Value in entering local photography contests?

As a new member of NPN and an amateur landscape photographer, I am inviting feedback from the NPN community on this subject. Members of my photo club feel that my lack of submissions in local photo contests (which there are a great many) is odd. It seems as if entries = wins = recognition = validation of photographic skill. I have my reasons for not entering these contests (which I have, by the way, several times over the years), but I won’t discuss here. But I believe, perhaps naively, that I already possess some amount of photographic skill which does not need validation with contest wins. If I harbored any doubt about my skill, modest as it may be (remember I am an untrained amateur), I would not have a website for all to see. Furthermore, photography is a fun and rewarding hobby, and I have no desire to seek either recognition or a second career. Does anyone care to comment?

Hi Marc
I will preface my remarks in a comment as to your post’s clarity. I am unsure if you are talking about contests where critiques are offered versus contests and juried shows where no critique is offered.
Having said that I have two observations.
First as to when critiques are offered: I think they are valuable to most anyone except perhaps people who are seasoned and recognized pros. Seeing photography through the eyes of another is always helpful.
Secondly the local competitions. Are you talking about juried shows? Thats a matter of personal preference. They can be kind of fun- going to the openings and getting to know other photographers. and artists (in the case of mixed media shows). You also will learn more about what people are looking for. It may influence how and what you present on your website. I kind of have the theory that not showing work is like whether a tree falling in the forest makes noise if no one is there to hear it. The juried shows can be a lot of work and expense though and they are not everyone’s cup of tea.
Yes it is validation to a point, but it also might just shape and improve your artistic “eye”.

Critiques are the key for me, so long as you remember that they’re just opinions and not all judges will agree or have similar frames of reference. If you don’t get too spun up on winning or even placing, there’s value in exposing your photography to an open audience after the judging as well as in going through the procedures in preparing a submission.

My wife and I have judged lots of local and regional photography competitions- individually and in concert with other judges. I think the results are better for everyone when the judging is done by a panel of judges rather than a single individual. Lots of discussion occurs among the judges and entrants benefit. The best of all have been panels which include at least one artist from a discipline other than photography. The panel in the last show we judged in Florida included an industrial/scientific photographer (moi), a portrait/advertising photographer (my wife), a New York photographer specializing in Broadway and concert photography, a published bird photographer and a landscape painter.

The landscape painter was the star of the panel by a mile. She wasn’t burdened by all the geeky computer/camera stuff and reacted purely from an artistic standpoint. Interesting enough the contest also featured a crowd judging process during the show that followed our judging and awards. Visitors completed ballots anonymously and dropped them in a ballot box. Almost without exception the visitors mirrored the views of the landscape painter.

I’m writing more than I intended, but I’ll make one more point before closing my growing essay: Pay special attention to any competition which includes a portfolio review by any or all of the judges. The opportunity to sit with them and talk your own photography will be priceless. That was a feature of the show I’m describing, but interesting enough from over 100 entrants only 2 elected to sit with us. Not surprisingly (and they didn’t know it at the time of their portfolio reviews), one of the two was Best of Show, and the other got firsts in both landscape and portrait. They were serious photographers and it showed.

Thank you for the feedback. I hope there is more from other members. The contests that I describe are usually single judge, one club, bragging right prize contests only. Critiques and portfolio reviews are invaluable, but that may be too sophisticated or costly for my club. For the contests that I did enter, I tried to review my submissions with the judge(s) upon completion, but they seemed disinterested with providing feedback.

Hi Marc - and welcome to NPN! - I don’t intend to be contentious, but I think you answered your own question - Who cares what the opinions are of the judges of “photo contests” right? If you have confidence in your abilities and love and appreciate your own work, then what other validation to you need.? I would agree with that. Now, perhaps for a beginner it’s understandable to try and reach out and figure out where you may stand against your “competition,” but in the end, only your own opinion matters.

Of course, anyone with an ego (we all have one btw,) would be lying if they said they don’t love hearing praise about their work. But do you need that praise to validate your work? Of course not.

I too a long time member of a camera club. I held every position, including President. I made my way to the “master” level. I was competitive (I still am.) I loved getting a winning image and it was icing on the cake to have an image selected in the annual competition. We competed regionally, against other camera clubs, It was really a lot of fun. I personally used that competitive spirit to improve my photography!

The local contests and specifically camera club and regional camera club competitions - were just that - and judged by the opinion of some professional, or “seasoned” photographer. I’ve since judged some club competitions… and we all should honestly know that the results are subjective; often times influenced by a particular style, format or genre. (I entered the county fair competition with a b&w print because I knew who the judge was and he was a old-school b&w printer. (I didn’t win, place or even show with that print…)

I don’t think this was part of your question regarding competitions, but there is a more serious consideration - especially for regional and “sponsored” competitions. You must be keenly aware of what the terms and conditions are. What are you signing up for and potentially what are you giving away??? So many, many contests with an attractive prize - cash or equipment… but what you may give up is a free lifetime agreement for that sponsor to use your image for however and for whatever purpose they want. That is the objective of most of these contest by the way… to get free images for their advertising. Anyway, so entering contests and submitting your images to organizations isn’t “free” and there are consequences.

Today, my camera club is NPN. And what is really different? Not much actually. Critiques are subjective, yet very valuable - and valuable in different ways for different people and for different reasons.


From the way you’ve asked your question I feel that you have pretty much mind up your mind already.

This problem you’ve brought up has been discussed by school boards all over the country for years: should students be given letter grades or not. Some argue that tests and grades improve their education. Others argue it actually hinders them. That given a free reign students would respond better to an instructors lectures. Education would be more enjoyable.

I view photo competition in the same way. It’s an educational experience. It does’t validate so much as it teaches. It teaches implicitly because if you don’t do well you’re work is inferior. And if it’s inferior you’re encouraged to fill the gap. It’s all up to you of course. You can say “I have my vision” and ignore the whole thing but generally that’s not a good strategy for improvement. Competitions are of course just one way of improving and not necessarily the best. Classes, workshops, NPN critique galleries are some of many. Incidentally, there are people who ignore and are even annoyed by critiques. They, too, progress slowly.

Of course, not everything is black and white. There are biased and incompetent judges. There are workshops that steer you to cliche compositions. Furthermore, a personal vision is important to develop and most judges will pick a cliche composition over something uniquely different because they’re lost when they come upon it. It’s off their radar. So competitions are often flawed but that’s actually the exception.

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You seek unneeded permission to justify your own efforts. Why the big need for external “validation”?
Contentment from your behavior needs to come from you.