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Photography Competitions

Updated on April 19, 2011

Photographic competitions are of several types. Generally speaking the term is applied to those contests in which prizes are given.

There are competitions organized by the great national newspapers where prizes are offered, for example, for the best pictorial prints, the best sports picture, the best action picture, the best child portrait and so on. These competitions are generally run on well organized lines and the final selections are made by competent judges. Then there are commercial competitions run by manufacturers to increase sales of some particular product. In such competitions the purchase of the product is usually a condition. The competitor is asked to include a coupon or box lid or some evidence of purchase with the photograph. Many of these competitions are promoted by manufacturers of photographic products who award a prize for the best photograph taken with a particular make of camera or using a particular paper or film. Finally there are the competitions run by the photographic press in specialized subjects. These are organized to stimulate readership and to promote good photography generally.

Conditions for Success

A study of thousands of competition entries has shown quite clearly that the great majority of entrants, particularly for the national newspaper competitions, have little idea of what is required in order to win. Usually there is no limit on the size of the print submitted.

Experienced entrants, generally know that the proprietors of the paper will want to reproduce the winning pictures in their journal and that it is much easier to judge a picture and to visualize it in its reproduced form when it is of a reasonable size. A certain number of very large pictures of what are generally called "exhibition size" are frequently sent in, but these stand no better chance than a whole plate print.

It should be obvious to any entrant that the picture must be clear and sharp and of a reasonable technical quality, but at least 75 per cent of the entries for the big national newspaper competitions are thrown out on the first sorting because they are thoroughly bad photographically. So before submitting a print, the sender should make sure that it is at least sharp, correctly exposed, and free from blemishes. Then the picture must make an immediate appeal to the average reader of the paper and should generally be simple in character and possess one main interest. Technical quality alone will not win a prize any more than good grammatical construction will ensure the printing of a story. A good sharp picture of a baby sitting on the sands with a spade and pail will stand no more chance than thousands of other similar pictures.

The type of photograph that wins prizes is a simple record of some particular incident with a strong sentimental appeal and the best training for success in this kind of photograph is undoubtedly to study the type of picture that is awarded the prize in similar competitions or in previous years. The judges in selecting the winning photograph always bear in mind that what is required is the picture that will have the maximum appeal to the paper's readers. If the picture has a strong appeal, slight technical faults may be overlooked.

In competitions designed to boost the sales of particular products the same general rules apply, but the pinure should in addition create a desire to own the product. In fact, success in this field is largely dependent upon the photographer's sense of salesmanship.

In the general photographic competitions simplicity and direct appeal should again be aimed at and technical quality must be of the highest. The standard of a pictorial entry will be judged as keenly as for a picture entered at a salon or general exhibition.

All prints submitted to competitions should be black-and-white and on glossy paper for good reproduction. Rough paper prints, and particularly those which have been sepia toned, are almost impossible to reproduce satisfactorily. Finally, if the competitor wants his prints back, he should be sure to enclose suitable wrapping, stamped and addressed.


The better organized competitions usually require that the winners of big prizes should make over the copyright of the picture to the promoters. This is reasonable when the prize offered is a substantial amount of money, but entrants should beware of competitions, particularly for commercial products, in which one of the conditions of entry is that all entries become the copyright of the promoters. By making this condition, some firms will obtain hundreds of photographs for reproduction without having to pay any reproduction fee, simply because the pictures they use have not necessarily won prizes. The better competitions usually state that the main prizes call for the surrender of the copyright but in the case of all the other entries the copyright remains with the entrant.


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    • NyokaKi profile image

      NyokaKi 6 years ago from Perdido Bay

      Thanks for the info! I was thinking about joining a contest. Now I know to check the copyrights. Thanks again!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Great Hub! I had not considered copyright issues as they factored into contests. Good to know!