02 Feb Helpful Tips for Entering Competitions, from Competition Judge Barb Uil
I’m going to be completely honest here – I have never, ever entered an official competition. Oopsie daisy! Now before you throw in the towel and think, “Well, why should I enter,” I’m going to contradict myself. I’ve always been one of those people who just do whatever I feel, on a whim, to do, and I guess that whim has never taken me into a competition. Of course, I never say never.
One thing I do spend my time doing is watching competitions being judged. In fact I have spent hours and hours doing just this. I am fascinated by what others pick up when viewing an image, and, as I’m sure you have found, that at times it’s hard to agree with what they see. Let’s face it, as photographers, we are overwhelmed with imagery. Amazing imagery. We are visually overstimulated, and it often takes something quite unusual to grab our interest.
For me, it’s all about ‘feeling.’ Photographs often take me on a journey that not only involves the subject, but also the artist. What feeling do we get when we see the image? Do we get the feeling that we have seen it many times before? Same technique, same posing, same artistry, same, same, same …
Let’s take it beyond that. So often something can be ‘same-same’, yet so above and beyond in its result that it is nothing short of amazing.
Don’t get me wrong, exploration is great. I actually believe in it, and ‘same-same’ can actually be exploration. Exploration in refinement. Honestly, in competitions, what I often find grabbing me are the works that are less about exploring other voices, and more about allowing the photographer’s own voice to rise to the top. It’s actually scary and hard to share our visual truth. I strive toward and struggle with this. Everyone does.
In saying that, when looking at prints being judged, for me, it’s never about the ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs.’ I would even go so far as to say that the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ don’t really come into it, because I don’t care about them. Not a bit. Crop half a head, be out of focus, do not-so-normal editing, be out of fashion, show the front of the hand (or is it the back that’s ‘wrong’?), or break every single rule under the sun. If the image has feeling and grabs us, then that is what I’m looking for. I seek truth. The meaning behind the pretty picture. A voice, be it the subjects’ or the author’s.
My biggest tip is to be unexpected within yourself. Push for a bigger truth. If you are a storyteller, push harder for the story. Whatever your genre, follow your heart and dig deep in a creative and emotional way. If you are going to enter a competition, enter with an ‘I don’t care’ attitude that allows you to put your full creative voice into it, and just Let It Be (yes, as in The Beatles!). Let the story unfold and whatever happens, happens.
You know what? Judges are just people and our opinion is but a whisper on your journey.
Let your photographs be free from constraint – heartfelt, organic – without walls.
For this competition, I invite you to enter an image that takes us with you, and allows us to understand whatever it is that your creative voice is desperately trying to tell us. Some people have a colourful loud voice, other have one that floats in on the breeze.
I was asked to submit photographs with this article … and I have. Well, just one. I offer you a blank canvas and an invitation to fill it in – with your voice – and to do so without apology.
(Editor’s note: While Barb did not submit a sample of imagery to go along with her wonderfully inspirational article, we wanted you to see just how moving and thoughtful her work truly is. We have taken the liberty of sharing a small number of images, and we invite you to view more of her work, here.)