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How to win photo competitions (or not)

Discussion in 'AP Magazine Feedback & Suggestions' started by wozza, May 11, 2018.

  1. wozza

    wozza Active Member


    I read the AP article on winning photo competitions just the once, maybe too hastily, but... I'm not sure how much I got out of it to be honest.

    I tried to "convey more emotion" in my photos this afternoon, but couldn't find the right button. Ha ha.

    Seriously, I think there's some deeper analysis to be done on what judges are typically looking for.

    For example, I'm fairly sure that the judges of street photography competitions are generally obsessed with lighting, and one is MUCH more likely to win with a cool black & white shot with impressive shadows than, say, a funny juxtaposition.

    Also, I've noticed that photos of bull racing (and similar) in Asia have picked up many travel photo awards over the last few years - presumably because it looks exciting, unusual and exotic if you're sitting in a dull office in England.

    I wonder if a photo of greyhound racing in Hove would pick up awards in India?

    In fact, what IS a "travel photo"? If your picture is of a beautiful location, but you live 2min away, does that count?!

    Anyway, an idea: perhaps next time you could ask readers/users to send in photos which they're CONVINCED should have won an award (or, at least, done better) - and you could help explain why they 'failed'.

    "Why you DIDN'T win that photo competition" is quite a compelling splash, and it would be interesting to see a few spreads of imperfect photos with obvious (and less obvious) 'flaws' explained.

    I reckon most of us have an example. A few years back, a favourite shot of mine failed to make the top 50 in a street photography round of APOTY, but was later used in an article by Martin Evening, who heaped praise on it. Confusing.

    I mean, maybe I filled out the competition details incorrectly. Maybe the judges thought it was staged (it wasn't). Maybe they thought it needed editing (like Martin!), despite being a candid shot. Maybe... well who knows? Whatever the answer, there's probably a useful lesson to be learned - and shared.

    Also, I don't think there's any harm going to back to basics with advice - to save everyone's time.

    It's often hard to objectively look at a photo (especially if one's family is featured), so I've learnt a rule: if I can't imagine the photo on a stranger's wall, I would never enter it in a competition. I know too that a photo of a pet is pretty unlikely to win a wildlife comp!

    To me, lazy cropping and signature files are big turnoffs but, judging by some of the entries on Photocrowd, not everyone sees in the same way.

    Incidentally, I really like the tweaks with this year's APOTY - especially the fact you've geared it more towards magazine readers, with the free entry, so it's more about the APOTY community rather than just another online competition. But also the fact that only one photo a month now counts towards a reader's points total - much better.

    I do wonder if the rounds could be less predictable though? I look forward to the "Movement" month, but how about vague themes such as, I don't know, "red" or "girl" and let imaginations run loose?

    Oh, I've just thought of something else related which you could cover in more detail - what manipulation is/isn't allowed in competitions. With yet another high profile disqualification this month (albeit nothing to do with Photoshop this time), there's clearly a lot of rule-bending and confusion.

    Anyway, THAT was a Friday night ramble. Ha. Keep up the good work! :)
    Last edited: May 11, 2018
    Nigel_Atherton and Catriona like this.
  2. Trannifan

    Trannifan Well-Known Member

    The organisers keeping to their rules would be good. Years ago there was an APOTY where the requirement for the abstracts section was NO recogniseable objects i.e.100% abstract. So I sent in one of my 100% totally abstract pictures. All the winning shots had recogniseable objects. Obviously the need to have winners was more important than saying that, since next to nobody had adhered to the requirements, in this round there were no winners for this section.
    Sour grapes? Moi?? No way! All this showed was how devoid of imagination the other participants were.
    Then again, in these days of digital manipulation, I do find myself wondering just what the photographic content of some winning shots is and whether a section for CGI might perhaps be more appropriate.

