Photography competitions

Submitting images for photographic competitions isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. It can be a nervous time submitting what you believe is your very best work to be critiqued and rated by others. It can either build or dent your confidence. Photography competitions however, do have some distinct benefits beyond the prizes offered.


Photographic Competitions are usually quite public affairs, whether they are voted on by the public or a judging panel, and almost always involve an exhibition. They may be internet based, with a potential audience of millions, or housed in a public space such as an art gallery. Either way is an outlet to show your work to a brand new audience.


It is a very difficult thing to critique your own work. You are automatically biased by the experience of creating the image yourself which makes is hard to determine the quality of the finished image itself. Friends and family also tend to be more fans than critics. Someone who has not been involved with either you or the creative process however does not have this barrier. The only opinion they can draw is that of the end product. While it can be difficult to hear others’ point out technical flaws in your images, provided you listen with an open mind you may become aware of some areas to work on to improve your images.

There are so many photography competitions run around the world each year that it can be hard to decide which to enter. From prestigious international contests with huge prizes and recognition to the winners, to locally held exhibitions fought for pride only. Which ones to choose depend on your reason for entering. If you are looking to gain recognition and credibility as a professional, National Geographic Photo Contest would be a consideration, however if your primary reason is to learn and improve your photography, a smaller competition where you have face to face feedback from judges as well as the public may be of more benefit.


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Expanse Photography Facebook

After a long deliberation, I’ve finally taken the plunge and started an Expanse Photography Facebook page. Gratuitous plug HERE. The reason for holding off so long is that I was a bit hesitant about the time I would need to spend in updating the page, and driving traffic to it, but now that the page is set up the hard work is kinda done and it’s really just a matter of linking to blog posts and joining some photographer groups. Joining forums and groups is a great way to interact with other photographers you otherwise wouldn’t get to meet and throw around ideas, get advice and share images.

It’s also a great way of keeping clients and potential clients up to date with the kind of work I’m doing and any upcoming trips.

Not that long ago many photographers were coming to terms that they needed a website to promote themselves. Now we need to come to terms with the fact that we not only need a website, but also a Facebook account, Twitter account, Linked In profile, and should probably be thinking about using YouTube as well to open ourselves to more potential clients. No longer are these things thought of as frivolous fun or a handy way to keep in touch with friends. They are now legitimate business tools. How quickly the world changes.

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Selling photograph prints

A couple of weeks ago I wrote some thoughts about the impending death of the photographic print. This was meant as nothing more than a nostalgic rant at the time, but it does throw up some serious practical issues.

If, as a photographer, you sell a print to a client. You either print the image yourself or have it done at a lab. You deliver it, the client pays a fixed price and hangs it on their wall. End of story. But if the image is to be displayed on a monitor, it needs to be in electronic format, which raises a few dilemmas. Firstly, how to deliver the image. You can send it electronically or on a disk or USB. The problem is that the client now has a copy of the image that he or she can reproduce as often as they wish without you knowing about it. Obviously if this happens it equates to a substantial loss of income compared to if you were to make several print sales of the same image. It is no different than the piracy issues that plague the music and film industries. There are laws against it, but they are almost impossible to police.

So if we can’t stop it, how can we guard against it? One solution might be to factor this into pricing. Rather than the common pricing method for prints of setting a value based on size and reproduction cost, we could move to a rights managed licensing model such as used for commercial purposes. This model takes into account the size of the display, the place (private home or public space) and the length of time to be displayed. There is of course the chance that the client won’t keep to the terms and conditions of the licence, but there is always that chance. Sometimes you just got to trust. The real drawback here is the increased cost. Taking these factors into account when setting your pricing is going to dramatically increase the price. Clients looking for images for commercial use are likely to have the budget or be prepared to pay the extra, the private collector may not be. I fear that the increased cost of purchasing photography this way will drive away a lot of potential buyers.

This leaves us with two options, neither of which ideal. 1. Price an electronic print sale same as we have always done and hope that client’s respect the photographers rights and keep to the conditions of the sale, or 2. Price the sale as you would a commercial licence and hope that the increase in fees offsets the drop in number of sales. There is really no single solution, the answer just needs to depend on your individual market and what they will accept, but it is yet another issue to work through in an ever changing industry.

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Photoshelter recently published a discussion with Stella Kramer about how photo editors view photographer portfolios, what they look for and things to avoid. Stella is a Pulitzer Prize winner who has worked with many well known publications including the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and People Magazine, so it’s fair to say she knows what she’s talking about.

I found this video very informative and insightful. Stella is very frank and honest in her appraisals of several websites which is refreshing and having just recently relaunched this website, it gave me some confidence that I am on the right path with some of the things we’ve put in place as well as some ideas for a few things we could be doing better.

The video is quite lengthy at just over an hour, but is well worthwhile if you are planning a portfolio or website update or need some insight into the mind of a photo editor. Click below to view it a Vimeo.

PS. Photoshelter is a great resource for things like this and they regularly produce videos, ebooks and the like on topics relating to a photography business. The Photshelter blog is also worth checking out.

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Many photographers are uncomfortable with promoting themselves, feeling self conscious or thinking that self promotion is the same as bragging.

But here’s the thing. Self promotion is not about you. It’s about your clients and your marketplace. You have a product. They need it. You’re actually doing them a favour by providing that product.

