Think beyond local camera club contests and consider some of the premier nature photography competitions in the world
Text And Photography By Dave Welling
Weather in South Texas can range from almost cold in the early months to over 105 degrees in the shade with high humidity in the later months. Sitting in a blind in 100-degree heat for 10 to 14 hours a day for several weeks can be a great learning experience about what it means to be a wildlife photographer. Several photographers in past contests have shot more than 300 rolls of film during the contest.
Unlike the BBC and Nature's Best contests, a new panel of three judges is selected for each contest. The Valley Land Fund produces an awards banquet with a slideshow of the winning images, and brief talks by the grand-prize winners and their ranch partners. The fund also produces a very high-quality book of award-winning images for each contest. If you're interested in this contest, check out copies of past contest books to get a perspective of the competition and talk to the contest manager about available ranches and conditions.
You must submit your original images from your shooting, certify that they were taken during the contest and make sure images are coded, not labeled, so judging is done without the judges knowing who took the image. While you certainly don't have to shoot the entire six months, you should be prepared to put in the time required to give you a good chance at placing high in the contest. Remember, you're partnered with a rancher who also has paid an entry fee and is interested in winning. (The peer pressure among rancher participants is growing every year and has helped tremendously in protecting the habitat and improving the knowledge base of wildlife species in the area.)
This contest is an excellent way to build your stock of special wildlife species found nowhere else in the U.S. Currently, this is the highest total prize money offered by a wildlife photo contest. ICF Pro-Tour The newest concept in wildlife photo contests is taking shape this year with the first contest to take place in the Texas Hill Country in the spring of 2006. The ICF Pro-Tour of Nature Photography, produced by Images for Conservation, based in Edinburg, Texas, is for well-published pro wildlife photographers. The concept is to develop a pro wildlife photographer tour with contests spread throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. Each contest is limited to the first 20 pro photographers who submit a portfolio of published images and meet the criteria for publication.
Similar to the Valley Land Fund Contest, each photographer will be paired with a rancher in the Texas Hill Country and will shoot for one month. There are numerous species classes, and winners will have to submit images in almost all classes to have a shot at the grand-prize money. The first grand-prize photographer will be awarded $80,000, which will be split with the rancher. With the kickoff in the Texas Hill Country, it's hoped contests will be scheduled throughout the year at locations throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico, with financial awards similar to the Texas Hill Country structure.
The ICF management hopes this program will become a continuing pro tour similar to golfing pro tours with the potential for high dollar awards for the photographers and a way to financially compensate landowners for protecting their land rather than developing it. The selections for 2006 have been made and include Theo Allofs, George Lepp, Wendy Shattil and Bob Rozinski, Tom Leeson, Joe McDonald, Wolfgang Kaehler, Daniel J. Cox, Cathy Illg, Tom Walker, Jeremy Woodhouse, Gary Vestal, John Hendrickson, Jozsef L. Szentpeteri, Rolf Nussbaumer, Sean Fitzgerald, Christian Ziegler, Lynda Richardson and me, Dave Welling. The competition will be extremely tough and demanding, but it's a great way to evaluate yourself against some of the best in the business.