How do you become an "Award Winning" photographer?

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AstroEd

Active member
Supporting Member
I see wildlife Photography web sites, forums, youtubers, Facebook posters, and such saying they are "Award Winning Photographers" how do you win awards? are there contests? Are there any geared towards amateur/beginning wildlife photographers I can strive to earn?
 

Pistnbroke

Active member
There are organisations set up just to give awards ( and make money for the organiser) You join (fee) and submit to the monthly judging. If it's half-decent or what I would call crap you get an award. Hence you are an award-winning photographer. Put it on your website. Impress customers ... There is one in the UK called Fearless for extreme photos. or International Society of Pro wedding photographers or Wedding photojournalist Association. You can access these at the very bottom of this website....www.martinbaddallphotography.co.uk
 
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AstroEd

Active member
Supporting Member
Thread starter
Drats, I was hoping it was more legit run by organizations helping improve skills or something.
 

fcotterill

Well-known member
Most camera clubs run competitions, which some members take very seriously :)

These are probably the top ones, :



Smithsonian...

many more out there.... Pick your poison: fair, middlin', extremely competitive.

 

Backdoor Arts

Active member
To quote the father from "A Christmas Story", "Look! It's a major award!!"



Is being presented with "3rd runner up" an award" How about an Honorable Mention? Is winning a photography contest consider "award winning"? What if there were only 10 photos in it? How about being presented with a exhibition by a local government, is that an "award" or just an "achievement"?

It's resume padding for someone looking for a gig. If they have scruples they will provide links to just what those awards are. For some it may be placing in the top 100 in the Audubon contest. For others it may be getting their shot in a magazine. For those I would tend to link them under "Featured..." and not "Award Winning". By all proper and improper definitions I am an "Award Winning Photographer Featured In...", but I'd never bother to use it unless I had a presentation to sell to photography clubs and/or a website of pics for sale to hawk. When I do, I'll back it up with links.
 

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DRwyoming

Well-known member
Supporting Member
Drats, I was hoping it was more legit run by organizations helping improve skills or something.
There are all levels of awards directed at beginners, experienced photographers and even professionals. They can be a great way to develop skills and see what others are doing as motivation to learn even more skills.

As posted above, local clubs often run photo contests which can be a great way to show and get feedback on your work. Some web forums like Fred Miranda run weekly and monthly themed assignments that are then voted on like mini contests which can be a good learning tool.

The bigger awards like the NANPA annual showcase, the Audobon Society’s annual contest or something like BBC Photographer Of The Year are very prestigious and means a lot more if you win something like that.

Entering contests can be a good way to assess your current skills and great motivation to develop new skills but take the results with a grain of salt. Judges vary and judging criteria can be all over the map ranging from strict technical adherence to ‘rules’ or throwing convention out the window and looking for new and different above all else.

So if you enter images into contests, go in with a thick skin and open mind. You could see winners that don’t impress you at all or see great photos passed by so don’t view the results as proof that an image is great or lousy. Try to see what the judges tuned into and if you like what you see in the winners then see what you might take from that to further your own photography. Sometimes it will be obvious why certain photos didn’t make it into the finals and win recognition but other times great photos will get passed by for reasons only the judges know. Sometimes it’s just that the top award last year went to a nearly identical image and they don’t want a repeat no matter how well you executed your version.

Anyway, I think contests small or large can be great learning and skills development tools but be careful not to let them overly color your own views on the quality of your portfolio. FWIW, some of my best selling commercial photos have done poorly in contests and some of my best received contest images have never resulted in a commercial sale so there’s a wide variety of what’s considered a good image depending on the audience and intended use.
 
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bsinc1962

Well-known member
Supporting Member
There are all levels of awards directed at beginners, experienced photographers and even professionals. They can be a great way to develop skills and see what others are doing as motivation to learn even more skills.

As posted above, local clubs often run photo contests which can be a great way to show and get feedback on your work. Some web forums like Fred Miranda run weekly and monthly themed assignments that are then voted on like mini contests which can be a good learning tool.

The bigger awards like the NANPA annual showcase, the Audobon Society’s annual contest or something like BBC Photographer Of The Year are very prestigious and means a lot more if you win something like that.

