What Makes a Winning Photograph in a Photography Competition?
By Connie Cassinetto
The answer to the question above probably depends on whom you ask. There is complexity in the answer. In general, however, most competition judges and professional photographers would probably answer that question in a similar fashion. You can view the winner’s of various competitions and study those photographs and you might find some answers. You can also study the photos of the great photographers of our time and find some answers.
But, on a more basic level, here are a few things to consider when submitting a photograph to any photographic competition:
Lighting: A photograph is all about light, without light there is no photograph. What light did you take your photograph in? Did you use light to your advantage to focus on your subject in a positive (or negative if you choose that) way?
Composition: Is the composition of the photograph pleasing or striking in some way, did you use angles, form, and lines? Is there a focal point set in a section of the photo that works well for the viewer’s eye? Did you find a new angle on an old subject? Is there something different about your photograph?
Subject: Does your subject resonate with emotion? Can the viewer find an emotion or feeling in your photograph that he or she can identify with? Is there movement or action or vibrancy in the subject? Is there a “verb,” in your subject, a point of interest, something happening?
Color or Tone: Does your photograph have color or tone that helps to tell the story, that pushes the theme forward and helps the viewer to focus on what is important in the photograph? Are you using the full range of color, or withholding it to make a point? Will the viewer understand this? Have you used color effectively, both in taking the photograph and in processing it?
Depth of Field: Have you given sufficient thought to the depth of field for the particular subject you’ve chosen? Did you consider how the aperture choice might play into the overall effect of the photograph? Are you using depth of field effectively to highlight your subject choice?
Shutter Speed: Is the subject in your photo sharp and in focus? Or, appropriately blurry if that was your approach? Was the shutter speed you used the best one for your subject?
Processing: Is your photo effectively processed, either in-camera as a jpg or by you in an editing program? Did you look for and delete all spots and anything else that blemishes the photograph? Is there something small in the borders of the photograph that might detract the viewer and lead their eye away from the subject? Is the white balance and color pleasing and appropriate?
In any photography competition there are many good photos, but judges look for something beyond simply good in selecting their choices for what should go into a show and what should win a show. A winning photograph has something in it that goes beyond the ordinary, some emotion or connection that resonates with a judge or with any viewer. Look for the extraordinary in your photography, look for something different or unique, go beyond the normal limits and your photograph will shine among the competition. Use all of the photography “tools” noted above and others to create the best possible photograph that you can. Even if your photograph does not get selected to be in a show consider the experience worthwhile and a learning moment, a way to grow in your photography journey. Learn from it and move forward to the next photograph and next competition.