Big bad scary contests
I don’t know about you, but for me, entering photo contests seems to be fraught with danger and peril. Around every corner lurks a heinous consequence that could make all the blood, sweat and tears I poured into my image seem like I helped sentence it to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
I’m not referring to the contests in my favorite photography forum(s), those are just for bragging rights – although I do check the fine print on the websites just in case – but I’m referring to any photo contest that awards money, prizes, fame, etc.
Wide-angle view beneath Air Force Memorial soaring steel spires in Arlington, Virginia.
Image above made with a Nikon D300 camera and Sigma 10-20 lens
Recently, more than enough folderol was made over Google+ taking our images and using them for their own greedy gain – not true – but rarely is any uproar made about photo contests.
Three artistic trouble spots:
- Legitimacy. There are thousands of contests out there, and other than National Geographic, how can I tell the legitimate ones from the ones that are just out to get my images and/or my money? Okay, true, my camera, lens, and lighting manufacturers sponsor such contests and so does my favorite magazine or photographer/photography/camera store websites. But what about those contests that appear in magazine/newspaper ads, in flashy online blog sidebars, or on “pseudo-sites you never heard of but some guy once mentioned it in a flickr forum” contests?
I’ve seen and heard so many stories of people duped into buying poorly made photo/poetry books after winning such contests or signing over their copyrights; whom do I trust?
- Perpetuity. Most contest-holders (sponsors) tell you in the fine print that while the photographer maintains the copyright, all submitted images (whether they win or not) can be used by them (and their partners, affiliates, authorized parties, etc.) forever, with or without giving you credit. That these images may be printed for exhibitions, published by them in magazines, books, on their websites, etc. for marketing and promotional purposes locally and/or globally, non-exclusively, irrevocably and most definitely without further remuneration to the photographer.
This alone has caused me to rethink my objectives. Sure, I’d have a tear sheet for my own website and I can put “prize-winning photographer” in my bio but do I really want to win this contest or do I put my best images on Getty/Corbis/OtherStockCompany and hope for a big payday?
Yes, even NatGeo has this clause and so many of my colleagues have realized this too late.
- Partners and Affiliates. Who are these people? Are they in the same line of business as the contest sponsor? They will have unlimited access to my entries so I’d better find out before submitting my images.
Why is this so important? Because, for example, an affiliate could be a pharmaceutical company and my great image of the man/woman running through the morning mist with hands triumphantly raised in the air might be forever linked with Viagra or feminine hygiene products. This is not necessarily a bad thing but remember that I didn’t get any additional money for the usage that’s now being shown all over the world and, quite possibly, without credit to me. Do I really think I could re-sell that image to some other company?
As humans, we crave attention and that bit of applause as the curtain comes down can tug on our heartstrings and open up our pursestrings but there could also be huge personal risks involved.
Four personal concerns:
- Time and Effort. Between the first contest sightings, through the planning, setup, capture, post-processing, copyright registering, to the actual contest submission there is a good amount of time and effort exerted for a few images. Days and sometimes weeks might be required for a fully completed work
More than likely, however, it’s nothing more than a run-through of my image archives since some contests allow for images taken during a certain time period. Hopefully though, I’ve properly renamed and keyworded the thousands of images that I have on CD/DVD/internal and external hard drives to make them easy to find. Otherwise, it will be a hellish search in that I may not find what I seek and then I’ll have to quickly and haphazardly begin at the planning stage again.
- Focus. Am I shooting to please the sponsor or myself? As previously mentioned there are many contests out there in the big wide world with many paths, tracks, and styles; just like photography itself. Do I enter everything that catches my eye or fancy or do I walk the straight and narrow and look for specific types of contests that fit my expertise?
Some people can effortlessly change focus with great results but most of us can’t and don’t do well with constant change. Once I even lost sight of the goal of the contest, tried to backtrack, and missed the opportunity completely. Whenever I go from hither and yon without a real personal purpose, I find myself out-of-sorts where I can’t seem to focus on any one thing and end up doing nothing. And it takes a long while for me to get back to where I was before I jumped onto the bandwagon of a contest I had no business entering.
- Costs. Some contests require an entry fee for a limited number of images while others require a fee per image. Some even charge a fee but don’t award any prizes or monies; I’d merely get a credit when my image is published.
Quite often, a contest with a fee effectively eliminates the masses from entering, and as such, I would stand a better chance at winning something… anything. However, photography is already an expensive hobby, can I afford to throw money away chasing a dream where fame is fleeting or do I save that money and purchase some new equipment or a lens or hone my skills further by taking a photography class or a workshop?
- Rejection. Are you afraid of rejection? I don’t think I am but I know it can be disheartening to think that my images aren’t good enough. Not worthy. Dismissed. There are millions of photographers out their now entering thousands of contests, and the chances of my winning a big one are about the same as winning the national lottery. I’d feel dejected and would probably need psychotherapy if I kept losing out to better images.
And what if I told all my friends and family that I was entering such-and-such contest? They’d keep asking and eventually I might have to face the reality of embarrassment and humiliation in admitting that my images didn’t merit a win let alone a place or show. Even worse, what if I won and convinced all my friends to buy that shabby book from that sham of a website?
Or do I suffer in silence and wait until the results are announced then grumble inwardly (or rant publicly) about the idiots running the contest?
Seriously, I’m not trying to cast a bad impression on entering photo contests because the rewards can be wonderful. Even the memories of how the image was made seem brighter, lighter, better…
Newly-wedded couple kiss during a dance at their wedding
Image above made with a Nikon D300 camera, a Nikon 18-200 VR lens, and a Nikon SB-900 flash
I’m also not a worrier by nature nor am I a harbinger of bad news, I’m just trying to get you, my readers, to realize that you should always read (and understand) the fine print and look into your own lives and limitations before you sign up for anything.
Do NOT sign your hard-earned work away without thinking it through or getting help.