How do you become an "Award Winning" photographer?

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Whiskeyman

Well-known member
Very good response, Eric. If I may add the following:

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.
PPA/PSA or other formal judging is important. Some contests are judged by people that don't know what a good photograph is. A long-ago mentor told me that judging contests was the hardest and most stressful thing they did as a prfessional photographer. You want your images judged upon a set of standards and not someone's whim and emotion.

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.
In addition to looking at past winners, you can look online for photo competitions with live online judging. Usually these opportunities occur at large conventions, such as a state, national or international association's annual event. You can see the photos and hear comments from the judges as the photos are evaluated. That can reveal quite a lot about what good judges look for in a photograph, and also what makes a contest 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.
When beginning (and afterwards as well) enter photo contests to learn, more than anything. If you win, great, but fight for valid feedback on your photos. This is one of the benefits of access to a great camera/photo club that has periodic print competitions/evaluations. While it can take a lot of guts for some to finally submit a photo, and the results may not be as you wish, you'll have a good explanation of what is good about your photo and what can be improved in it, if the judge is properly trained. In my experience, groups associated with PPA and or PSA are the best at these competitions.

As far as the judge Eric mentions in the above paragraph, they would never be a judge in any competition I had any say in until they demonstrated better than they did in the example. A good judge can properly evaluate and score images based upon a set of standards which should include all subject matter, even those they don't engage photographically. Some judges limit their judging to events where the subjects are limited in scope, such as portraits or landscapes, and that is considered an acceptable standard. To judge an image accepted in a competition differently because of its subject matter is inexcusable.
 
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MartyD

Well-known member
Supporting Member
Many have mentioned that there are both legitimate and fraudulent groups and organizations that offer "Awards" and you have to decide what the award process means to you and your photography. If you want to earn recognition for your work, do the research and spend the time and money to become an active part of an organization that can offer you what you want. I have many areas of my life that require a competitive approach so I like to keep my photography out of that. I am also a mathematician so I embrace the objective process and I am not accustomed to the subjective evaluation process. If that makes any sense.

I also realize that the labels available now like "Award Winning", "Published", and "Well Known", not to mention the new "Youtuber", "Blogger", and "Social Media Influencer" labels are acquired in a much different way than labels were 30 years ago. I tend to lean more to photographers whose work I like. I can't objectively determine that so It is my own personal subjective evaluation of what I like. This is my deviation from my mathematical world.

One of the reasons I like Back Country Gallery is that Steve is a good teacher. I don't know how many awards he has won, but I do believe he is very good at teaching others to be better photographers and that is what is most important to me. Good photographers have to take a set of tools and techniques and use them capture and create an image. We can all get better at learning and applying the tools and techniques, what we do with those skills are up to us.
 

Whiskeyman

Well-known member
Many have mentioned that there are both legitimate and fraudulent groups and organizations that offer "Awards" and you have to decide what the award process means to you and your photography. If you want to earn recognition for your work, do the research and spend the time and money to become an active part of an organization that can offer you what you want. I have many areas of my life that require a competitive approach so I like to keep my photography out of that. I am also a mathematician so I embrace the objective process and I am not accustomed to the subjective evaluation process. If that makes any sense.

I also realize that the labels available now like "Award Winning", "Published", and "Well Known", not to mention the new "Youtuber", "Blogger", and "Social Media Influencer" labels are acquired in a much different way than labels were 30 years ago. I tend to lean more to photographers whose work I like. I can't objectively determine that so It is my own personal subjective evaluation of what I like. This is my deviation from my mathematical world.

One of the reasons I like Back Country Gallery is that Steve is a good teacher. I don't know how many awards he has won, but I do believe he is very good at teaching others to be better photographers and that is what is most important to me. Good photographers have to take a set of tools and techniques and use them capture and create an image. We can all get better at learning and applying the tools and techniques, what we do with those skills are up to us.
Well stated. In addition to the groups you mention, there are also the unqualified, who, IMO, fall totally outside the fraudulent but not totally within the legitimate.
 

Judy795

New 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 am competitive too. Entering competitions gives me motivation to improve my skills. So…I regularly enter the Florida Combined Camera Competition. Won beginner of the year in 2019. Now in the Advanced levels , got my first blue. Had three photos picked for local newspapers calendars in three years, got honorable mention in two higher level competitions. Submitted to Audubon and Nanpa recently just to see what happens. It’s fun and less stressful than trying to sell your work.
 

Hut2

Well-known member
Supporting Member
Step 1 buy Steve's e-books


I'm being serious here; :cool:(y)
 
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AstroEd

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Thread starter
Step 1 buy Steve's e-books--->
I'm being serious here;
I bought everything he sells even though I do not have a mirrorless
 

AstroEd

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Supporting Member
Thread starter
If you are a professional photographer the only award you need is a smile from your bank manager
I don’t I can ever become a professional photographer, but I do hope to become an advanced amateur lol.
 

markymark

Active member
Just a question, but can anyone tell me how much emphasis by the judges is put on how much an image has been edited in Lightroom / Photoshop when they judge a competition?
Do they score it higher if the editing is minimal? or do they score it as an image no matter what it’s taken to get the final version?
Having very little knowledge of competitions & the rules involved I was just curious.
 

