By Jim Colton
There has always been much debate regarding photography contests and their value. I’ve even heard many photographers ask the question, “Why enter?” So I posed the following two-part question to several recent winners of prestigious competitions:
“I've been extremely fortunate recently. It hasn't always been that way. I entered many a contest and didn't win in my early years. At times I got discouraged, but it was a learning process. I studied what was winning, not to imitate, but to better understand our craft and good storytelling. Photo contests give me an opportunity to look at myself. To ask, “What have I done this past year?” It’s a chance to be introspective and analyze my work to help me make good decisions about creating better images and better stories.
I was honored by the recent recognition of my work by the Pulitzer committee on PTSD victim Scott Ostrom… but equally honored knowing that the visibility of the story actually helped others better understand post-traumatic stress disorder. Winning the Pulitzer has perhaps helped me gain a little respect in the newsroom and in the community but it has also “raised the bar” on expectations.
So don’t enter contests just for the sake of trying to win them. Enter them because you want to tell stories you believe in….and always be honest and sincere with your subjects.”
"There's no question that winning contests can be a great way for photographers, especially young ones, to raise their profiles in the industry. It's also a good motivator to go through work at the end of the year and evaluate what's working and what's not. Though it's also important to remember that there are many talented professionals out there who rarely win awards, so contests shouldn't be the only barometer of how good a photographer you are. Putting too much importance on winning prizes can be tricky. If you find yourself saying "I need to shoot A, B or C to round out my portfolio," you might want to check yourself. How would your subject feel if they knew the only reason you were showing up was because you thought their pictures would look good in your contest entry? My basic philosophy is that you are awarded for the work. You don't work for awards."
"Contests matter both for photographers and for the future of photography. First, they showcase the best images of relevant issues and events to a demographic around the world that may not have exposure to them without the contest. Second, contests have jurors whose experience and opinions hold weight within the industry, and the pictures they recognize set the bar for the next generation of images to follow. It pushes the medium of photography as a visual communication tool to new levels. In addition to having your images reinforced by this acceptance, the recognition can open other opportunities for you with new clients. Finally, I don't shoot to win contests. I shoot as a way to communicate my message to the masses."