Entering contests can be a good way to assess your current skills and great motivation to develop new skills but take the results with a grain of salt. Judges vary and judging criteria can be all over the map ranging from strict technical adherence to ‘rules’ or throwing convention out the window and looking for new and different above all else. So if you enter images into contests, go in with a thick skin and open mind. You could see winners that don’t impress you at all or see great photos passed by so don’t view the results as proof that an image is great or lousy. Try to see what the judges tuned into and if you like what you see in the winners then see what you might take from that to further your own photography. Sometimes it will be obvious why certain photos didn’t make it into the finals and win recognition but other times great photos will get passed by for reasons only the judges know. Sometimes it’s just that the top award last year went to a nearly identical image and they don’t want a repeat no matter how well you executed your version.

Anyway, I think contests small or large can be great learning and skills development tools but be careful not to let them overly color your own views on the quality of your portfolio. FWIW, some of my best selling commercial photos have done poorly in contests and some of my best received contest images have never resulted in a commercial sale so there’s a wide variety of what’s considered a good image depending on the audience and intended use.
So spot on Dave.
 

bleirer

Well-known member
Around here the several library systems have annual art shows with awards in various categories, the top pick gets their work purchased at the asking price up to x amount and displayed on a library wall.
 

NA4M

Well-known member
Supporting Member
Be aware if considering entering photo contests etc. with an eye towards earning an "Award Winning Photographer" title and maybe some cash or photo goodies that a close reading of many photo contest entry rules require you to sign away your winning image rights to the sponsoring organization. Only you can decide if it's worth the trade-off.
 
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Rassie

Well-known member
Supporting Member
Might be an idea for us here on Backcountry Gallery to, as a next step, launch a monthly competition in each forum category. Pick a winning image from each category every month and then make a final selection of the twelve finalists per category at the end of the year. That winner will then be an award-winning photographer. The competition idea, though, will only be viable if Steve has the time to run such a program. I suspect he's too busy otherwise.

I know they do this over at Nikonians, and possibly also Fred Miranda?

Now if I can win a National Geographic or Audubon competition, that will make me a happy camper. :)
 

AstroEd

Active member
Supporting Member
Thread starter
And I am sorry if my question comes off as if I am looking for glory or some kind of validation. I have memory and commitment issues (lose interest in things) My thoughts on finding a group that has legitimate awards is that it may force me to keep my interest and push me to focus on improvement through competition. I am to a point a competitive person. However I tend to loose faith because I will compare my worst abilities to the bests of others I see around me. For some reason putting myself into a competitive mode tends to focus me into learning and improving better than just learning for the sake of learning on my own. While I DO see improvements in my skills, I feel they are slower than they should be.
 

StephenP

Member
Supporting Member
And I am sorry if my question comes off as if I am looking for glory or some kind of validation. I have memory and commitment issues (lose interest in things) My thoughts on finding a group that has legitimate awards is that it may force me to keep my interest and push me to focus on improvement through competition. I am to a point a competitive person. However I tend to loose faith because I will compare my worst abilities to the bests of others I see around me. For some reason putting myself into a competitive mode tends to focus me into learning and improving better than just learning for the sake of learning on my own. While I DO see improvements in my skills, I feel they are slower than they should be.
I see you are a Nikon user. Do you know about nikonians.org? They have contests for different categories every month. I'm a member and so are a couple of others from this site too.
 

splatbass

Well-known member
Is being presented with "3rd runner up" an award" How about an Honorable Mention? Is winning a photography contest consider "award winning"? What if there were only 10 photos in it? How about being presented with a exhibition by a local government, is that an "award" or just an "achievement"?
Good questions. I once was a semi-finalist in an Outdoor Photography contest, does that make me an "Almost Award Winning Photographer"? :D "Nearly Award Winning"? "Award adjacent"? :D
 

Marcus Slade

Active member
Supporting Member
Might be an idea for us here on Backcountry Gallery to, as a next step, launch a monthly competition in each forum category. Pick a winning image from each category every month and then make a final selection of the twelve finalists per category at the end of the year. That winner will then be an award-winning photographer. The competition idea, though, will only be viable if Steve has the time to run such a program. I suspect he's too busy otherwise.

I know they do this over at Nikonians, and possibly also Fred Miranda?

Now if I can win a National Geographic or Audubon competition, that will make me a happy camper. :)
Koos, this is a great idea. Much as I'd like to think I enjoy photography for the intrinsic value it feeds my creative appetite, I'd be lying if I said I didn't care about being awarded for a given photo...if that ever happens. Ha. But seriously, a jury of one's peers here would mean a lot to me.
 