SteveReid

New member
Supporting Member
Just a question, but can anyone tell me how much emphasis by the judges is put on how much an image has been edited in Lightroom / Photoshop when they judge a competition?
Do they score it higher if the editing is minimal? or do they score it as an image no matter what it’s taken to get the final version?
Having very little knowledge of competitions & the rules involved I was just curious.
Photographers I know are professionals at photoshopping. A friend took an Eagle from an award winning photographers image, changed the background, had me believing he had captured it.
 

markymark

Active member
If you are a professional photographer the only award you need is a smile from your bank manager
I dunno, I bet there’s still a few photographers out there that although depend on their bank managers smile also get just a big a kick out of taking a great image, or at least I hope so! 😗
 

EricBowles

Well-known member
Just a question, but can anyone tell me how much emphasis by the judges is put on how much an image has been edited in Lightroom / Photoshop when they judge a competition?
Do they score it higher if the editing is minimal? or do they score it as an image no matter what it’s taken to get the final version?
Having very little knowledge of competitions & the rules involved I was just curious.
You can't assume a one size fits all for rules. Some groups specify the edits that are allowed and want to see the RAW file. For fine art, typically anything goes. My general rule in judging is I want the edits to be subtle and well done, and I don't want to see errors from the edits. I prefer to have rules that communicate whether composites such as sky replacement are allowed or not.
 

Hut2

Well-known member
Supporting Member
You can't assume a one size fits all for rules. Some groups specify the edits that are allowed and want to see the RAW file. For fine art, typically anything goes. My general rule in judging is I want the edits to be subtle and well done, and I don't want to see errors from the edits. I prefer to have rules that communicate whether composites such as sky replacement are allowed or not.
I have almost no competition experience but, I like the rules Audubon Society puts out. A strong ethical foundation that puts the birds first.
 

RickW

Active 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?
How to become award winning photographer? Same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice, practice practice.
 

AstroEd

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Thread starter
How to become award winning photographer? Same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice, practice practice.
So if I want to become “An award winning Carnegie Hall Photographer” do I need to Practice, practice practice, practice, practice practice?
 

Whiskeyman

Well-known member
So if I want to become “An award winning Carnegie Hall Photographer” do I need to Practice, practice practice, practice, practice practice?
Partly. All of your practice needs to be perfect. (That's what the local band teachers tell their students.)
 

gKhan

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.
Great analogy.
Your comments remind me of a moderately sized monument on a mountain back road that I occasionally pass. The monument is to honor and commemorate the county commissioners who erected the monument to honor their efforts in erecting the monument.

Based on the comments above it seems that the monument and photo awards are very similar. I have always suspected that, but now appreciate the confirmation. Thanks
 

AstroEd

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Partly. All of your practice needs to be perfect. (That's what the local band teachers tell their students.)
THAT is my biggest fear learning alone, Am I getting better but using overall bad techniques that will hinder me down the road.
 

Viathelens

Well-known 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?
While I have not often entered any of the web-based competitions I have entered many local and regional competitions put on by organizations that have good reputations and, usually, a building, not just a web site. Having said that, I think there are legitimate web-based competitions but buyer beware, do some research first. I often think these web sites just want to make the entry fee money and that is their "award." I have won many awards from these competitions, from Best in Show to Honorable mention. I do think that simply getting into a judged competition is an award in itself so if you don't mind spending the money for the web-based competitions it would be good practice to enter. When entering any competition it's good to have the right attitude, which is one based on wanting to listen and to learn. The judges may not like your work and sometimes people don't take that very well. It is worth listening to any photographer who may be better or more experienced than you are and then use what you can and keep on learning as you continue to learn the craft. Practice is one key, as is learning from others, reading, observing, learning the concepts of art and your equipment...all of these things must come together to create an exceptional piece of art, whether a photographer or a painter or an illustrator or etc. You win awards by creating an exceptional piece of work that others enjoy viewing.
 
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pnbarne

Member
Supporting Member
If you are a professional photographer the only award you need is a smile from your bank manager
Two thoughts. I wanted to do landscape photography but the money came from architectural and industrial photos. Ultimately, I received a job offer I couldn’t refuse doing system integration. Suddenly, I could afford all of the gear I had never been able to buy, I just didn’t get the time to use it. Bottom line, it really did come down to money.

Second thought. Everyone is carrying a camera with them these days. Just by virtue of the number of images posted on Instagram or Snapchat or ??? there is bound to be a good one about any subject imaginable somewhere. In the world of ubiquitous AI, finding those images is simple enough. So, being a successful professional photographer these days has to be about intent because anyone can randomly get a spectacular photo.
 

DRwyoming

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Supporting Member
THAT is my biggest fear learning alone, Am I getting better but using overall bad techniques that will hinder me down the road.
Don't stress too much over that with photography. Sure, watch instructional videos, read good books like Steve's ebooks but by far the most important thing is to get out and shoot a lot. I've worked with some very good amateur and pro photographers, some are highly educated in photography (California Institute of the Arts, Rhode Island School of Design, etc.) but others didn't take a technical or structured path but still are fantastic photographers. What they all share is shooting a lot, paying attention to other's work, seeking out and accepting feedback and basically having a camera in their hands as often as possible.

No doubt, learning a bit and heading off some bad habits like learning good handholding and good long lens techniques, understanding exposure tradeoffs and things like that can speed the learning curve. But mostly just shoot as often as you can, notice the things that you do or the situations you're in that deliver images you're happy with and identify things that are giving you trouble so you can work on them. But more than anything else, shoot and shoot often in a variety of situations and improvement will come.
 
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