Photo competitions are a good way to get your photos out there and become more than a hobbyist. Even if you don’t win, which will probably happen in the beginning, you can prepare for enrolling, evaluate the competition, and maybe receive feedback. The process helps you move from the ‘I sometimes take pictures’ mindset to the ‘I am a photographer’ mindset. And this tiny change of perspective can work miracles. So here is how to prepare the inner photographer for photo competitions.
Manifest the Intention
Take time to understand what your goal is. Why do you want to submit your photos to a contest? If you have multiple reasons (e.g., to get feedback for your photographs, to learn to take photos for a particular purpose, showcase your work, gain recognition, win a prize, etc.), prioritize based on realistic expectations. You won’t be able to cover all your goals simultaneously. And you probably won’t be able to gain international recognition from the very first contest.
So which is the most important one for you at this moment? With a clear intention, preparing your photos for the contest will become much simpler and more efficient. Accept that submitting to photo competitions is a process and take it step by step.
Build Healthy Boundaries
Once you know your purpose for the present moment, find out your limits. For example, you may not be able to spend much money to submit an amateur photograph to a renowned international photo competition. Or you may not enter contests that request high-resolution photos because your best shot is taken with a phone camera. There are many other things one can identify as boundaries, including submitting photos of people without a model release, submitting nude photos, submitting self-portraits, and so on. Build a set of healthy and very personal boundaries and make a principle of respecting them.
Prepare for Failure
Suppose you found an exciting photo contest that suits your work like a glove. You are almost sure you’ll win a prize or mention. However, chances are you won’t win. Photo competitions receive submissions from around the world, sometimes hundreds of thousands. Your submission will have a huge competition. Furthermore, photo contests are judged by people with their expertise, preferences, and biases. Yes, they are experts in photography and humans, and judging photos is subjective.
So don’t become bitter arguing that your photo is better than the winning one. Although it may very well be, that’s not the point. You must find your voice as a photographer and be at peace with whatever happens. It’s impossible to please everyone. So learn from the experience and become a better photographer, choose a different audience, or improve your storytelling skills. And persevere.
Photo competitions may build character, improve your photographic style, and help you focus on what’s important. They are a test for the photographer as well as for the photographs. Your attitude and mindset should align with your artistic purpose. Be positive, open, and kind. Enrolling in a photo contest is not in vain, even when you don’t win a prize. You have something to learn from each experience.