    Catriona likes this.
  3. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    I've given up.
    I must just take those photos that no judge can connect with. :(
  4. andymcd

    andymcd Well-Known Member

    I think that this would be interesting, and I have examples of pictures that have done very badly in a group judged exercise for my monthly photo club which went on to win or get commended by an external judge. However, I wonder if this subject can be covered in a general article.

    For example, AP could explain how they judge for APOTY but would that advice be valid for any other competition? Also, it does feel like you could present the same picture multiple times and get varying results depending on other circumstances (e.g. being the latest in a long line of candid black and whites versus being the only one in a batch).
  5. Chester AP

    Chester AP Well-Known Member

    Have you noticed how often a winning image does not reflect the title of the competition?
    Garden photography competitions where the image was not taken in a garden, wildlife photography competitions where the image has no animal life in it...
  6. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    I think the eventual audience is at the root of most evils. TV does it, Cinema does it, magazines do it (obviously) and photo competitions must grab the majority or they fail.
    RHS, BJP NPG are no different. Their audience keeps them functioning, so that audience must be satisfied or they go out of circulation.
  7. Gezza

    Gezza Well-Known Member

    All you can do is enter your best interpretation of the requirements and hope the judges share your view. Deep analysis of what the judges are looking for are pointless because they are all looking for something different, which is why you can be totally overlooked by one judge and praised by another. Travel competitions are often looking for exotic/unusual locations (because that is what many of the organisers are are generally selling) but have been won with photographs taken in the UK. Images of greyhound racing in Hove wouldn't win a greyhound racing photography competition in Hove let alone India. I must admit I haven't really seen many winning shots that don't reflect the title, Manipulation... I think you could clone out a cigarette in a Monks in Katmandu shot but cloning in an elephant would be frowned upon. Most competitions will obviously be biased towards their target audience. I think you must just take and enter images that you enjoy and not try to take something you think the judges might want .Capture the moment and make sure its your moment and not one you think a judge might want.
  8. El_Sid

    El_Sid Well-Known Member

    I strongly suspect that many of these competitions are to some extent victims of their own popularity in that they get so many entries that the first winnowing of entries is quite a rapid process and images that don't immediately compel the attention of the judges/reviewers sadly make it no further, regardless of how good they are. More intense scrutiny probably only occurs during the latter stages of the process.
  9. wozza

    wozza Active Member

    Well, they could ask the judges of other awards for feedback too.
  10. wozza

    wozza Active Member

    You say that, but most awards are judged by a panel, not an individual, so there has to be some consensus, and therefore common themes.

    And, yes, travel competitions are usually won by photographers in exotic locations. But do any organisers ever admit you're more likely to win if your photo is taken on, say, a pacific island than in a European capital? And did the AP feature even touch on this?

    As an aside, a few years back I recall seeing a junior wildlife photo of the year taken on safari, and thinking how lucky the kid was... being taken to Africa and using expensive DSLR equipment (his parents' or possible even his own).

    Could an amazing pic of, say, a garden worm ever have won? Almost certainly not. Guess you have to be well-off to win the premier competitions.
  11. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    Don't know if you're old enough to remember but back in the '50s and '60s there were a few people who made or greatly augmented their living through photo competitions. I wonder if it could be done today?
  12. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Dear Andrew,

    Not entirely sure about "made" or even "greatly augmented", though I'd go for "augmented". Nowadays, given how many competitions charge for entry, I suspect that quite a few significantly dispose their income via entering photo competitions.

    Put it this way: I've judged photo competitions (mostly for Pic magazine in the 1990s) and it's as much a matter of luck as judgement. That doesn't mean that the judges are slapdash or indifferent: quite often, one judge will strongly defend a picture another dislikes, or say that they can't see any merit in a picture that another likes, and it can be quite time-consuming. But once technical quality is OK (and often it isn't), it's a matter of taste on the day.


