The Milky Way over Port Maitland Beach

Thoughts About Photography Contests
I've been seeing quite a number of contests for photographers and wanna-bes popping up, and I thought it might be interesting to chat about this for a bit this week. I have no problem with what I’ll call “real” or more properly helpful photography contests. I’ve entered a number of these and they have proved valuable to me in my business, and would be, I believe, valuable to anyone attempting to improve their photography. However, there are also many fraudulent contests – and I use that word advisedly and with purpose. The difference between the two is like night and day, and there are only some contests that fall in the twilight!
The useful photography contests are put on, for the most part, by professional organizations. The featured image this week (above) is of the Milky Way over the beach in front of our house, and was published in Saltscapes, a regional magazine here in Nova Scotia who paid me to use the picture. As such, the image was eligible for entry into the Outdoor Writers of Canada Communications Awards – and their Photography category for Scenery, Landscapes and Plants. This professional organization has the awards to boost the craft of communicating in outdoor themed media, and was sponsored by other professional organizations – for example the category I won in was sponsored by Leica, Shimano and the Canadian National Sportsmen’s Show. My image was judged by my peers in the OWC, and so I felt honoured to win the contest, and can use the result as a boost in my career. I have had several images win in professional photography contests – these run by organizations like the Professional Photographer of Canada, the Photographic Society of America or the Master Photographers International. All of these groups have shows or contests that are open to photographers to enter, and the images are then judged by trained national or international judges – and as a photographer you get results back, which can be very informative and useful as really you’re learning from other photographers. These are all what I call “real” photography contests.
On the other hand we have contests which are run mainly I seem to see by organizations of groups which are trying to get folks to enter the contest, and then the group gets to “keep” the images entered and use them freely for their own purposes. This is really the photographer giving away the rights to an image, something that should almost never be done by a professional photographer, or an aspiring professional. You’ll hear such contest groups say “It’s good exposure”, but as a friend of mine said – “we photographers can die from exposure!” These contests often sound good and can come from news organizations or the like. That is disturbing as many newspapers and other media outlets, for example, are now cutting pro photography staff, and are “satisfied” with “sent in” viewer shots. The difference in quality is often huge – and should really upset folks! Other groups might be charities looking to make calendars or the like, and if one wishes to support a local charity that might be fine, but on the other hand, here at my Gallery I’m asked almost weekly for donations to various causes. I do choose some to give to, but unfortunately you can’t do that for everyone asking. Those might be the gray area contests, where there could be an upside.
So, as in most things, there are always two sides to an issue. Some contests are valuable for a photographer, even a photography student to enter. Collaborating and learning from peers as they give you feedback is a marvelous way to move your craft forward. Just watch out for the contests that state something along the lines of : “By entering the contest, entrants grant the xxx (contest group) a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual, non-exclusive license to display, distribute, reproduce and create derivative works of the entries … The xxx will not be required to pay any additional consideration or seek any additional approval in connection with such uses.” Read those terms – and then go find contests and outlets for your hard work to be shown to people!
Acadian Memories - award winner Master Photographers International

Island Mist - award winner Master Photographers International

The Biology Field Trip - award winner Professional Photographers of Canada
Eagle Pair - award winner Master Photographers International and Professional Photographers of Canada
Tree Mist - Frozen in Fog - award winner Master Photographers International and Professional Photographers of Canada
Snowy Owl - award winner Master Photographers International, Photographic Society of America and Professional Photographers of Canada