I’ve entered many photo competitions over the years and have learned to submit images that have the best chance of being noticed by the judge. Competitions can also provide great motivation to challenge your photography skills and to step out of your comfort zone in order to capture the blue ribbon. Here are some tips.
Know the judge
If you don’t know the judge’s work, Google him or her to see the kind of photography they create and like. This can help when choosing which image to enter. And read the rules carefully. In my case, you can find me on Instagram, Facebook and at my website.
Enter something new to wow the judge. Look for something visually exciting that will stand out among the other entries. Avoid cliché.
Be careful not to include distracting elements in your photo. Keep your shot simple and to the point – make the story easy to read. Consider cropping or removing any distractions in order to simplify your image.
Edit your image
If you haven’t managed to capture the image perfectly in-camera, take some time to improve it in your editing program. A small tweak – like lifting the shadows, adding some contrast (be careful not to overcook your image – a judge’s pet hate), removing a dust spot, cropping a little, straightening the horizon, adding definition – whatever it needs to make it pop. This can make all the difference.
My favourite form of portraiture is capturing people at work. Try to capture the person, or people in action (not posing). Then take one of them posing and you can decide which is best. Show a person at work, with their work tools, in their uniform, in their work environment – anything to help tell their story.
This provides a lovely opportunity to highlight a feature. It could be a strong, weathered hand holding a plough, a hand brushing through a crop or perhaps grasping an animal. Hone in on an object and take a close up. Look for a different angle/perspective/composition, a different point of view – but something that still manages to tell a story related to the theme and makes the viewer/judge think ‘wow.’
Get the light right
Shooting in the right light is key. Play with light, shoot in soft morning or afternoon light or try shooting into the light. If you have to shoot in situations that don’t have lovely natural light, find a way around this. It might help if you take your subject into the shade, use flash, use a soft box, close some curtains, turn on a lamp, adjust your camera settings to suit the light – think of ways to improve the lighting. If you are taking a portrait, strive to catch the light in his or her eyes.
Pay attention to other photographers’ work – those you admire. Study what they have done to make an outstanding image – what is it you like about a particular image? Note the light, the subject, the composition, the colours, the tones, the sharpness, what they saw and the impact. Then try to make one of your own.
Stick to the theme
Don’t be tempted to submit an image that doesn’t capture the competition theme. If the judge is deciding between two images at the end, they’ll pick the one that best depicts the theme.
Don’t enter an image that isn’t perfectly sharp. It must be in focus.
Paula Heelan (August 2020)