Competition Photography

Photo competitions are often open to everyone and they change your horizons...

Photo competitions are often open to everyone and they change your horizons...

Competitions change your horizons

The talent of many amateur photographers is un-channeled. I have found that, despite not being a very competitive person, competitions make me focus on improving my photography. It has become a mission. I want people to love my shots. I want to be good, if not excellent. Competition has helped me hone my skills.

Think quality

In the UK club competition are fun events but serious. Judges discuss every picture in detail. The artistic aspects, the technical issues, impressions… they look at the shot for its merit, its story, its meaning. They look for quality. If you don’t meet that quality then you get a low mark.

Competitions are also a learning experience. Judges are experienced photographers and artists in their own right. They talk over improvements and how to make better images. Their comments are from personal experience. With monthly competitions we benefit from the experience of a wide range of judges. Lessons from competitions helps raise our standards.

Input from judges and inter-club competitions engage the club with the standards understood nationwide. The standards which judges aspire to by their training help everyone to think about the quality of competition submissions. We all work hard to improve our photography and work at new levels with each competition. It is often more about how to improve your shots than about winning. But the most importing thing is you learn how to shoot an image that engages the viewer. Your audience is a highly important element in photography. Ansel Adams, one of the most famous photographers of all times, said, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer”.

You hear experienced photographers saying, “Do your own thing”. When it matters, doing your own thing is fine, but you are not appreciated without an audience. Working to the standards of experienced photographers, judges and artists, helps you to understand and even emulate what is appealing, what is quality, what is skill. Once you have acquired those THEN do your thing… because then people will see your message.


Doing competition and working with competent and experienced photographers is a great way to learn. It is fun and you make great friends. However, to get the best out of your photography you have to put in something too. Like all skills it takes a little learning and application. Pushing the limits has been the making of photographers for 150 years. Ironically, the single most important skill needed to become a photographer is focus. No, not that type (well, yes that too). No, focusing on your skill development, your knowledge and your art. Like any other endeavor, if you want to be good you need to learn, practice, learn and practice. Competition is the marker that tells you if you are getting there – to your goals. “Focus, and ye shall find” to paraphrase a famous saying.


Here are some of the skills I have learned and I am still learning through regular competition…
Meeting the brief: many people don’t realise that photographers have to work to a brief all the time. They are told by clients, family, friends what is wanted and then they take the shots. Working to a brief is not a simple skill and it takes time and thought to develop a theme. Competitions are frequently themed. It makes you think of the ways to achieve the brief and to creatively image your ideas. Find out more about working with a brief.
Involve the viewer: I used to be a snap-and-go photographer. Then I learned that to capture your viewers imagination you need to think about what you are photographing. If I want my viewer to be impressed, scared, drawn in, shocked, pleased, emotional… anything, I need think about what I am photographing and why. When I clarify my thoughts about a shot then the message will impact on my viewer. So now I try and say something in a shot. I try to bring something of my own interpretation to a shot and involve the viewer in that. Learn more about composition.
The human eye: You don’t have to know anatomy and the biology of the eye. You have to be clear about what we see and how we see it. Certain things humans see and do are in our nature. Understanding that perception, that way of seeing, is important to all artists. Art is a language. A very varied one. Nevertheless it is a way to speak to your audience. Photography is quite a literal language. It tends to be based less in fantasy and more in the real world. It allows infinite creativity and expression. Photographers as artists ‘see’ things that others don’t and express themselves through that medium. Knowing how most people see things, and learning how to make the viewer see things is the skill of the photographer. Understand more about the vision in art.

Putting You into the shot: Judges often say, “you have not put anything into the shot”. What does that mean? For a long time I did not know. However, over the last few years I have begun to understand that your photograph is more than just a record. It is a unique thing made by you. Your vision, your composition, your art, is in the shot. If you have just compiled a record with your image you have not imparted something of you. A great photo is made of ideas and skills – not just skills. Make sure that every photo you take says something in a powerful way. Justify the shot, every shot. Make sure your viewer gets its full impact. It is not just about what you have seen – it is about what you want your viewer to see. It is shifting the emphasis from the passive ‘take’ to aggressive ‘communication’.

It is more than simply getting someone to mark your shots. It is about putting yourself over in a language involving rigorous communication and high standards. Learning photography is fun and you are learning a skill, an art and expression. It is more than all of these if it is appreciated. If you talk loudly to your audience your photography will go places. Competition helps you to appreciate it and work towards that goal.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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