  13. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    I was thinking about people like Louis Peek who gave the impression that a lot of their sales came in the form of competition prizes.
  14. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Dear Andrew,

    Which was, I suspect, salesmanship. Creating such an impression would be good PR but I'm not sure how much truth there was in it. I won't call him a liar, because I always found that he phrased things quite carefully.


  15. Gezza

    Gezza Well-Known Member

    Some are judged by an individual maybe a guest judge, pro travel photographer, wildlife expert etc.. others often by a panel of judges but these are made up of individuals and every panel is a group of different individuals, so you will invariably get different results from the same image from each competition.
    I'm sure an amazing pic of a garden worm would win some sort of worm pic competition as long as nobody entered the lesser spotted sub Saharan monkey tree worm of course.
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  16. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    In all fairness, though, some places are simply prettier than others: I've lived in Malta, Bermuda and California, for example (father in the Navy, and I married a Californian), and much as I love (say) Bristol, they're mostly prettier. European capitals? Well, that's quite a range of places. Valletta; Paris; even London. Personally I prefer towns and villages anyway, including many of the small villages in France like the one where I live.

    As for equipment, there's always the concept of the quality plateau: the level at which a better camera will not give better pictures, because the limiting factor is the photographer, not the camera.


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  17. wozza

    wozza Active Member

    Well, yes, there's plenty of variation in Europe, and I like Valletta very much.

    Even so, I'm sure travel award judges (in the West) are more likely to reward photographers shooting in more exotic, less familiar climes.

    Yes, my side point about junior competitions wasn't so much about equipment - although decent kit is pretty useful on safari - more about opportunity.
  18. Chester AP

    Chester AP Well-Known Member

    I recall seeing a touring version of the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year competition a few years ago in which the junior prize (or similar) was a shot of a wolf at the edge of a forest, taken with a Nikon D800 and a 500 mm F4 lens... must have saved up lots of pocket money to get that lot.
  19. TheSeeingEye

    TheSeeingEye Active Member

    There was an International Wildlife photography won by a wolf vaulting a five bar gate at the edge of a forest. the entry had been made as a 'wild' animal. This was later disqualified later when found out as a domesticated wolf? You obviously have read about the stuffed anteater recently also disqualified. There is a less honourable type now prevalent everywhere not just photography. They often wear suits and ties. Our sick sad society.

    Also reference to the quoted post. You will commonly see articles of fantastic images taken by 19 year olds who somehow are travelling the world with far more equipment than you refer to! They apparently have 'saved up for this' Lol. Bank of rich mum and dad I expect. I am jealous also of their wealth, privilege, equipment, youth and opportunities. But then nothing is fair.

    APOTY will be won by a professional (however they may be corruptly painted as an amateur - only earning 10% or less of their multi-million pound income from Photography which perhaps only pays £500, 000 a year? - sad but true).

    Be aware if any competition is placed in Photocrowd, although you can join and enter for free, paying Photocrowd members gain additional entries and many of those are professional photographers. This is why you will see elaborate staged sets with fabulous models, great make-up and hair and lighting by studio assistants . All this costs big money and it buys success and exposure. This oddity is supported by AP editors and Group editors.
  20. Chester AP

    Chester AP Well-Known Member

    There were unflattering opinions expressed on the AP forum last year about Photocrowd after AP changed the way that APOY is run, including allowing payment to enter more images, etc.

    I have abandoned APOY because of the requirement to use a third-party website and my concerns about any personal data I would have to give them. Last year some entrants had multiple entries in the same round and got points for more than one entry (truly 'pay and display'), but AP have said that this year only the entrant's the highest-scoring entry will count... as always, having a rule will be much easier than enforcing it.

    I once suggested an APOY round where any subject was allowed, but the condition was that the camera, or body and lens combination, must be worth less than £300 NOW. So old secondhand stuff recently purchased, or old stuff owned since new. More of a 'level playing field' perhaps?

    Finally, I suspect your use of the term 'corrupted' is a little unfair... but would love to know how APOY winners may suddenly become professionals soon after winning.

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