AstroEd

Active member
Supporting Member
Thread starter
I see you are a Nikon user. Do you know about nikonians.org? They have contests for different categories every month. I'm a member and so are a couple of others from this site too.
I never heard of them, Thanks
 

AstroEd

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Supporting Member
Thread starter
I entered local contests and a couple out of state ones years ago. Yes I won a variety of awards, but recently, I donated a large print to raise funds for veterans. It ended up auctioning off at $750.00. That meant more than any contest awards.
LOVE that idea, I hope I can do well enough someday to try that.
 

EricBowles

Well-known member
I see wildlife Photography web sites, forums, youtubers, Facebook posters, and such saying they are "Award Winning Photographers" how do you win awards? are there contests? Are there any geared towards amateur/beginning wildlife photographers I can strive to earn?
Award Winning is not very descriptive. It's the consistency over time that ends up speaking for itself.

I was committee chair for NANPA's Showcase competition, and I judge a lot of images. I also have completed PPA's three day judges training program and judged for PPA.

The level of competition makes a big difference. Most of the top images in the NANPA Showcase come from amateurs - but the images are very good and pros do participate - just not in the numbers you see from amateurs. Most winners in the BBC competition are professionals, but it has a lot of participation from amateurs. Amateur work at the top level is just as good as professional work. The difference is often the time a professional puts into their work, so they may have more opportunities - or they may be so busy with jobs for clients that they don't shoot for competitions. For a professional, competitions can be part of building a brand name and word of mouth.

There is a difference between an excellent photo and a competition image. Competition images need the WOW factor while an excellent photo may be more subtle. Judges of competitions see hundreds or thousands of images, and winners need to stand out. For wildlife, that's usually unique action and timing. In NANPA's Showcase, 75% of the Top 100 bird photos are in flight, in combat, or involve food. The numbers are similar for mammals. The timing is normally around breeding plumage or the right time of year if that applies to the subject. Portraits can be successful, but they need to be exceptional.

Subject matter needs to be new or fresh - not the same subject everyone else is submitting. Bear images from Brooks Falls tend to be very similar and common. They are excellent photos individually, but if you go to Brooks Falls you'll have an image of a bear catching a fish in the air. Large wading birds are very common - in a recent competition I judged there were 65 images out of 250 submissions that contained Great Blue Herons, Spoonbills or Egrets - all common, slow moving birds. The same competition had seven osprey images - and all but one were carrying a fish. If the subject is common, your image better be spectacular.

As to the image itself, it needs to demonstrate excellence. It has to be sharp - but not overly sharpened. It needs great lighting complementing the subject rather than being something you need to overcome. That probably means the image was not taken during the middle of the day. I look for minimal noise and evidence of deep cropping - the image needs to be large enough in the frame that the feathers or fur show detail without processing artifacts. Backgrounds need to be appropriate - not distracting and hopefully complementing the image. A plain blue sky is pretty boring, but some level of out of focus context or a nice background is a positive. Little things need to be addressed in editing - stray debris or hair needs to be fixed as you would with a portrait.

To get a good idea of what it takes, take a look at past winners. Look not only at what they photographed, but the direction of the light, the subject matter, and the context so you can recognize what the special sauce is that made the image a finalist or a winner.

Finally, you don't enter competitions just to win. It's a good way to have someone else evaluate your work and provide feedback. You might consider portfolio reviews to get feedback on your images. Just keep in mind that individual judges will have different perspectives, expertise, and hot buttons. I remember seeing the results of one competition and two of the three judges gave an image a perfect score, while the third judge gave it a score that was just average. Her comment - it's just a landscape (she was an editor at a wildlife publication). The image would have won the competition if she had scored it Very Good - not even Excellent. I saw a large print of the image a few months later selling in a well known gallery for $30,000.
 
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AstroEd

Active member
Supporting Member
Thread starter
Award Winning is not very descriptive. It's the consistency over time that ends up speaking for itself.

I was committee chair for NANPA's Showcase competition, and I judge a lot of images. I also have completed PPA's three day judges training program and judges for PPA.

