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On Photo Competitions
by Stephen Perloff, contributing writer


Photo competitions are hosted by arts organizations, magazines, non-profit interest groups, industries, travel magazines, and more. Their value, who should enter, and why is presented by Stephen Perloff, founder and editor of The Photo Review. You will also find a list of competitions updated monthly within Window on Photography <here>. Make it a favorite/bookmark and check back frequently.


Back in the early 1980s photography competitions first started to proliferate. You would send in prints or slides and if your work was chosen, you'd usually send in framed prints. Some of these exhibitions were in very good venues, but for many the photographer really had no idea what the venue was like. A number of photographers would relate to me something like this: I got into a show at Some Small College but all I have is a letter of acceptance. I don't know what the other accepted work looks like, I don't know if it's in a properly lit gallery or in a hallway outside the cafeteria, and I don't know if 100 or 1,000 people will see it.

So in 1985 we began The Photo Review Competition with a difference: the work would be printed in an issue so photographers would have something tangible and every entrant received a copy so even if their work was not accepted, they could see what jurors were choosing. More than a few photographers told us that they submitted a copy with their grad school application or with their tenure packet. Plus now for the past number of years the prizewinners – usually 15 or 16 photographers out of the 60, 70, 80, or more whose work is chosen for the issue – are exhibited in the very professional photography gallery of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and all the winners are online, along with numerous other editor's choices. And when I look back at the many photographers whose careers were given a boost by publication in The Photo Review competition issue, I see such now internationally recognized artists as Jock Sturges, Andrea Modica, Fazal Sheikh, Connie Imboden, Elinor Carucci, Lyle Ashton Harris, Jeffrey Milstein, Chris Jordan, Laurie Lambrecht, and Shen Wei, among scores of others. That is all very gratifying.

Of course today there are literally hundreds of photography competitions around the world and except for some more regionally based ones, submission is usually online and the winners are exhibited online, sometimes exclusively, sometimes in conjunction with an exhibition. Online submission makes it much easier to submit and obviates the need for mailing expenses, but with so many competitions, a photographer's budget can be drained very quickly. How do you choose – and should you bother?

It's important to make sure your work is appropriate for and up to the standard of the competition. Check out the work of past winners if possible. No matter how beautiful your seascape and how many times it has been accepted in past competitions, it may be inappropriate for a contest with a photojournalistic bent. Are you certain your picture of Antelope Canyon is sufficiently different from the 23 others the juror has seen in the last two years?

And make certain you follow the rules for image size and file naming. Every year in our competition and numerous others I jury I see files that are too small to interpret. If you are downsizing your files in Photoshop and you have resampling checked on, if you set your pixel width to 1024 and THEN set your resolution to 72 ppi, your pixel with will change to 307 – too small to really judge. Set your ppi first, then your pixel width or height.

Should you keep entering a competition that has rejected your work before or one where the same juror in a different competition had rejected your work? If it is a major competition or one with a long track record, if the juror is someone you admire, by all means YES! Brian Clamp, the director of ClampArt in New York City, juried our competition a couple of years ago. During the process he would say, Oh, I saw this work in another competition I juried, or, I saw this work at a portfolio review last year. Ultimately he said that photographers need to be persistent and that repeated viewing of work often leads to greater appreciation by the juror. I've noticed this, too, when I jury shows. Good work grows on you. And indeed Clamp accepted some of that work he had seen but not accepted before.

As the cliché goes, even the best Major League batters fail about two-thirds of the time they come to the plate. You won't get into every competition you enter. But be persistent. The rewards of acceptance are many.

Stephen Perloff
Editor, The Photo Review

Copyright 2012, Stephen Perloff