I've judged a few photographic competitions thus far in my career. Only a few, not a lot and I've definitely entered more than I've judged. Go to my about section if you really must know what I've done awards-wise.
So how is it to see both sides of the fence? We can, as judges talk endlessly about what makes a good award image, what will potentially do well and how to create those images, but what about the mental preparation that goes into it?
Your mindset is your secret weapon.
It is the difference between a good award experience, and a terrible one. It's the determination that you show, the preparedness, the sportsmanship of the awards that will put you in a better place mentally, to face the unknowns of the competition.
Let's have a look at what we do know about most competitions:
Some universally acknowledged truths:
■ High Pressure
■ High Stakes
■ Good Exposure
■ Unknown competitors
■ May have cost a lot to enter
■ Entrants hoping to win the big prizes
■ Reputations to uphold
■ Everyone thinks their photos are the best!
That's quite a list, I can feel the pressure already!
Some Tips to help you prepare for any competition:
1. If you're like me, you've always got images processed and ready to go for competitions. I've got a folder inside my main exports library titled Awards and the year, so Awards 2020. Inside this folder are full JPEG images processed to perfection and waiting for the right competition to enter into. I've got all my current images that might be good fits for competitions upcoming. I've also got a catalogue of these original files and export presets with the file size, type and quality ready to push my images out when I need them.
2. I've also got a spreadsheet of upcoming competitions, their hyperlinks from last year and a few details of the types of competitions that they are, and what usually does well in them. This is a personal list, and each persons may be different. If you're super sleuthy you can also add these deadline dates into your calendars and set up reminders for critical end dates.
3. You never stop producing work that could be a good fit. It's fair to take a breather from shooting but you should always be on the lookout to create your best work, not just for a period of time where awards are happening. If you rush it, it will never be as good as when you took the time to delicately craft it without a deadline.
BE A SPONGE
■ ABSORB: As much inspiration and information as you can from all sources. Never stop creating, make too much work, then you have a big pile to pick from later.
■ WATCH no, BINGE past awards videos to determine if your work is a good fit for the competition. “AIPP Awards” Channel on YouTube
■ BOOK yourself in for all the print critiques and SIT UP THE FRONT so you can hear all the critique!
■ READ the Rules document from cover to cover. Know what you can and can’t do within the category you’re planning to enter.
Set yourself up for success:
* Promise to put up your best work, your most different work. Match the competition brief, but don't be afraid to interpret it in differnent ways, so long as you keep to the competition rules.
* Be quietly confident. But disconnect yourself emotionally from your images that you enter. The judges and the audience don’t know which ones are yours.
* Promise yourself that you’ll prepare well in advance
* Block out the dates in your calendar to attend judging.
* Watch past awards videos to determine if your work is a good fit for the competition.
*Look at images that have previously won– what is common about all of them? What style of images get awards?
5. Make positive Mantra cards and stick them around your workspace:
I will value the outcome, irrespective of how my images score!
I will research, plan and prepare as early as I can!
I will enter my best creative work
I will attend the judging, cheer on my peers or sit with them if they are nervous during judging!
I will attend all the print critiques and ask questions if I need further clarification
I will attend the presentation dinner and party with the winners!!
If I am disappointed with the outcome, I will seek feedback
I will volunteer my time to help run the awards!
I will enter an extra print as a “passion print” to test myself in another category that I do not usually enter.
I understand that not doing well when you thought you might, is massively disappointing. Competitions are a game of skill and you can't control everything, so let's take a look at what you can control for yourself.
When you enter any award, the universal truths of what you gain are:
Self-Confidence to enter future awards
Professional Benchmarking: Where are you in comparison to the industry/ your peers/ your mentors?
Networking: In some competitions like AIPP State and National Awards, we hold these judgings live, you can meet other like-minded photographers at these events, and at the presentation dinners.
Inspiration - What are other people doing with their photography?
Education - Learning!
Social Connections - see Networks but less formal :P
Opportunities- You may meet a future mentor or freind.
So why the hell not enter something, somewhere? Boost your confidence, boost your profile, prepare yourself for bigger competitions upcoming!
You've got everything to gain, and if you don't enter, you are taking a pass on what could be an awesome learning experience.