Keeping this in mind, you can start to think about where your market looks for images and what you can do to help them find them. For me, this shift in thinking put aside much of the anxiety I originally felt in approaching potential networking contacts, and I think it has also increased my success rate. This is no small shift. You are actually moving from a sales focus, to a relationship focus, which is a huge jump. For starters, it is time consuming. Instead of a discussion, a quote, forward the image and get the payment, it’s regular phone calls, e-mails and cups of coffee with potential clients who may not even become clients for months, years or at all if you don’t have the specific images that they need. But if they do become clients, they are very likely to become repeat clients. Why? Because you’re there, they know you and feel comfortable that you have their best interests at heart.

These contacts also most likely have friends in the same industry with similar needs, and these needs might just be in line with what you can supply. It might just be that your name comes up in a casual conversation and a recommendation occurs because you have acted out of giving rather than trying to get, and you have another client. And it snowballs. And in this industry, as in most, it’s all about who you know.

If you come from a place of trying to help people, rather than trying to sell them something, often this is felt and appreciated. People feel more comfortable with someone who understands their needs and looks for solutions to meet them rather than someone who is simply looking for the next sale. And if it’s not appreciated, then maybe that person or group is not one that you are likely to build a successful long term relationship with anyway.

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Many people are singing the benefits of social media sites at the moment, with professionals from a wide range of industries joining sites such as Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and WordPress to improve their business networks. There are also the naysayers who fail to see the benefits. It’s not for everyone. Like most business tools, whether these things are beneficial or not depends on your individual circumstances. It’s something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to recently in trying to decide whether to make it part of my  own marketing strategy. Here’s a list of pro’s and con’s that I came up with. 

Pro 1.Networking- Photography is a “who do you know” business. The more contacts you have, the more chances you have to pick up assignments and image sales. Networking via the internet removes certain barriers like location and broadens your potential network.

Pro 2. Trust and Credibility- If you can provide content that people are interested in and is useful, you can go some way to gaining their trust before they have even met you.

Pro 3. Show them who you are- Social media gives you the opportunity to show off your personality and give an insight into the kind of person you are to work with.

Pro 4. It’s cheap- By cheap, I mean free. Apart from your time. Social media is a viral marketers dream.

Pro 5. It keeps you front of mind- In such a competitive industry it’s easy to be forgotten. Updating and creating new content regularly will keep people coming back and hence your name in the frame.

Con 1. It’s time consuming- If you are going to do social media, you need to be prepared to do it properly. This means responding to questions and comments and searching out others that might become part of your network, which takes time. It is better to not do it at all than do it half heartedly.

Con 2. Privacy- There is a danger here of potential clients finding out a bit more about you than you would like. Many people use these tools purely on a personal level to keep in touch with friends. If you are going to use these tools for business you need to be careful what you (and others) post on your pages. Client’s are not likely to hire you because of your great sense of humour after seeing you in a chicken suit at a party on Saturday night. Conversely, if you remove comments and pictures that friends have posted because they don’t put forward the impression you want to give to potential clients, those friends are likely to be offended.

Con 3. Relevance- Think before you speak. Editors and publishers don’t care that you “really enjoyed the salmon avocado roll I had for lunch”. But they may be interested in the link you posted to your most recent portfolio update.

Con 4. Control- Anything you publish is up for grabs and people can easily criticize you. You are publishing on sites that you do not own and you are not always able to delete offensive or inappropriate comments.

Con 5.– It’s time consuming. Seriously. I’ve put this in twice because it is a huge drawback. It’s the main reason that I don’t use Twitter, and restrict Facebook to contact with friends only. It takes a long time to build up any kind of network, so you are not likely to see any return on your time investment for some months or even years. You need to be prepared to stick with it.

In the end it’s a matter of deciding which tools will benefit you and which ones you are prepared to invest a large amount of time in. It’s not an all or nothing venture. You can decide on one or two of the many options available. And this is probably advisable since using every social medial tool available could easily be a full time job in itself.

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One of the most time consuming and laborious tasks of preparing your images for the marketplace once you’re done with the fun part of taking the photos is to attach keywords so that your images can be found by people who may wish to license them.

Occasionally I get asked how I go about it, and it’s a difficult question to answer without coming off as disingenuous. Because it’s actually really simple- I think of words that describe the photo. So rather than trying to complicate what is a simple process, I thought I would instead list a few considerations that I feel are important when keywording images

  1. Use one process – If you are preparing images to submit to more than one stock library, the chances are that those libraries will have different requirements for their keywords, such as the amount of keywords they will allow per image. If you can find a method of keywording that fits the requirements of all the agencies you are submitting to, you will save a great deal of time.
  2. Search engines are clever – Gone are the days where you need to include plurals of words as well as the original word. To save time and space, only use “dog” instead of “dog” and “dogs”.
  3. Most photo buyers use search engines first, agencies second. – Most search engines list guidelines for keywording. Use techniques recommended by Google, Yahoo et al as these search engines also capture results from within stock agency sites.
  4. Be specific- Describe exactly what the image is. If you have an image of a couple in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris at night, include keywords that describe all of these elements in the photo. Also group them into search phrases. “Couple at Eiffel Tower at night” will not be searched as many times as “Eiffel Tower”, but when it is the results will be much narrower and so your image has a much higher chance of a. being seen, and b. being used as it is specifically what the searcher asked for.
  5. Think conceptually- Image buyers are often looking to represent a concept, rather than simply a scene. The image of the couple at the Eiffel Tower could also be used to illustrate love, or romance.
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