Insight on participating in contests from Tsuyoshi Ito of ONWARD Photo.

ONWARD Photo Competition 2014 is now accepting submissions. Tsuyoshi Ito, Founder and Director of the ONWARD gives six tips below on participating in photo contests.

Six Tips for Finding the Best Competitions for You
Now that you know how to effectively enter a photography competition, where will you test your skills? If you’ve begun your search, you’ve probably discovered that the sheer number of contests available makes it almost impossible to decide which ones to enter.
The goal of this article is to help you, the photographer, cut past all of the industry buzz words and marketing efforts to identify exactly which competition is going to be the best fit for you.

I have a good deal of experience with these competitions – I host an international one annually (ONWARD Photo Competition, for a small shameless plug). And in order to help increase the information I share in this article, I consulted several pro and semi-pro photographers who have also been challenged by this issue. Given our unique experience of both hosting and participating in photography contests, we’re hoping our combined perspectives will be the missing pieces to help you “crack the code.”

So without further ado…

Tip #1: Work Toward Your Goal
While this is the most basic of our six tips, it might also be considered the most important. When you come across a competition, start by taking a look at the juror(s) and finding out what “prizes” the competition offers. Do they align with your personal goals?

Having your image chosen by a famous photographer and juror may provide the nod of approval you desire, while being selected by a curator or other industry professional can result in the right contacts.

If you’re solely “in it to win it,” cash money and/or gifts may be enough. However, should you want to jump-start or advance your career in photography, you will want to confirm that the reward includes some kind of exposure. If so, your objective may be placement in a museum or collection versus a gallery exhibition.

Want both the prize and the ongoing recognition? Find a well-rounded contest that acknowledges various goals and offers all of the above. There truly is no right or wrong decision here. We simply recommend you choose a competition that fulfills or aligns with your personal goals as a photographer.

Tip #2: Know Their Vision


After you take note of your own objectives in entering a competition, you should take a deeper look at the hosts to learn what their goals are. Do they provide detailed information about how the contest works, as well as what’s expected of you? Or do they just request your credit card information and ask you to submit your image(s)?

If you encounter the latter, the organization is most likely in the business to make a profit—the fees they collect will go toward prizes, and whatever’s left over will go into their pockets.

You may be okay with this if your goal is to win a prize. However, if you want more out of the competition, move on and align yourself with an organization whose vision is compatible with yours. This may mean you’re looking for an organization that positions itself as a year-round resource with offerings that are important to you.
Again, there is no right or wrong decision here; we just want you to be sure that your time and money are being invested into the right organization for you.
Tip #3: Be Aware of “Free”

There are hundreds of competitions that will let you participate at no cost – but are they really free? The old adage, “nothing in life is free,” applies to more of these zero dollar contests than you may think. Scan the fine print of these so-called “free” events, and you may find that they plan to own the rights to your image and may even sub-license them to third-party companies for their use, too! As you consider entering this contest, you’ll also want to evaluate whether winning that free camera bag you’ll use for a few years is worth losing the rights to your image forever.

On the other hand, the entry fee that you balk at paying will, in many cases, pay off in the end. Those charging an entry fee typically invest that into their competitions, to finance reputable jurors, various promotions (e.g., marketing your selected images) and celebratory events (exhibitions!) — all while allowing you to maintain ownership of your work. So before you skip over a contest because they charge an entry fee, look into where that money goes, and remember how you can benefit from what is typically a small investment in the grand scheme of things.

Tip #4: Calculate the Costs
Sure, the only fee written in the contest instructions is the entry fee, but have you truly understood the fine print? Exactly what else will you be responsible for? It’s very important not only that you read the competition details, but also that you truly understand them as well. If you don’t, you may miss a hidden message, or, even worse, a hidden cost.
For example, if the competition will host a physical exhibit to showcase the selected images, will they provide the frame or expect you to frame the work yourself? Who is responsible for the shipping charges, both to and from the venue? You may notice that they will require you to supply the hardware, but not disclose the related fees in detail. Therefore, you’ll need to review the information carefully so that you can determine what it is you’re really going to end up spending to participate in the contest.

Tip #5: Be Truly Recognized
You can usually count on a competition to post the selected images on their website. However, in today’s digital world, seeing your image on a website might not be as exciting to you as seeing your image on a gallery wall, where people can experience your winning print in person.
Picture your photo perched atop that bright white wall for hundreds to gaze at in awe. Even better, imagine the chance to mingle with photographic peers and industry professionals, discussing your inspiration for the image, making valuable contacts and getting invaluable advice. These networking opportunities might be otherwise difficult to come by, so you want to keep this in mind when deciding which competitions are worth your time.

Tip #6: Stay Exposed
So, you’ve found a contest that’s going to praise your work all over the Internet, but have you looked into just how long you’ll be featured? Many competitions will remove all traces of your win shortly after the contest is over, in order to make room for the latest and greatest group of participants. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are hosts out there who remain interested in positioning themselves as a partner and trusted source to all of their selected photographers, no matter the year. If this is important to you, it may be a better option to align yourself with a competition that will continue to showcase your photograph(s) long after you’ve won.
In Conclusion…
…With the digital age on the rise, it means that photographs are more easy to share, which has helped lead to more competitions. Wading through the hundreds that are available to you can be a little confusing at first, but knowing what you want to get out of the competition and the – sometimes dirty – little details of the competition should help you feel infinitely more confident in the decision you make. Hopefully some of these tips have helped you get that much closer to finding your right competition – or introduced you to the world of competitions for the first time!
Happy contesting!



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