The level of competition makes a big difference. Most of the top images in the NANPA Showcase come from amateurs - but the images are very good and pros do participate - just not in the numbers you see from amateurs. Most winners in the BBC competition are professionals, but it has a lot of participation from amateurs. Amateur work at the top level is just as good as professional work. The difference is often the time a professional puts into their work, so they may have more opportunities - or they may be so busy with jobs for clients that they don't shoot for competitions. For a professional, competitions can be part of building a brand name and word of mouth.

There is a difference between an excellent photo and a competition image. Competition images need the WOW factor while an excellent photo may be more subtle. Judges of competitions see hundreds or thousands of images, and winners need to stand out. For wildlife, that's usually unique action and timing. In NANPA's Showcase, 75% of the Top 100 bird photos are in flight, in combat, or involve food. The numbers are similar for mammals. The timing is normally around breeding plumage or the right time of year if that applies to the subject. Portraits can be successful, but they need to be exceptional.

Subject matter needs to be new or fresh - not the same subject everyone else is submitting. Bear images from Brooks Falls tend to be very similar and common. They are excellent photos individually, but if you go to Brooks Falls you'll have an image of a bear catching a fish in the air. Large wading birds are very common - in a recent competition I judged there were 65 images out of 250 submissions that contained Great Blue Herons, Spoonbills or Egrets - all common, slow moving birds. The same competition had seven osprey images - and all but one were carrying a fish. If the subject is common, your image better be spectacular.

As to the image itself, it needs to demonstrate excellence. It has to be sharp - but not overly sharpened. It needs great lighting complementing the subject rather than being something you need to overcome. That probably means the image was not taken during the middle of the day. I look for minimal noise and evidence of deep cropping - the image needs to be large enough in the frame that the feathers or fur show detail without processing artifacts. Backgrounds need to be appropriate - not distracting and hopefully complementing the image. A plain blue sky is pretty boring, but some level of out of focus context or a nice background is a positive. Little things need to be addressed in editing - stray debris or hair needs to be fixed as you would with a portrait.

To get a good idea of what it takes, take a look at past winners. Look not only at what they photographed, but the direction of the light, the subject matter, and the context so you can recognize what the special sauce is that made the image a finalist or a winner.

Finally, you don't enter competitions just to win. It's a good way to have someone else evaluate your work and provide feedback. You might consider portfolio reviews to get feedback on your images. Just keep in mind that individual judges will have different perspectives, expertise, and hot buttons. I remember seeing the results of one competition and two of the three judges gave an image a perfect score, while the third judge gave it a score that was just average. Her comment - it's just a landscape (she was an editor at a wildlife publication). The image would have won the competition if she had scored it Very Good - not even Excellent. I saw a large print of the image a few months later selling in a well known gallery for $30,000.
Thank you for the wonderful response. I know I am no where near ready for competitions but I wonder if it would push me to be better faster I guess. So far my best image ever is no where near worthy of competition.. But I like it. And of course it just had to be a Heron LOL.
D68B398D-46E8-4C53-B82F-E2F5643A04B6.jpeg
 

Pistnbroke

Active member
One of the best ways to test your abilities would be to join one of the professional bodies . The Master Photographers Association or the British Institute of Professional Photographers. Sadly both these are overrun with Masons who divert any work related enquiries to their brothers. The Royal Photographic Society is good to joint .Your work is accessed in front of an audience of hundreds of binocular touting members by the panel of judges on stage in a theatre. No corruption here. Although in the UK many foreign applicants join. You can then put the letters LRPS after your name.
 

AstroEd

Active member
Supporting Member
Thread starter
One of the best ways to test your abilities would be to join one of the professional bodies . The Master Photographers Association or the British Institute of Professional Photographers. Sadly both these are overrun with Masons who divert any work related enquiries to their brothers. The Royal Photographic Society is good to joint .Your work is accessed in front of an audience of hundreds of binocular touting members by the panel of judges on stage in a theatre. No corruption here. Although in the UK many foreign applicants join. You can then put the letters LRPS after your name.
LOL, I must be the wrong kind of Mason I never got any benefits. (To be fair I have not been able to afford dues in years so I guess I am no longer a Mason after all).
 

Pistnbroke

Active member
Make sure the tide is in when you go anywhere near the sea....
When arranging wedding groups I often say "dont stand square to the camera , You only stand square at the lodge"
I often get masonic responses from the brides father ...ha ha
 
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