Monday, August 14, 2017

Photo Contests: What's the Point?

Best in Show in NANPA's 2017 showcase, Scapes category
I'd like to thank the photographer who recently posted the following comment on one of my Facebook posts for inspiring this entry:

"Many years ago I won a honorable mention and was published. Got no money, the magazine lost my slide and denied any wrong doing. Never applied again. I consider natures best a vanity publication."

This comment was in response to my mentioning that I will be applying to Nature's Best Backyards 2017 photo contest, as I have done every year since 2014. I have spent a total of $120 on this contest and the only time I was recognized was in 2014 for this image of a green iguana (see below). The photo was printed in the beautiful Nature's Best Photography's magazine and I received no monetary reward.

I don't know what compelled that photographer to make that comment other than to let people know he's been a photographer for decades and is too important to be bothered with said contest, but it got me thinking about my motivations for submitting images to this and other contests.

One of the winner's in the 2014 Nature's Best Backyards photo contest
In all honesty, any photographer likes to see his or her image recognized by other photographers. Period. Perhaps the potential monetary reward is what drives one to a photo contest, but I doubt that is the main reason. Please consider that aside from the unlikely chance of winning money, submitting images to legitimate nature photo contests can be advantageous to a nature photographer.

First, contest results provide a platform to reach a wider audience and improve your credibility. If respectable organizations or photographers see your image as being worthier than hundreds or thousands of others, that has to mean something, right? I realize that a nature photo contest is simply a moment in time and judges are humans that come with personal preferences and biases. A photo may get tossed aside in one contest, but win recognition in another. The reality is, being recognized by others is very legitimate and can lead to a more successful business, if photography is your primary income.

Winner of National Audubon Society's fine art category, 2015

Second, I truly believe photo contests can make you a better photographer. I know it's subjective and what appeals to one judge does not to another. But the reality is, after I submit photos to a contest and don't get any of them recognized, I begin to analyze and wonder what I could have done different and what can I do to improve. I also look at the ones that did win something and try to figure out what it was about that image that made the judges give it high marks.

Third, and this may be the one you need to be thinking hard about; recognition can ultimately translate into income. I am not talking about prize money (which is an appealing bonus), I am talking about that novice photographer that saw your photo in Outdoor Photographer magazine and contacted you about a workshop. I'm talking about all those bird and art lovers that saw your image in National Audubon Society magazine and contacted your website to purchase a print. That's money and primary income for many photographers. Winning a contest sets you apart from the rest, and it may give you that push to become a full time photographer.

Honorable Mention in Outdoor Photographer magazine's 2015 American Landscape photo contest
Let's face it, being recognized by an organization such as Outdoor Photographer magazine, National Audubon Society, NANPA or Nature's Best Photography is a very legitimate way to gain a foothold in the business of nature or fine art photography. The fee of submitting photos to a contest can ultimately bring you a return. In the meantime, you can develop a resume that will improve your reputation as a passionate and hardworking photographer.

I'd like to add one last thing. I really am not one to toot my own horn and so many of my friends feel compelled to remind me of this. As a woman, this is a particularly sensitive topic. So when some photographer makes a negative comment about my interest in a photo contest, I shrug it off. Because there is nothing wrong with wanting to see your image in print. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Finalist in NANPA 2017 showcase and Outdoor Photographer magazine's 2017 American Landscape contests