5 ways to win in club photography competitions

5 ways to win in club photography competitions

5 ways to win in club photography competitions. Don’t leave it to chance, maximise your chance of taking a top spot!

Like other members of my club I enter our internal club competitions. Some of these entries, if good enough, can then find themselves in external competitions and even international competitions. I don’t particularly enjoy competitions, but I feel that as a senior member of my club that I should lead by example and enter photographs that best match the theme of the competition. Even so, I tend to try to push the limits a little by entering images that make the judge and audience think.

Rule 1 – Make Sure Your Image Connects with your Audience

Being able to recognise the subject and to “get it” is a golden rule in club photography. I feel like I have a good idea as to what images are likely to do well in competitions but these often aren’t always favourite images and therefore it’s worth asking other people how they feel about your images. This could be your wife, friends, other photographers.

To do well in competitions you must enter images that engage the viewer. That engagement needs to leave a lasting memory for judges because they often come back to images when doing their final scoring and they often change the order based on “niggling” factors or the fact that they can’t get a particular image out of their head. I’ve had images bumbed up and down because of factors such as these!

5 ways to win in club photography competitions
5 ways to win in club photography competitions. Tug on the heartstrings – judges are human after all!

Rule 2 – Make Every Club Photography Competition Important

In my early days I simply left my entries to the last minute. Trying to sort out entries for a club competition two hours before the competition deadline passed will not win you many competitions. You might get lucky, and of course a great image is a great image, but in general terms, thinking about, reviewing and technically tearing apart your image is the only way to be successful and that process takes time.

My personal approach is to create an album and then go through every category / folder on my hard drive looking for potential candidates. I drag thes in to the album and continue my search. I tend to use a simple rule for this process “do I like it?”. IN general terms I don’t want to add entries to a competition that I don’t like. I’d rather lose a competition than add something for the sake of it. In fact, I’d rather not enter at all!

5 ways to win in club photography competitions
5 ways to win in club photography competitions. Take it seriously, organise your mages for every competition

Rule 3 – Imperfections & Technical Errors Matter

Judges look for a lot of things in an image. For example engagement, content, uniqueness, image quality and likeability. They also look for Imperfections and technical errors. If you give a judge the means by which to mark down your image they will generally take it because it’s their job to find the very best from what’s in front of them. If your image has any significant technical issues or imperfections they will find them – they are trained to do just that.

Rule 4 – Photographic Rules Don’t Matter – Or Do They?

You’ll hear this topic debated in every photography club. I’m talking here about stuff like the rule of thirds, odd numbers of objects, leading lines, framing, focus, background distractions, cropping etc. To be honest, after some time with a camera you’ll do most of this stuff intuitively. When you first start out, it’s a different matter.

For me, rules do matter because they help you create a better composition. That’s assuming hat you have the time to think and react of course, something that doesn’t ofter happen with documentary or candid photography. A mountain doesn’t move so you’ve got time to get every element right. That woman walking past you wearing a huge inflated penis hat is another matter. And yes, a friend was faced with this very situation! 

The key point here is that a single cloud in a blue sky works better than a dozen. A road leading into a picture is better than one cutting across it. A persons face placed on a 3rd feels so much better than anywhere else. A person walking into space is better than one walking out of the frame. Cropping off arms and legs might not be the best option, explore the framing of your image. Focus is a tough one, I have won several competitions with out of focus images but in every case, the content was emotionally strong.

Rule 5 – Know Your Judge!

From my perspective, the only real unknown in photographic club competitions is the judge. By this I mean that the judge you see before you could well be unknown to you. If this is the case, a little research can help you “understand” what the judge particularly likes as well as the genres that he or she focuses on (no pun intended) in their photography.

For example, if the judge is a prominant portrait photographer you may think that entering a portrait is the perfect option. However, on the flip side they may be so good that any imperfection in your portrait is easy for them to pick up on and of course, imperfections and technical errors tend to get marked down.

The other important thing to understand is that judges are taught to judge and to do this, there have to be rules. If you put an image before a judge that they don’t get, or they can’t engage with then you aren’t going to score highly. A little reseach can help you fine tune your submissions for a particular competition which in turn maximises your chance of success. Sometimes I am surprised by a judge who seems to be on a similar trajectory to me, who likes to think outside of the box but that’s generally a bonus in club competitions. That’s not to say that all judges focus on a narrow set of criteria, some are definately more “open to suggestion” where the image is strong visually or where the message is easily recognisable. 

In Summary

Approach every competition like you want ot win it, From the selection of the images, how you post-process it, how you crop it, how you present it. Engage with the judge, make them think, make them react, make them cry, make them laugh. Test your submissions on friends and family, ask for criticism and learn from it. Learn and use rules to help you compose, they will create a better image I promise you. Most of all, make sure that your content is engaging.

5 ways to win in club photography competitions. Make the audience think, ask questions, use rules
5 ways to win in club photography competitions. Make the audience think, ask questions, use rules

As Don McCullin said “Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures”.

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