Tips on Entering Online Art (Photography) Competitions

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Tips on Entering Online Art (Photography) Competitions

by Eric Hatch

Entering an online art competition can take a couple of minutes and cost a few dollars.  Or it may take up to a day of work and cost up to a hundred dollars, or even more.  Is it worth it?  It depends on several variables:

  1. Your goals
  2. Your level of experience and reputation
  3. Your budget
  4. Your ability to see your own work objectively
  5. The ability of the competition to meet your goals and budget (this is mostly handled in the second of this series of articles)

TherDSC_3357Eric author pic explorations bw smalle are thousands of online art competitions.  In this group are included photographic competitions, digital art competitions, and traditional media like oil, watercolor, or ink on any substrate, from paper to canvas. (These last are entered via photographs of the actual work).  Competitions are easy to find:  art magazines, blogs, and any number of “call to artists” subscription services identify them for you.

The first two considerations you should make regard your own level of expertise and your goals.  If you are an ambitious newcomer or “emerging artist,” online competitions can get your work “out there,” and perhaps win you some recognition.  Online art competitions don’t (with a few exceptions) care who you are, and most are blind – that is, the judges don’t know who the entrant is, to avoid conflicts of interest.  One group, “people’s choice” competitions, is the exception – there, the idea is to get everybody you can to “vote” for your entry, but few reputable competitions work that way.

On the other hand, when you are competing against large numbers of other skilled artists, you will have to be very good indeed – or very lucky – to win one of the prizes.  If you don’t win, or at least gain an award of merit, you’re out your time and your fees with nothing to show for them.  But if you can afford to enter often, there is a learning curve – you will become better in assessing which of your pieces do better than others in competitions, especially if you “campaign” a particular image in several successive competitions.  Doing this takes steady nerve and deep pockets, but can teach you quite a lot along the way. But it can be very discouraging to enter and enter and enter without a win.

If you are an experienced artist, with a good record of getting into juried shows or group exhibitions, it makes much more sense to enter online art competitions.  That’s because you know you already have what it takes to win.  But even so, the odds are against you in almost any online competition, simply because of the numbers of entries.  So you do have to be clear about what you can gain and whether it’s worth risking your time and money to go this path.

There are only five goals for artists entering online competitions, or really any competition, for that matter.  The first four are are exposure, validation, building a resume, and cash (or merchandise) rewards.  The fifth is getting useful critique, thereby enabling you to learn even if you don’t win.  Part Two of this series goes into using these goals to choose which competition to enter.  For now it is only important to be sure you DO have goals and are clear on them.  Otherwise, online art competitions are not for you.

Budget is the next consideration.  Really high-end competitions may charge $125 per image entered, or even more.  But most charge between $35 and $65 for three to five images.  $15 per image is a common fee – and that can add up fast! Virtually all these competitions allow you to make additional entries for extra charges – the volume discount can be considerable (though usually it’s not that great).

One problem with spending the money on extra entries is that you may be competing against yourself!  In smaller competitions, this can be a real problem. If there are only 300 entries, but only 65 are competitive, and you submit 8 of them, you may be knocking out one or more of your own.  Even worse, the judges may recognize your style and decide to knock some out on the grounds of “fairness to other competitors.”  That’s uncommon, but it is a reason not to flood a competition with your work.

The ability to judge your own work is for many the hardest part of entering a competition.  Some of us fall in love with a piece – yet that piece really won’t stand up against stiff competition for any of a wide variety of reasons.  It may be too sentimental, not sentimental enough, be weak in one way or another while very strong in others (for example, an other wise brilliant landscape may have wonderful composition and color but have some hot spots you just can’t get rid of without major alteration – which will itself most likely be visible).  Such prints may be terrific, but – are they truly competitive?  Honestly, they’re not, but assessing that for yourself may be next to impossible.

To enter and succeed, you must become ruthless in selecting only the true gems of your portfolio – and hope that the judges see them the same way you do!  Egos get flattened easily in this game, so if your skin is thin, and you haven’t got the requisite objectivity towards your own work, you’re probably best off staying away.

You can get help from others, of course – but DO NOT ASK YOUR FRIENDS for help. They want to please you, and stay friends with you, and probably don’t have the skills anyhow.  Having someone whose eye is good, whose own record as an artist or art critic is solid – that’s worth its weight in gold, but still doesn’t replace the need for objectivity and discipline in selecting work for online competitions.

Finally, we all seek validation for the work we put our souls into.  But competing just so you can get patted on the head is a lousy reason to enter any competition.    Set your goals, pick your targets, and select a competition that will meet them … and then go ahead and enter.


End of Part One

Part two to be shared next week


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