Awards, Inspiration

Optimise your award entries

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With the Silver Lining Awards now open for entry, we reached out to some amazing AIPP members and award-winning photographers for advice on how to approach entering photography competitions and enhancing your award entries. We asked them to think about the following question: “What advice about photography competition entries do you wish you could go back and give yourself as a first-time entrant?”

Paul Dodd (SLA Newcomer Finalist 2020):

“The first piece of advice would be to not hesitate . Don’t be daunted or overwhelmed. The second piece of advice would be to view and participate in all the pre- and post-competition critique sessions – they are invaluable, and a great way to not only get feedback on your images, but also to absorb the feedback given to others. And finally, take the time to enjoy participating. By participating – win, lose or draw – you will learn something and be able to develop yourself as a photographer.”

Image by Paul Dodd

Forough Yavari (SLA Portrait and Photo Illustration Winner 2020, Goods & Services Semi-Finalist):

“The main criteria I use to judge a photo is technique and story. While good technique is a must, the best advice that I could give to a first-time entrant would be to not over-complicate the story; you need to make sure judges can read the story in the short time that they have to judge the image. At the same time, the story should not be so obvious that it ruins the satisfaction of  providing the judges with an ‘A-ha!’ moment. Give the judges clues to discover and discuss and you may win the prize!

Another piece of advice would be to have a plan for your shoot and always keep in mind the possibility that each photo you take may be award-worthy – even if it’s not intended to be entered into awards!”

Image by Forough Yavari

Kris Anderson (SLA Places Winner 2020, Isolated Finalist):

“If you can, connect with other photographers with some competition experience, and ask them to critique your work. It’s never fun to hear your photograph is less than perfection, but often an experienced photographer will be able to articulate potential changes that might improve the image. Try and see it through their eyes and understand why they think those changes would be an improvement. Whether or not you follow their suggestions, you’ll grow from the experience.”  

Image by Kris Anderson

Karen Waller (SLA Isolated and Life Winner 2020, Portrait Finalist):

“Read the brief and criteria/rules thoroughly. Does the image tell the story or fulfil the judges criteria for the category? How much editing is allowed in the category?

Be brave and take risks. Be creative and experimental. Find a creative way to tell the story. The judges are looking for images they haven’t seen before. 

Ensure that the work is technically sound. Do you have strengths in particular genres? Do you have an image that will work in a particular category?

Ask your peers for their opinions about the images. What do they see? Does it fit the brief? Can it be improved technically? Involve yourself in the online critiques for advice on how to refine an image.

It can be daunting to enter for the first time but ultimately the process will help you to develop your visual communication and technical skills. 
And it can be incredibly exciting and rewarding if your images are recognised in some way. Entering competitions is an invaluable process if you are a photographer who wants to continually evolve and develop your own personal vision.”

Photo by Karen Waller

Federico Rekowski (2nd and 3rd place getter, SLA Places 2020, Semi-Finalist Abstract):

“My advice would be to enter an image that resonates with something within yourself. Something that is individual and tells the viewer and judges something about you and the way you see the world. The technical aspects are of course important, but if the image doesn’t speak to you, it won’t speak to others. As Ansel Adams famously said, ‘there is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.'”

Image by Federico Rekowski

Ruth Woodrow (SLA Newcomer Winner 2020):

“Don’t take criticism personally. Rather, use it as feedback and turn it into a positive. Use the feedback you receive to go back and improve your images. It is also important to remember that at the end of the day, one person’s opinion of your work is only one person’s opinion.”

Image by Ruth Woodrow

A common thread in the advice above is the importance of critical feedback, so we’d like to remind prospective entrants of the six Image Critiques sessions that are available to attend – these are all online, all free and exclusive to AIPP members. Become an AIPP member instantly online for just $10 per month here. We’d love to see you!

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