Solutions: Just Win, Baby!

How to put your best shots forward for a contest

The 2015 Fourth Annual Outdoor Photographer American Landscape Photo Contest.

The popularity of photo contests exploded with the rise of the Internet. There are all sorts of photo contests to enter, ranging from the elite Valley Land Fund contest in Texas and BBC Wildlife contest to weekly competitions about a limited theme. A few years ago, Facebook contests emerged as yet another way for people to show and share their work, and to comment on theirs and other people’s photography. And, really, that’s the crux of any contest—showing and sharing. There’s something courageous about submitting your photography for the world to see and judge, and it’s immensely satisfying when your peers and the judges comment positively.

In this issue of OP, we’re launching our annual American Landscape photo contest for 2015. We’re grateful to have sponsorship from Tamron and Mylio. As the contest opens for submissions, we’re offering some suggestions about entering a contest and making a good showing. The first rule is going to sound obvious, cliche and maybe even trite, but it’s incredibly true—and important.

Be yourself!
Don’t try to impress the judges by selecting a photo based on some research into the judging panel or past winners. Go with your strengths and your best images, and don’t second-guess yourself. Chances are, the more you try to be strategic about matching an image to a particular judge or imitating a previous winning image, the less anyone will respond to it. Be yourself, and if you don’t win, it won’t be because you tried to be something that you’re not. Being recognized will be all that much more sweet.

Beware of trendy looks. We’re all susceptible to being seduced by popular and trendy looks. Overdone HDR comes to mind. The gritty, comic-book look caught fire a few years ago, and while the wave seems to have crested, it’s still a popular process to employ. And don’t think this kind of thing is endemic to digital processes. At the height of the film era, emulsions like Fujichrome Velvia and Kodachrome were used in combination with particular filters to give images a distinct warm look. The “That’s Cokin, no jokin'” phrase would be heard in rooms where nature photo contests were being judged. These kinds of fads get worn out quickly. Don’t follow the trend with your entries—create a new one instead.

Don’t overdo it. This is closely related to beware of trendy looks. When you’re sitting at your computer, simple enhancements can quickly give way to pulling out much more extreme filters and plug-ins. As you’re sitting there, each small step takes you farther away from where you started, but not from the last increment, so you almost don’t realize what you’ve done unless you go back to the original image.

Be honest. This one is tricky because some people will say that any kind of postprocessing taints the truth of the image. Without diving into that never-ending debate, unless a contest specifically rules out any kind of postprocessing, it’s okay to do. A simple rule of thumb about whether it stands up to the honesty test is to ask yourself if you would be willing to describe every step of what you had done for the judges or for your peers. If the answer is no, you’ve likely tainted the honesty of the image. There have been a number of notorious examples where prizes have been withdrawn due to manipulation. It’s always a good idea to be up front with the judges and declare any postprocessing enhancements. Judges don’t like being surprised, and they can go to great lengths to show how they were duped.

These are just a few basic guidelines for entering photo contests. Search the Internet, and you’ll find no shortage of other helpful advice and tips. To enter OP‘s 2015 American Landscape Photo Contest, go to for details.