Nikon Learn & Explore

Doing well in photography competitions can improve your work

Most students are first attracted to photography as self-expressive art form. As their schooling progresses they learn that it is also a craft, and like any crafts it requires practice. Traditional classroom education teaches proper professional techniques and photography’s rich history. For the eager student, there are numerous other opportunities outside of the traditional classroom to enhance their education. The Internet can be used to both study the work of photography pioneers from long ago as well as that of contemporary photographers. Photography competitions are another educational resource offering students a valuable learning experience.

On their surface, photography competitions may not seem a likely educational endeavor. Winning competitions is difficult because they are so subjective, but that isn’t where the lessons are learned. Entering a competition and seeing your images compared to the work of others brings validation to what you are doing well and attention to what you need to improve. Viewing all entries, and more importantly, the winning entries can provide a keen insight to how judges score and how a theme can be interpreted. Competitions are about your ability to take a judge to a different place with your creativity, ingenuity and skillful interruptions of a theme. Mix in a dose of technical expertise and that’s the winning combination.

First, and most importantly make sure to thoroughly review the rules and entry guidelines before entering any competition. The rules provide you with important information about how your entires will be judged and ultimately used. Thoroughly reading the rules may not be enjoyable but nothing is more difficult for judges than having to disqualify beautiful images because they were entered incorrectly.  

Enter competitions likely to be entered by those with similar strengths and skill level. Direct peer comparison offers the most educational value. If you’re a High School student then seek out competitions for students only. Age and experience will be taken into account by the judges. Most competitions publish previous winning entries and these can hold valuable clues to what the judges consider important.

Images with impact always get the judges attention. Strong composition, vibrant colors and a unique perspective are all important aspects that give an image impact and high marks from judges.

Technical marks do represent an important percentage of your total score to judges and the correct exposure and appropriate sharpness will be expected of any winning image. Technical skills may not be the most alluring aspect of image creation but without demonstrating your proficiency judges will move on to other entries

Don’t be afraid to seek out the judges before the submission dates or after the winners are announced for help with general photography knowledge; experienced photographers are always eager to help students. At the Huntington Camera Club, we make the judges available year round to any student who wishes to speak with them. They provide valuable insight into what they consider the most important aspects of any image. If your competition is not local, then contact the competition sponsor for judges’ contact information. Never attempt to contact a judge during the period of entry acceptance or while the judging is being conducted though.

Photography competitions can be an important tool in any student’s ongoing education. Winning is nice but not necessary for learning. Judges will be the first to tell you that the whole process is subjective. The difference between winning images and good images is a slim margin. For this reason the Huntington Camera club uses up to eight judges each year for judging students’ work, with new judges rotated in every year. It helps us keep a fresh perspective and provide the best value for students.  

Every April for the past 25 years the Huntington Camera club has hosted a high school photography competition. During this time we have been able to help thousands of students learn and grow. In total, we have judged tens of thousands of images. We recently completed the judging for our 2015 competition and four images selected as first place winners from their respective categories. Nikon was the official sponsor of the competition; each first place winner was awarded a Nikon D5500 camera lens kit, which Nikon contributed.