Competitions with a cause.

Is it me or is there a constant stream of new photography competitions cropping up? Hardly a week goes by these days when I don’t receive yet another invitation to part with some hard-earned and spend a laborious day (or two) preparing and uploading images and (unnecessarily) writing captions, because let’s be clear, entering photography competitions is no quick job.

So why bother?

Ego. We all like to have our precious ego stroked from time to time. It’s a fact so let’s just be honest. There are other motivations of course and for what is essentially a lonely pursuit, competitions provide contact with other members of this disparate community. Moreover, pitting your best work against that of others, acts as a barometer and confirms, or not, that your creative ability is up there with the best. But is all that enough?

Over the years I’ve honed down the number of competitions I enter and each year I ask myself the same question: Will the showcase of images produced from this competition contribute to a wider appreciation of the natural world? In the case of the well-established Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, there is no question that the travelling exhibition and accompanying portfolio book has done exactly that since its inception five decades ago.

Flooded birch and alder woodland in autumn, Cairngorms, Scotland.My most recently awarded image in Wildlife Photographer of the Year – taken 2 miles from home.

More recently the British Wildlife Photography Awards have done the same closer to home and as a consequence, I sense a growing reluctance on the part of many photographers to travel to the other side of the world when they see what can be produced in their own backyard. The winner of the 2014 BWPA is a perfect case in point.

There is no doubt in my mind – never has been – that visual imagery shapes our perceptions and models our behaviour. There is then a strong case for supporting those competitions which seek to promote the natural world and in doing so, fuel the motivation to both photograph it but more importantly, cherish it. I have to say that I’d like to see competitions such as WPoY and BWPA going a step further and setting a standard for photographer philanthropy. It wouldn’t take much to divert a percentage of the entry fee to a credible conservation cause – perhaps a native tree grove on behalf of the competition and its entrants?

As a footnote, there are now many competitions – run primarily by conservation NGOs – which exist to rights-grab your images. In other words they want to use your images for free, forever. And what’s more, some will charge you for the privilege. Of course everyone is at liberty to enter whichever competition they wish but for me, the credibility of a competition lies with its founding motivation.



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4 thoughts on “Competitions with a cause.

  1. A good example of the type of competition you refer to in the last chapter is one currently running by the Woodland Trust. They are doing pretty well out of it with about 2,762 entries at the moment….
    (By submitting any contribution to Wild Summer Photography competition (including any text, photographs, graphics, video or audio) you agree to grant the Woodland Trust a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive, sub-licensable right and world-wide licence to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, display and exercise all copyright and publicity rights with respect to your contribution and to incorporate your contribution in other works in any media now known or later developed for the full term of any rights that may exist in your contribution, and in accordance with privacy restrictions set out in the Woodland Trust’s privacy policy. We may select images for inclusion in the Woodland Trust calendar with proceeds going to the Woodland Trust.)

  2. The reason I enter competitions is recognition and a lazy man’s way to get attention. I now realise that if I had any success at all it would have been luck and I hadn’t yet put in the hard yards.

    Winning a competition can jump you into a place where you can gain more/better work. Having said that I agree with your ego comment. And the rights grabbing. A real shame that the price you pay for entry for a lot of these is often higher than the entry £.

  3. Similar “sell your soul” conditions apply to any images submitted to the BBC for weather pictures; news related images or competitions. No doubt they are not alone.

  4. I do wonder what’s coming when you start a piece ‘Is it me…’
    Competitions clearly have their place – they can highlight exemplary work, celebrate achievement, push standards and boundaries, share work in exciting ways… But they do, by definition, create winners and losers. And mess about with our intrinsic and extrinsic values too – am I doing something because it’s worthwhile, or to win a prize, adulation, kudos etc. Is this a good idea when it comes to nature engagement, especially with younger ages? I don’t think so.
    I’m much more heartened by initiatives like It’s Our World – about to kick off with the aim of getting 250,000 artworks online and engaging 4-19 year olds in sustainability thinking. I also have a vested interest, ‘non-competitive’ being core to how we’ve run the John Muir Award since 1997 – 200,000-plus ‘winners’ to date.

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