2015 09 - How to Succeed in Competitions

18th October 2015
Retford & District Photographic Society - Press Release - Joy Allison
Images by Ben Searson

How to Succeed in Competitions

Our new season continues to attract great attendances. New members not only joining, but expressing interest in putting their images in for the first competition. We are really pleased to have the chance to get to know more enthusiastic photographers and extend a warm welcome to anyone else wondering if they should join.

Our speakers Jim and Fred Price frequently submit their work for competitions and exhibitions. Exhibitions are also competitive and getting an acceptance to have your image exhibited is the first mark of success, with certificates, awards and medals still to aspire to. We were surprised to discover that Fred is a lady. She and husband Jim have entered events all round the world but have now scaled back to just twenty or so a year. They came to share their experiences; to help us understand how an exhibition selection process differs from a club competition and how in turn this has a bearing on the type of image which will do well.



Club and inter club competitions are assessed by a single judge who stands in front of the print or digitally projected image (DPI) and has time to look carefully at each while commenting on good and bad points.

Exhibition selectors sit in a panel of three, each scoring every print or DPI to indicate how strongly they feel it should be accepted or if merits an award. The total marks determine which are selected. All events set a number of prints and DPIs to be accepted in advance, so the threshold for selection is chosen after the scoring to achieve that number.

Judges typically see around 100 -150 images per event. Selectors may have several thousand images to consider and so have only a short time to assess them in each category. Those which have impact, good presentation and originality will stand out. Subtle images can succeed if they have impact. Anything which at first glance doesn't look right, such as a bird standing with only one wing visible or legs of a person showing while their body is not, will be unlikely to succeed in a selection process while a club judge will have time to work out what is going on.

Images have to be named and a good name helps. Jim's 'River Blackwater' did badly until he renamed it 'Boat Graveyard'. Likewise natural history subjects can have a fanciful name in an open competition, but must have the correct species name in a nature competition, although the Latin name is not required. The wrong name here results in lost points.

Choosing the right section of an exhibition can help. A portrait may not succeed, but if it was shot abroad it may succeed in the travel section. You need to know the rules. In nature and travel categories the content of the image cannot be changed. Anything goes in open competitions, but a creative category may be the best place for obvious digital manipulation.

The judges are known in advance and it might seem advantageous to submit portraits to a portrait specialist etc., but this can backfire as they will be the harshest critics in the areas they are expert at. It pays to be aware of trends. Recently a lot of Goth and grungy images have done well, but Jim advised that landscapes are coming back.



Jim and Fred are enthusiastic rugby photographers and the described how certain images stand out from large shoots at a match. They showed some of their more successful rugby images and explained how they might prepare them differently for the rugby club, their photography club competitions and exhibitions.

Their final advice was to keep good records of how images fare to inform future entries. They have decided to only enter digital images overseas on cost grounds, a strategy which has paid off as their impressive collection of awards and medals showed. They also prioritise those which present exhibitors with beautiful glossy catalogues.

After a refreshment break members had to do some work. Three were called on to form a selection panel. Jim presented a set of prints gathered from people they know and Fred kept score. When the selectors had seen them all, their top ten were noted and the highest scorer given the 'gold medal'. Each selector then chose their own favourite from the total pool for their Selector's Award. A second panel repeated the process and at the end we had a selection threshold score of 12 in both groups, but two different gold medal winners and six different Selector's Awards.

It was a great way to show how difficult a job selection is and got everyone thinking. Jim and Fred made many useful and interesting points, but most of all they were so down to earth and entertaining that we would have enjoyed whatever they had spoken about.

President Alan Burkwood told members that the Society seems to be much in demand lately, as we have been invited to set up a display at the Idle Valley Nature Reserve event at the end of October as well as the display at Lincoln soon afterwards. If your event would benefit from a display of our photographs we would like to help if we can. Please contact us in good time.

We have advance notice that on 23rd November an expert panel will answer our questions, but we need to provide those questions in advance so the experts can ensure they have all the answers. Please bring your questions to a meeting soon.

Members also have the chance to sign up for opportunities to photograph both a motorcyclist under tuition from Gary Bailey or Egmanton church, featured recently in Country Life magazine.

We are now looking forward to our first open competition of the season and another tutorial from Gary Bailey.