Building Your Business, Tips from the Pros

Top 5 Mistakes Photographers Make in Photography Competitions

Photo competitions are a great way to get your business some immediate exposure, improve upon your techniques, and learn from the best and brightest photographers.  Photo contests’ goals vary, but one thing you’ll always gain from participating is a sense of progressive learning and community building.


We sat down with renowned photography judge Adrian Henson to get the skinny on his experiences as both a professional photographer and international judge.  Enjoy!


So, you’re just getting started in the world of photography contests and want to know how to immediately get noticed?  It is all about technique.

Here are the top 5 mistakes photographers can make and how you can avoid them:


Mistake #1: Forgetting the Basics

Oftentimes, your photographic eye is looking for meaning in your shot, depth in vision, and a compelling visual.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the first thing that the judges will look for.  To maximize your experiences as a contestant and photographer, you’ll want to start with the basics of photography.  Get as technical as you can with your photo selection.  If you have to choose between two photos (one with a great visual and one with perfect technicals) ALWAYS go with the technically correct images. More on this later!


Mistake #2: Disregarding Judges’ Feedback

This is a big NO-NO.  All PPA judges are professionally trained and must also hold Master’s degree.  They are taught how to score technically, see beyond an image, and work together to provide concise, clear feedback.  If you’re hearing the same comments repeatedly, start taking notes.  Your judges are being asked to critically inspect your photos and point out the flaws, most often in technique.  The feedback you receive from the photography community will help you shift your P.O.V., make small adjustments during photo shoots, and ultimately help you develop your photography skills.  So, after each show, take your feedback and study how to improve these skills.


Mistake #3: Lacking Emotion

Adrian says, “Get your images in front of as many judges as you can. This will make you a better photographer.”

No one wants to look at photos that are bland.  The same goes for any contest that you enter.  Judges, while first looking at your technical skills, will always seek an emotional connection with the image.  Does your photo or image tell a story?  Are the characters reaching out to the viewer, drawing them in? These should be questions you ask yourself before choosing a submission.


Mistake #4: Obvious Technical Errors

As mentioned, technical skills are the first step towards getting a Merit or an award at any photo show.  The most common mistakes are also some of the easiest to fix.  Here is what you should focus on: Avoiding excess sharpness, maintaining shadow detail, avoiding blown highlights, removing sensor spots/dust, clone tracking, crooked horizons, out of focus images.  Sounds easy, right? Adrian suggests spending time after each show to not only research your most critical feedback but also learn from what you’ve done wrong and try it again.  You’ll get the most out of your experience and improve substantially if you digest and review where you faltered and learn how to avoid the same errors in the future.


Mistake #5: Going it Alone

You’ve entered a few competitions, got your website running, and established a presence in your community as a photographer. That’s all you need…right? The flaw in this logic is thinking that your skills don’t need to be improved upon or nurtured.  All photographers, whether you’re competing or not, should seek guidance from the photo community.  Get involved with state associations, even if you have to elbow your way in a bit.  These folks have been in your shoes and can teach you more than any website or judge can share in one sitting.  Learn from those who have already built their business, participate in a 1:1 session with individuals such as Joe McNally, or attend a retreat, like Inspire Photo Retreats.


Have you participated in a photo contest and want to share your experiences?  Artsy is always looking for new talent and perspective.  Shoot us an email today!


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