Friday, 15 July 2011

Photography competitions

The great unknown - what happens to a photograph once you enter a competition.

I've entered a few, and enjoyed some success. In the early days I didn't get anywhere at all, but kept plugging away realising that my standard wasn't good enough or my photograph not unique in any way. My first success came from Coast Magazine. There were 4 categories, each based on the British Coastline, so I entered a photograph into each. For three of the categories I tried hard to second guess what the judges would be looking for, in the last, I thought what the hell, I'll put in a shot I like.

Excitement grew when I received an email to say that shot had been shortlisted and the overall winner would be revealed in the March issue of the magazine. Three months to forget all about it, but when the magazine dropped through the letterbox the tension and excitement was running high. I eventually got to the right page to find my photo spread right across - top spot!

Mist over Arnside Knott
Overall winner of the Coast Magazine photography competition 2009
I was obviously very pleased to have won (the prize was a 3 day workshop with Joe Cornish) - though also surprised that they went for such an interpretive image, I was sure they'd go for something more predictable. The result gave me more conviction in continuing creating personal images, and also entering them in further competitions.

Competition success rate is low, and at times can be frustrating. When I see other winning entries it is usually obvious why they won, then on some competitions I think 'What?' But that's all part of the excitement. Part of what encourages me to enter more. Competition is good. Although I rarely go out with any particular competition in mind I do try harder because of them, exploring subjects more, searching for that extra something, and in most cases I end up reprocessing my photograph. But here's the key part for me, I don't want to compromise my ideals, I no longer try to second guess the judges. If they don't like my photograph, then they don't like it - I'll pause to contemplate, but if I still believe in the image and another appropriate competition comes along I will try it again (and have done with some success). Here's a shot that didn't make it in a recent competition. A nostalgic shot for me what I enjoyed shooting and processing, bringing back memories of a Monstera plant we had at home, fondly referred to as the Monster.

Monstera Delicosia - The Monster
Unsuccessful competition entry

At the presentation for Coast magazine the manager from Corbis told me that the second place image was a great photo, but they see 20 similar shots of that same view every day. Winning shots are generally unique, different from the rest. Competition has certainly pushed me harder and raised the level of my game, and it is great fun taking part.


  1. I like the "Monster" photo John. Actually it reminds me of a HUGE tropical plant my mom had in the house I grew up in. In the Winter our house was like a jungle. There were dozens of plants all over the place. Then in the Spring after any chance of frost was gone, I'd have to help haul all the plants outside so they would get better sunshine for the warm months.

    I didn't mind so much I guess, but I always hated having to help my dad carry that monster tropical one. Big. Heavy. Awkward. Not to mention not being able to see where you're going because of all the greenery draped over your head!

    Yep. Brings me right back. It's a good one, too bad it didn't come away with the win.

  2. Hehe, you did well to lift it at all!

    When I was at college there used to be an enormous one of these in the centre of the studio. It had a life of its own! Mum hacked hers back to a stump one year and grew lots of baby monsters from the cuttings. It was fascinating how the first leaf has no splits, then it gains an extra one for each additional leaf as it grows.