Last week, somebody from West Virginia played the Powerball and won several million dollars. I'm sure he was very surprised and excited to say the least. Photo contests are a lot like the lottery in the way that you would be pretty excited if you won and you usually don't expect it.
Unlike the lottery, I've never heard of anyone winning a million dollars, much less several million from a photo contest. Usually the prize is a small amount of money, some type of photo-related merchandise or just a pretty ribbon and bragging rights. Also, unlike the lottery, you do have to put some work into winning. The more work you do such as studying photography and taking lots of practice photos, the better your chances of being a winner.
Whether I judge professional print competitions or local photo contests, I see lots of really good work and some really bad work. You could easily tell who had taken their time and really worked at taking a great photograph. But even the bad ones need to be commended just for having enough guts to give it a try.
The best advice I can give about photo contests is to not get discouraged and look at each try as a learning experience. That's exactly what I did when I first started entering national print competitions years ago. Sure it hurt my feelings a little if a print that I thought was wonderful didn't do as well as I thought, but I always listen to the judges' comments and use the advice to improve the next time.
I always study the work of other photographers' winning images and ask advice of my mentors on what I can do to improve. I take that advice and apply it to my images and I continue to improve to this day.
To brag just a little, the picture that accompanies this column is one of mine that won a blue ribbon at the Professional Photographers of America International Print Competition and was also chosen to be in the PPA Traveling Loan collection. What that means to me is that I got a nice ribbon, my image will be published in a book with other winners and I get to brag about it in the paper. It's not winning the Powerball, but I'm very happy just the same.
We have several local photo contests coming up. The Stonewall Jackson Jubilee in Lewis County will have a nice display this weekend and the Mountain State Forest Festival and the Randolph County Fair are right around the corner.
I encourage you to come out and see what it is all about. If you think you have some winning work, feel free to enter and see how you do. You can't win if you don't play!
(Brent Kepner is the owner and photographer at Foto 1 Pro Photo in Elkins. He is a master photographer, certified professional photographer and president of the professional photographers of West Virginia.)