Photography Competitions – Are They Worth It?

So it’s almost that time of year again where I start looking through all my images throughout the year to possibly find gems for photography competitions. I usually enter a few images a year in competitions, and I find some modest success. But what I have learned in the last decade of entering into competitions is that you really have to understand what the judges like…and whether it is the right competition for you.

Last year I entered my favorite images of the year into a couple different photography competitions…and received very different responses.

Here is the image…


A little background on this image. I had the concept in my head for quite while to create an image that would represent coming of age in the pre-digital era. So that the image would feel more authentic to the concept it was shot on film (with Mamiya 645 with Tri-X Film).

The image was entered in WPPI’s 16 x 20 Print Competition & Sparkcon’s Film & Analog Exhibition.

The theme for Sparkcon was Vintage (and the image had to be shot on film). Of course because the theme was limited, there was probably less competition. I entered the image knowing that all aspects of it fit what the exhibition was looking for.

In this competition the image received 1st place.

WPPI on the other hand has a much broader spectrum of what they are looking for. Since it is a print competition, the image was printed in a wet lab by master printer Robert Cavalli, under my direction. The print turned out exactly how I envisioned it. Once it was printed I entered it under the glamour/boudoir portrait section. I definitely did not feel it was a glamour image, but I consider it a boudoir image. Obviously I was wrong because the judges scored it a 77. According to WPPI any image scoring between 76-79 is of average professional skill and technique.

I also entered my digital test of this image into PX3 – Prix de Photographie. Rather than being portrait based, this is more of a fine art competition. Since the test was not a nude version, it was entered in People & Personality category. With PX3 I was awarded an honorable mention.


For print competitions that are portrait based like WPPI, I find that unless the right judges are on the panel, I will probably score pretty low.

Since 2008 I have received 15 Accolades of Excellence from WPPI (I currently have 10 points which makes me an associate of WPPI). What I find is that I usually enter 4 images and only one of them will score over 80 ( above average – Good standard of professional skill, creativity and technique). I have never scored over 85, and it seems to be pretty random what scores higher. Although from watching the judging images that are super digitally enhanced seem to do better (although I have had two film images score over 80 that were shot with 4 x 5 cameras).

I’ll let you try to figure if there is rhyme or reason to this print competition…

This image was entered in both the print & international online competition for WPPI. For the print competition it scored 81, for the online competition it scored 84 (major discrepancies within their own scoring…three points is a lot in a print competition, although they could argue the quality of print brought the score down, in my own opinion the print is way better than the online image). This is one of the 4 x 5 prints.


This next image scored an 80, barely and by the new rules it would not have received an accolade as out of the five judges only two of them scored it over an 80 (one scored it an 83, bringing the average up). This image is a digital copy of a polaroid I took with a 4 x 5 camera.

polaroid-nude-fine-art-photography-model-black-and -white

My second highest scoring image in the print competition ever is this one. I look at it and although I love it, I don’t see it as any better than any of the images above or better than my “loser” images, yet it scored an 83.


And of course I will post my highest scoring image ever. I entered it because I knew it was the style that WPPI likes. This image does not look like any of my other work  and was done for an editorial assignment. It is the most I have every digitally enhanced an image (which I will discuss later). It scored an 84.


So of course for comparison I have to post some of my images that scored under an 80 (average professional quality).

This first image scored an 79, and had the judges in quite a debate (I watched the judging). 1/2 of the judges loved her leg positioning and the others couldn’t stand it…so in the end it was just short of receiving an accolade.


This image there was no discussion. It scored a 78…


And this one also a 78


And we can’t post my highest scoring image ever without posting an image of my lowest scoring image ever. Although my clients love this image (it’s one of my most commented on prints in my studio), it scored a sad 76.


So this year when deciding what to enter into the WPPI Print Competition I am at a complete loss. I know that images that are highly digitally enhanced do well in competition. On the other hand while I do have a few analog images that make the cut, it is hit and miss and they usually barely make it. For example Sue Bryce & Jennifer Hudson have done phenomenally well in this competition, yet their images are very illustrative. Here is a link to an example of a start to finish Sue Bryce winning image (from her website). While I love both of their work, I don’t necessarily consider it purely photography.

I have the ability to create digitally altered images, but I feel you can show talent with lighting, posing, and FILM. And while WPPI has a new RAW category, film & analog images do not fall into this category. So the question is do I change my approach just to win competitions or do I stick to my guns and remain a purist?

I have had very good luck with PX3 ( I have only entered three images and all of them have received accolades), but love the idea of a print competition.

My whole point with this is to show that you never really know. Since photography is subjective there is no way to really know if the judges will like your work unless you enter and try to learn from your mistakes. And even then it is still confusing…since I started entering images in WPPI since 2008 and watching the judging I’m more confused than ever with what to enter!

One Comment Add yours

  1. chucka1 says:

    Totally agree. I am at a complete loss also and everything I like about my own work I have a grand feeling will score less than 75 at WPPI

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