Danger: Sharp Curves Ahead

May 02, 2015

Edge of ReasonEdge of Reason

Have you ever entered a photo competition or a critiqued review of your images and wondered about the results. Been pondering the results ever since? So let’s start at the beginning. What is the purpose of photo contests? The purposes will generally vary from promotion of local talent, contributions towards the arts or a shameless grab on obtaining copyrighted material for less than commercial value. Yes, there are photo contests out there without scruples. So how do you sort out a good photo competition from a bad one? Below are some of the major considerations to think about before entering.

  1. Look for a contest with a diverse range of categories and scoring.

A competition with a wide range of categories and defined scoring and range of awards will attract a wide range of entries. This will allow you to determine a general form of ranking against other photographers from different locales and genres. A competition that provides feedback at the higher levels will help you improve your “game”. Look for additional categories and specialization. Some examples of this are:

  • Nature
  • Cityscape/Landscape
  • Sports
  • Digital Art
  • Portrait
  • Photojournalism
  • Professional/Amateur/Youth
  1. Know your rights as a photographer.

Before entering in any competition a little research is the best direction. The first stop to educate yourself by reviewing your rights as a photographer at http://www.artists-bill-of-rights.com.

All competitions should be researched thoroughly. Some key points to look for are:

  • A competition that takes excessive rights for the images submitted is a disguise for a thinly veiled attempt to obtain images for commercial purposes with little or no payment to the photographer.
  • Hidden fees or extras where the photographer is required to make a payment for the framing and display of the images.
  • The awarding of taxes; either monetary or products may incur income taxes depending on your country of residence.
  1. Qualification of the judges

The first thing you need to be aware of is that all judges exhibit some form of bias when judging images. The degree of judging bias (sub-conscious or conscious) is based upon the judge’s life experiences, preferences on subject matter and specific types of cognitive bias. They may claim that they did not express bias when judging images but it is very well documented in research papers how bias is displayed in competitions. This is apparent in some sporting competitions and some organizations have taken major steps to try and address judging bias. Bias may not be intentional by the judges but it is very real. As part of your research on a photo competition here are some things to look at and consider:

  • Judges should have formal education in the category they are judging or be considered to be in the top 5% in their field. Learning how to be a judge in a two hour training course could signal issues with judging decisions.

  • Review the previous year’s winners in your chosen category. Compare these results with recognized international photo competitions. This will give you an idea if the judges are exhibiting bias or a predisposition towards a certain type of image. For example if you are entering the Nature category and your analysis indicates that the winning images were 60% related to ornithology and a recognized international photo competition has statistics that showed only 10%; this would indicate a possible indication of judging bias. A good reference source for comparative research would be:






  1. Entry fees should pay for costs that leads to a benefit.

The logistics of running a major photo competition can incur some major costs. Fees are an important barrier to entry for a contest, because the limit entries only to the most serious and discourage the frivolous. You should look at where the fees are being consumed by the organizers and what benefits they bring to the competitors. Look for competitions that publicize the winners in various media such as internet sites, press releases, publications out to industry creatives and gallery showings.

Good luck on your future participation in a photo competition. Your journey now doubt will be illuminating for you.


A final word:


Brother, you better watch out for the skin deep

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Watsonphotography.ca creates unique images of fashion, models, travel, people and racing sports by the Toronto based photographer Peter Watson.

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