Photo competitions: are they worth it?

May 5, 2017

Blair Bunting

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Photo competitions: are they worth it?

May 5, 2017

Blair Bunting

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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I was sitting in my dorm room at Arizona State University. To my left I had my Xbox on (as it was pretty much 24/7) with some racing game on pause. In front of me I had my future, for I was entering a photography competitionthat I believed would make me famous and rich beyond my wildest dreams. To this day, I can’t remember if I won any prize in that specific competition, but I remember that was the genesis of the idea that photo competitions were how you become successful in this career.

As I grew in my career, I paid less attention to trying to win competitions and focused more on learning my craft and developing a style that would serve my clients well. In the same way that I worried schooling for photography would train my eye to be generic, I worried that results (be it good or bad) in a photography competition would jade the direction of my style. So for that, and many other reasons, I decided to save the money that I would spend entering them and put it towards camera gear.

One day this changed. I had just had a good year and the emails for two competitions that I held in high regards arrived in my inbox. One was Luerzers Archive (Best Advertising Photographers) and the other was Communications Arts (Photo Annual). To be honest, I entered them both the same night and with the same image for one reason… I had been trying to learn how to make a really good dirty martini, and after my third attempt, I was lit and so I decided to enter a couple photography competitions instead of making a fourth.

By some twisted stroke of luck, I won both.

I remember being overcome with a sense of gratitude, pride and excitement. I was grateful for the people around me that had helped make it happen, proud that we could accomplish it together and excited for what the future held for us. After all after winning those two competitions, everything was going to change, right?

Not really.

Yes, I got some trophies and recognition, but my life and career were not much different. I wrote a blog announcing the awards, but bragging about them wasn’t something I felt would do much good. It was at this point I really started to see the value in photo competitions, and to be honest, it wasn’t much.

However, as time went on, we began to see the demise of industry magazines and that all clung to the life raft that was the competition. At first it was the PDN Photo Annual, then the PDN Faces competition, then another and another. What I began to see was that no longer was the idea of a photo competition unique anymore, and more than anything they were just ways to get money from beginning photographers with the promise that they would be famous for winning. I vowed not to enter another.

As even more time passed, and I imagine a lot of us, have had days where I would get emails to enter 10 different competitions, all promising greatness and charging $30-$40 an entry. It was disingenuous, and seemed to prey on the hope and ambitions of those wanting to pursue a future in the industry. All of this was capped off by last week’s sham of a competition, known as Shutterfest. If you haven’t read about it yet, I highly recommend heading over to Imaging Resource and having a read of Jaron’s in-depth article here. Long story short, the photographer puts on the competition and collects the entry fees from many young eager to learn photographers (of which many of are already paying to attend his speech).

When the results came out, he, the guy who puts on the competition, wins most of the categories, denying the entrants any of the prizes and recognition they strive for. As if we hadn’t hit an all time low yet, he proceeds to make jokes about this and brags about expensive gear he has. Any scrap of class and dignity he had left and is currently learning how to make a decent dirty martini.

What happened to teaching the generation that is up and coming, with the idea that we will someday celebrate their successes as we have celebrated ours? We have an opportunity to help advance the knowledge of young artists around the world, yet people like this guy only want to make money off of their aspirations. Money and art will always co-exist, however when your pursuit becomes based on money, your art will die.

About the Author

Blair Bunting is an advertising photographer from Los Angeles. He has won numerous awards and worked with the clients such as Discovery Channel, Pepsi, Disney, Adidas, Nikon, to name a few. If you would like to see more of his work, visit his website, read his blog, follow him on Instagram and Twitter and like his Facebook page. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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12 responses to “Photo competitions: are they worth it?”

  1. Timothy Skinner Avatar
    Timothy Skinner

    I’ve tried some but there’s too much cheating in most. Especially the ones people vote on. The junk shots often win because they can fake the votes.

    1. Carol Nero Avatar
      Carol Nero

      Agreed…just entered one like that. Won’t do it again

  2. Johan Jooste Snr Avatar
    Johan Jooste Snr

    No, it’s also too expensive for us in third world countries. Not worth it.

  3. Ronan Brousse Avatar
    Ronan Brousse

    By submitting your work to a wide varieties of criticism, i think it contributes to build your own style.

    1. Arcmor Avatar
      Arcmor

      Unfortunately, nowadays, you do not get any criticism or opinion of any kind whether your work is rejected or accepted. I have been to competitions where the the juror does not even show up for the opening. I agree with the author that more and more these competitions are a way for making an income for the organizers. 40 bucks here and 50 bucks there could get expensive not to mention the time spent on each competition. Save the money for buying that nice lens or take a workshop to develop a skill.

  4. Marcus Weinhold Avatar
    Marcus Weinhold

    They seem like such a scam.

  5. Galonii August Avatar
    Galonii August

    sometimes it just nice to see your photos doing well and getting a “great job” or “nice photo” because we always judge our own work harshly.

  6. Jimmy Harris Avatar
    Jimmy Harris

    My days of being a musician taught me that there’s no shortage of people trying to sell you your own dreams back to you. It forced me to adopt a policy. Never pay to play, and never give up the rights to your work. I apply those same rules to photography competitions and gallery exhibitions.

  7. Don Kat Avatar
    Don Kat

    No! and HELL NO!

  8. Blay Breemritz Avatar
    Blay Breemritz

    I’d rather put the $50 towards 10 rolls of Tri-X and strive to make each roll better than the previous.

  9. Dave Goldman Avatar
    Dave Goldman

    Nope just contributes to the ego.

  10. Richard Ellender Avatar
    Richard Ellender

    They’re all rigged