As seasoned organisers of the world-renowned Head On Photo Awards (Est 2004), we have long been answering people’s questions about whether entering photo contests are worth it. And we think we have narrowed down the main reasons why a photographer should invest their time, energy and work into a photo competition.
So, whether you’re a beginner photographer or a grizzled seasoned pro, read on to learn why we think you should enter a photo contest!
Okay, let’s start with the obvious – PRIZES. But remember, not all prizes are born equal. Some contests offer monetary awards, others high-quality gear, and some, simply prestige. Head On Photo Awards offers all three, boasting a prize pool of over $70,000, including $30,000 in cash prizes, cameras and other gear, subscriptions, and a one-of-a-kind exhibition. So, make sure you check what prizes a certain competition is actually offering, and don’t assume that all have a cash element! Prizes of cash and gear are a great return in your investment into a competition since they feed directly back into your photography career and help fund your future projects.
The exhibition of photography competitions is, in our humble opinion, the real prize. These types of exhibitions are often extremely popular, as photographers and the general public alike, want to see what a winning image looks like. As proven by the Head On Portrait, Landscape and Student Awards finalist exhibitions at Bondi Beach and Paddington Reservoir Gardens which receive tens of thousands of visitors each year. These exhibitions are an instant injection of acclaim into a photographer’s reputation!
A new perspective
Have you reviewed your photography work lately? As photographers, we tend to put on blinders – focusing on the enjoyable side of taking photos and choosing the best one for our daily Instagram post. However, we often need a reminder that our photography doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and though you might ‘get it’, others may not.
Even if your photos are not chosen as the overall winner, participating in a photo contest can still be beneficial. Placing your images within a competitive context, while scary, can help you gain new insight into your own work and practice. Listen to the judges, look at other finalists’ work, not to compare yourself to others but to see your own work for what it is. It will allow you to see what makes your work unique, which you can only do when it’s put next to someone else’s.
A confidence boost
Now we know this sounds cheesy, but being cheesy doesn’t make it any less true!
Submitting your work to a photo contest is an extremely nerve-racking experience, and leaves you, as a creator, vulnerable to criticism (some helpful, some maybe not so much). Being open to feedback takes practice, and it not only gets easier to stomach the more you do it, but the more you do it, the more confident you become in sifting through the opinions and perspectives you receive and find the insights that will actually be helpful to you. Not to mention, if your photos are selected, it means that other people have recognized and validated your talent and skill.
Bigger portfolio, bigger brand
If you are selected as a Finalist – in the Head On Photo Awards, we select 40 Finalists for the Portrait and Landscape Awards, and 20 Finalists for the Student and Environmental Awards – your photos will gain widespread exposure, being featured on the contest website, social media, digital media, and in print publications. This can help you attract new clients and buyers, and can act as substantial and transactional additions to your portfolio and growing brand.
Photographers are often solitary creatures. We prefer the satisfying click of a shutter, to a discussion of the weather. But the great thing about photo competitions is that you all already have something in common. The announcement of the winners for the Head On Photo Awards is a celebratory night filled with discussion, food and drink, where we come together to admire the breadth and diversity of the photography on display that year. It is a microcosm of photographic insight, and the conditions are perfect to make valuable connections. Skip the small talk, discuss your photography with others, admireother people’s efforts and build a network based on solidarity.
The trick is to be open and honest with yourself about what your goals are at this very moment. Do you want more exposure? Are you looking to build your portfolio? Do you think you need a win on your CV? Are you just in it for the money? (Hey, no shame in that!)
While we believe photo contests are definitely worth it (though we may be a little biased), we understand that competition isn’t for everyone. Be real with yourself, understand what you are getting into, and see the value beyond the chance of winning.
If that’s too much self-reflection for you, then what the hell!, enter the Head On Photo Awards – who knows, maybe you’ll win 😉