I’ve only ever entered one photographic competition, the U.K. “Garden Photographer of the Year” competition about 15 years ago. My winter shot of Powerscourt Gardens in Ireland was among the finalists hanging on the wall at Kew Gardens. It did little to further my photographic profile, but was an enjoyable experience, during which I met some lovely people and received 100 postcards of my entry as part of the deal…

I still think I should have won, but then I would say that!

So what’s the problem with competitions today? You could start by entering the term “Photography Competitions” into Google and surprise, surprise there’s over 150 million results, along with a growing number of posts about competitions on Facebook and Instagram. Presumably the number of competitions has risen exponentially – like the proliferation of photographs since the introduction of digital cameras.

Don’t get me wrong, contests can be useful in promoting higher standards of work, raising photographer profiles and very, very, very occasionally, they can even be lucrative. But, and it’s a big BUT, like most things on the internet they need to treated with a degree of caution and scepticism. I figure that there’s three types of competitions:

Firstly, those with free entry, transparent terms and conditions, almost philanthropic in their modus operendi as they promote photography .

Then there’s those ran by commercial concerns. Many just want your name and email address to notify you of new products, but and its big BUT, there are others that want your photographs. Their competition rules stipulate that by submitting your work, you sign away all rights to your pictures, allowing them to be used for any purpose the company wants into perpetuity. Since the submitted images often have a direct connection to a company’s product, it’s an inexpensive method of gathering a private supply of stock photography to use in future advertising campaigns!

Thirdly, there are those that charge an entry fee, typically from €5-35. Whilst researching this blog, I found one competition that required a one-time registration fee of about €60, for submitting three images, for a prize of €3,000. One doesn’t have to be a maths genius to realize that if the organizers can get 50 entries, they break even. A couple of hundred and it’s a big profit. A thousand and it’s a great business model.

I estimate that for every 100 competitions, 66% are fee paying against the rest with free entry. So what do you do?

Fee or free, it’s crucial that you read the small print outlined in the terms and conditions. The rights requested for your picture(s) should relate directly to the contest itself, any terms falling outside that criteria are suspect. Of course a small entry fee is understandable to cover administration costs, but it ought to be commensurate to the value of the prizes. If you come across one that’s transparent in their terms and conditions and non-exploitative, then becoming a finalist could offer good PR and/or valuable prizes if you win.

In conclusion, I’m not against competitions, but just want to advise photographers to keep in mind the old mantra: “if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is…”

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