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You have to be in the contest to win the contest

August 22, 2009

Several local photo contests are coming up and if you have ever thought about entering one now might be the perfect time. Photo contests are a little scary if you have never entered, but if you go into the competition with an open mind and do a little preparation you may find yourself to be a winner.

People often ask me why I enter photo competitions and the answer for me is simple: To learn more about photography, to improve my work and to see where I stand among other professional photographers. I've been fortunate enough over my career to enter and win numerous national awards for my work, but what you may not realize is that I had to start somewhere and not every print I have ever entered has been a huge award winner. At the professional level, my images are displayed and critiqued one by one in front of a panel of nationally accredited photographers. The first few times I entered, I took the critiques very personally until I realized one big thing. Just because I like the photograph doesn't mean everyone else does.

I've judged lots of small photo contests and I've been trained to judge and have judged professional level photo competitions in several states. The main problem I see at all levels is the photographer fell in love with the image and didn't look to see what was technically wrong with it. The main ingredients of great photographs are that they tell a story and have impact. Sometimes I look at an image I'm judging and see a beautiful photograph that tells a great story, and sometimes I'm not sure what the photographer was thinking. To the photographer the image may have been the last known picture of a loved one or a special or unusual moment that they wouldn't sell for a million dollars, but if the story isn't obvious to the judges or it has technical problems, then it may not be a good choice for a contest entry.

In most contests the images are scored by a panel of several judges and the highest average score is the winner.?So all the judges need to be able to understand the story of your picture. Contests can be fun but just remember to go into it as a learning experience. Don't expect to win but be pleasantly surprised if you do. Lots of other photographers are trying to do the same thing as you. The important thing is that you personally enjoy the photograph. I'll try to go over some of the technical problems to be aware of in future columns.

Both the Forest Festival and the County Fair have contests coming up soon. Pick up an entry form to check out the rules, look through your pictures for your best work and enter the contest. It's just like the lottery: If you don't enter, you can't win.

(Brent Kepner is the owner and photographer at Foto 1 Pro Photo in Elkins. He is a Master Photographer as well as a Certified Professional Photographer.)



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