ACC Tips on Winning Photography Competitions

Here's some tips for entering competitions and giving judges what they want. They are arranged in no particular order. If you've got more we can add, please contact the webmaster.

Here also is WPF judge Ed Cloutman's pdf on 'What Judges Look For', which is an even more comprehensive list.

For competitions

  • Pay attention to what judges say in competitions. Notice what they like and don't like.
  • If you research the judge, you may find what they like or don't like. Be careful when putting images in of their specialist subjects -- they may be rather critical of these.
  • Judges see the same photo again and again. Be original and they may reward you for this. You could hedge your bets with one creative and one original image.
  • Judging is half objective and half subjective. If the judge criticises your images or gives them a lower mark, this does not at all mean these are not good.
  • When judges say things you don't like, bite your tongue. After all, they're human. Really.

Judges will often comment (and give or deduct marks) about:

  • Cropping (often could be tighter, but don't crop little bits like fingers).
  • Burn (avoid over-exposed white-out unless it's deliberately creative).
  • Noise (often in shadows or darker areas).
  • Sharpness (eyes and key areas should be very sharp, but avoid over-sharpening that causes 'jaggy' pixellation).
  • Spots (often in the sky, caused by dust on the sensor).
  • Tonal range (fill the histogram, from dark to light).
  • Colour (colours that work together are good; fix colour cast).
  • Contrast (tonal and colour, to separate items and give impact).
  • Saturation (don't be too enthusiastic with the sliders).
  • Attention (the eye is grabbed by reds, brightness, closeness, size, text, people, danger, motion, interest, etc.).
  • Eye locus (the path the eye takes should be clear, eg. along lines and between attention objects).
  • Background (should not be distracting -- often best darker and defocused).
  • Complexity (simplicity is often better -- avoid the unnecessary).
  • Creativity (not just a 'record' shot or something the judge has seen before).
  • Impact (pictures that grab you often do well).
  • Story (it helps if your picture suggests a 'story').
  • Title (that helps judge understand your intent).
  • Presentation (outline digitals with 2px white (or image key colour) line and put effort into printing/mounting).

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