in an image shot outside of the permitted dates. I had to turn down one award as I had been shooting for longer than five years which was their particular restriction. Tempting as it would have been to gloss over this fact, I just would never want to be the guy that won by cheating.
3. AIM TO STAND OUT. Put yourself in the judges’ shoes and think about what they will be looking at. If it’s a competition for a wedding image, then chances are they will be looking through image after image of a girl in a nice white dress or a couple embracing. Take a different approach and give them something unexpected. You could grab their attention with something really simple but full of impact, just don’t go for the obvious. If entering is done via Instagram then don’t only put thought into your image, come up with a killer caption. They’ll be wanting someone who can give a decent soundbite.
4. TELL A STORY. The greatest photographs should stand in isolation as a story in one frame. If you are only permitted to enter one image, does it invite the viewer into its narrative? Choose an image that intrigues and makes us stop in our tracks. Awards are about pushing boundaries, not going for the safe bet. If you are required to show a range be careful not to put images in just for the sake of it. Look at each one and ask yourself is this Killer or Filler?
5. GET YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER. No matter how killer your photograph is, most judges will then go to your website to ensure that it is not a happy accident and that you have some sort of body of work. They will most likely not be impressed if they hit an out of date site or one that isn’t working properly. A busy Facebook page would be better than a website that makes you want to hide under the nearest rock so make sure you link to your best and most current work.
6. GET THE FORMAT RIGHT. This seems to pass most people by but I guess that as I come from an editorial background, this seems obvious to me. If the competition is in association with a magazine then chances are they will favour a portrait image. I was aware that the award I entered would include one full page in a magazine. Of course an editor is going to prefer an image that sits nicely on a page. If it’s potentially going to make the cover then would any of your shots look good beneath a header? If it is only ever going to appear online then a landscape format may well be favoured. Giving some thought to this again could well be the thing that gives your entry an edge.
7. IF YOU WIN, SHOUT ABOUT IT. So maybe you win the award, then what? Well I don’t think there are any photography awards out there that hand you a press agent along with it so this is your job. Put some thought into how you can maximise the attention from winning. Clients love this kind of thing and so do their families so make sure they all know about it. Do a newsletter to current bookings, put it all over your website and social media, add it to your bio everywhere and add a badge to your email sign off, throw a party to celebrate! And then…. Make sure you put your prices up.
8. IF YOU DON’T WIN, DON’T BE PUT OFF. Most people who enter anything will not be the winners. However, every single thing that you enter will force you to look closely at your work and to have a curation process. This is such a great experience for any creative. You will learn from every entry and you will be stronger when you enter the next time. Look at it as ‘Getting on the Radar’ with the right people. So this wasn’t quite your time, put it behind you and move on.