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Photography tips: #1 - Photo contest rules can be a learning tool

Lightly fallen snow blankets the trees along Route 50 on the way to the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
Photo by Buddy Ray

Okay, everyone doesn't like, or can afford, to enter photography contests for one reason or the other. Photographers can still add new layers of valuable knowledge and experience, though, by reading official photography contest rules and taking three steps:

  1. Circle those terms and phrases that are not understood. Look up the definitions of each circled term or phrase. Find a source via Yahoo or Google where you can see how those circled terms and phrases are used in context.
  2. Find and circle the contest theme and subject categories. Visualize how you would illustrate them and practice shooting subject matter with those themes and categories in mind.
  3. Review the judging criteria, if published. You will find that most judging criteria is very subjective compared to specific descriptions of terms, phrases, themes and categories. Judging the "photographic quality" covers a very broad range of consideration, and so the best approach to improving photographic quality is to concentrate on the basics, including: exposure, focus and sharpness, white balance, and perspective.

There are thousands of photography contests announced each year across the country. You will find articles on some of the higher profile contests, and/or local photo contests originating out of the Louisville, Kentucky area; and/or those announced in other areas around the state on Buddy Ray's article base.

Sample terms and phrases -

  • Photos must be submitted in one of the following formats: .jpg, .gif, or .png (5 MB max) - 2011 Pillsbury® People Celebrate More Photo Contest
  • Images formatted as a JPEG measuring at least 1,000 pixels on its long dimension are preferred. Images may be color profiled in sRGB, Adobe-1998 or not color managed. - 2011 Photo District News Photo Annual Photography Contest
  • High dynamic range images (HDR) and stitched panoramas are NOT acceptable. - 2011 National Geographic Photo Contest

Sample themes or categories

  • The categories for entries are: (1) People, (2) Places, and (3) Nature (the “Categories”) - 2011 National Geographic Photo Contest
  • The contest invites photography enthusiasts... to enter by submitting their “Inspirational Nature Images,” the theme for this year‘s contest.- 2009 Canon USA’s 4th Annual Photography in the Parks Photo Contest for Teens and Adults
  • The exhibit’s theme, The Beauty and Dignity of Aging, was chosen to honor the seniors GuardiaCare serves...
  • The five contest categories are...: Americana, The Natural World, People, Altered Images, and Travel. - 2011 9th Annual Smithsonian Magazine Photography Contest
  • The 2009 competition theme is “Unbridled Spirit.” - 2009 Kentucky State Fair Photography Competition

Sample judging criteria -

  • Entries will be judged on the basis of creativity, photographic quality and effectiveness in expressing the contest theme. - 2011 Photo District News Photo Annual Photography Contest
  • ... (“Judging criteria”): (1) Creativity 50%; (2) Photographic quality 50%.... 2011 National Geographic Photo Contest
  • Photographers are encouraged to select their entries with this Theme [“Unbridled Spirit“] in mind. The judge will be encouraged to consider this criteria along with high quality standards in photographic excellence. - 2009 Kentucky State Fair Photography Competition

Now that you have an additional learning tool at your disposal, go out and make the most of it.

Good luck!


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