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Opinion: There's more to photography competitions than just winning prizes

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(Image credit: Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash)

Photography competitions aren’t for everyone but, from camera clubs to the world stage and everything in-between, there’s no denying they are a huge part of the photography industry. I’ve helped judge a couple of minor competitions and although poring over entries is hugely inspirational, choosing winners can feel like an insurmountable task. Art – funnily enough – isn’t an exact science. 

There’s no universal rule book for judging a photograph. Different people have different ideas as to what constitutes a winning image, and those ideas might change from genre to genre or even mood. Perhaps technique should take precedence… or maybe creativity… or difficulty… Then there are ethical considerations. At what point does an image become exploitative? At what point does editing become unfair? At what point does staging become misleading? 

• Read more: The best camera! 

Judging panels and crowd voting are the best solutions we’ve come up with, but unless we one day hand over the decision making to AI robots (who will have probably replaced photographers by then anyway) true objectivity will remain a distant dream. And yet it’s the subjective nature of photography that makes it so darn enticing. If blueprints for the perfect photo existed, photography would be far less creative and far less rewarding. 

The point I’m trying to make is that photography competitions can be challenging for both judges and entrants alike. For the former, pleasing everyone is impossible (not that this should factor in the decision making) and when faced with a slew of fantastic entries, picking a winner can sometimes feel overwhelming. For the latter, hours spent braving adverse weather conditions, waiting for the right light and producing the perfect edit can feel fruitless without recognition. 

But it shouldn’t do, because there’s so much more to photo comps than just winning. They provide deadlines and goals, reasons to try new genres and push yourself harder. Some boast thriving communities where you can engage with fellow photographers and even partake in judging. And if you get into the habit of entering regularly you’re only going to improve your skill set. 

Don’t let a lack of recognition discourage you. Focus on the many positives photo competitions have to offer and one day you might be awarded the top spot. But that’s just the icing on an already satiating cake.

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Mike Harris

Mike is technique editor for N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine, and spends most of his time shooting skills articles and begging for more external storage. He's worked for a variety of publications over the years and was formerly the production editor for Wex Photo Video’s content marketing team. An avid motorsport photographer, you’re likely to find him (and his trusty Nikon D800) at racing events across the country.