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How to Win a Photo Contest

Top 5 Ways to Increase Your Chances of Winning a Photo Contest

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Photographers love for other people to like our photos. One of the most popular ways to try and gain this acclaim is to enter photo contests. Unfortunately, many people repeat the same mistakes every time they enter a contest. This list of the top 5 ways to increase you chances of winning a photo contest will put you a step closer to winning your next contest.

1. Follow the Rules

Contest rules are there for a reason (other than to make you crazy). Many contests receive hundreds or thousands of entries. The rules allow the contest sponsors to have some continuity between entries so that judging can be completed more quickly. Entry date requirements, image size limits, entry formats, and model release requests are very common rules that are most often broken. While you may have an amazing image to enter, if you don't take a few minutes to read and follow the rules, the judges will discard your entry without a second thought because they have a lot of other images to judge where photographers cared enough to try to make the judging easier by following the rules. If you don't understand a rule, ASK!

2. Stay on Topic

No one ever won a cat photo contest by entering a photo of a dog. Enter images that fit the theme of the contest. While some contest themes are a bit subjective (happy, sad, funny), others are more concrete (blue, water, rule of thirds, kids). Regardless of how good your image is, it will not win if it doesn't fit the theme of the contest.

3. Focus

A huge killer of photo contest entries is out of focus images. While deliberate soft focus works for some images, careless blurry blobs do not win contests. Be honest with yourself when reviewing your photos and selecting entries. While the memory of your child chasing bubbles may be precious to you, the out of focus record of that event will not be precious to anyone else because they do not see the memory - only the blurry image. Photo entries do not have to be overly sharp so that they no longer look natural but they can't look like you forgot your glasses either.

4. Image Size

Bigger is better...as long as you stay in the rules. If a contest allows entries up to 8x10 then enter an 8x10 instead of a 4x6. Photography is a visual art, a tiny image next to a larger image tends to get lost during judging. Don't let your photos get lost purely due to size, compete on equal footing by entering the largest image allowed by the rules.

5. Look at Past Winners

If the contest has been run before, or a contest has been judged by the same group, look at previous winners. Judges have preferences (they are still human, contrary to popular belief) and certain contests have preferences. Some contests almost always choose the "artsy" image while others go for "photojournalist" images. Every contest and every judge has preferences. Look at past winners and you'll get a good idea of what the preferences are going to be for that contest. If there are no past winners, do an Internet search on the judges. Study their style of photography if they are photographers. If they have judged other contests, study those winners. There is a lot of information to be found if you take the time to look.
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