Jul 12, 2017

4 Tips for Entering Image Competitions

Getting the Most Out of Your Image Critiques – Why They Are Important and How They Improve Your Business

Photographers – we all come from different walks of life. Some of us were professionally trained, some of us are self taught, and still others are a mix of the two, maybe through online schools and videos. There is no right or wrong way to learning the craft of professional photography. Together, we are all artists making a living doing what we love.

I fall into the third of the above categories. An artist all my life, I went to school for graphic design and upon winning an online competition through Amazon, I finally had the opportunity to buy a nice camera and explore my passion for capturing life and memories … not only for myself, but for others. I love what I do because I am able to express myself and share my talents with the world in ways that people in other professions cannot.

This does not come without it’s challenges and conflicts. Putting your work on display every day, for all to see, does not come without criticism. Some criticism is uplifting and positive, while other criticism is negative and can hinder creativity. When I look back at my life as a design student, going through critique after critique, over and over again, I realize that these moments of reflection on my work are what turned me into the designer and photographer I am today. If all of my teachers and clients patted me on the back for 16 years, my work today would be no better than it was when I started school. In fact, had I not had that teacher who (literally) pulled my work off the bulletin board in front of my peers, ripped it apart into little pieces, and stepped on it, I probably wouldn’t have passed senior review. Truth be told, years later, he was my absolute favorite teacher. Why? Because he forced me to push my limits and he wouldn’t accept any work from me that wasn’t my absolute best.

Photo Credit – Megan Drane of Firefly Nights Photography | 1st Place Seniors

As the NAPCP Second Half International Image Competition approaches, I am reminded of these critiques. I think what I have learned over the years applies in the same way to image critiques during these competitions. As NAPCP members, we are all given two complimentary credits during each competition. NAPCP strives to help its members improve and grow in their profession and I feel this is the greatest opportunity we have for growth and reflection on our work. Since it’s free to enter, it makes sense to spend the money on a full critique from one of the judges so that we can better understand what can be improved. Critiques, good or “bad”, are not meant to force us to completely change our style, but instead are meant to help us improve our technique so we can become better artists. Sure, some parts of a critique may be subjective, but as professionals it’s always important to consider the wants and needs of our clients so that we can make a profit. It’s also good to step back from your work and get an honest opinion from a peer about how you can improve and become better. I don’t think it’s anyone’s goal to stay in the same place from year to year.

Photo Credit – Emily Williams of Emily Williams Photography | 1st Place Toddlers

Below are 4 tips for image competitions. We can use these moments to celebrate other artists in our community, while improving our craft.

1. Remember that you are up against the best. The NAPCP International Image Competitions receive thousands of entries from professional photographers around the world. Some of your competition has been in business for 10+ years.

2. These are professional judges. Unlike other image competitions, the judges for the NAPCP International Image Competitions are carefully selected seasoned professionals. While others may like an image or give it a high score for showing a cute baby and the latest editing trend, our judges are looking for the best of the best in technical skills and impact.

3. This is an art competition. When choosing the images you’d like to submit, it’s important to keep this in mind. Unlike images your clients may like most, of their child smiling, our judges are looking for images that make an impact and and stand out from the crowd. When you are considering an image you should ask yourself if this is something they see every day or not. Try and think outside the box, and even shoot photos specifically with Image Competition in mind. Maximize your use of technique in order to achieve the highest possible score.

Photo Credit – Heather Stockett of HCS Photography | 1st Place Siblings

4. You probably won’t agree with all of the comments on your images. If you are going into a critique expecting a pat on the back, you are setting yourself up for disappointment! That’s not the definition of a critique. The best advice I can give you is to read your critiques when you get them, then come back a week later and read them again. Chances are the second time you read them you will be more open to hearing what the judge had to say. At this point, you can look through the comments and determine what you can improve upon.

I hope this helps us all to look at Image Competition with a fresh perspective! Although its main purpose is to celebrate exceptional photographers in our industry, we can all benefit from it. Remember – if no one pushes you to improve, your work won’t improve. Most often, exceptionally successful people and artists are successful because someone along the way pushed them to give 110%. Constructive criticism is a necessary piece of the puzzle of our paths to becoming the very best artists we can be.



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About the Contributor: Deanne is a graphic designer and photographer. She graduated in 2005 from Northern Illinois University with a BFA in Visual Communication . Before joining the NAPCP team, Deanne worked at a small advertising agency for ten years where she grew as an artist. She also started her own small photography business in 2010 and has a passion for photographing children and documenting life. Currently, she is working for NAPCP as the Design Production Assistant and is excited for new opportunities to bring her love of design and photography together. Deanne resides in the Chicagoland area with her husband and three year old son. When she is not working, you can find her photographing or doing multiple home improvement projects.


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