Photo Competitions – why they’re not for me!

I get asked quite often why I don’t enter competitions, the British Journal of Photography ‘Portrait of Britain’ competition being one of them.

Part of the problem is that you have to pay to entry. This is not necessarily a financial thing (it’s a tenner for one submission) it’s more the fact that the more money you’re prepared to throw at things like this the greater your chances of winning. Makes it a bit elitist in some ways – if you afford it you can boost your chances.

More importantly however there is something I noted in their FAQ section. Apparently you need a written model relese to be considered one of the wininers (or verbal permission to be featured in the book – not sure how you prove verbal permission though). To get a true ‘portrait of Britain’ it’s impossible to work this way. If I were to photograph someone on the street and then ask them to sign a model release chances are the answer would be no. If they were to agree then naturally they would want to see the photo first – I’ve no idea which photo I’ll use until much later. If you’re shooting film then even worse.

The subject in the photo will probably either want paying or to choose the photo they think they look best in. This isn’t really a true reflection of Britain.

The photos must have been taken since January 2012 – so good luck with finding the stranger you photographed on the streets 7 years ago to get them to sign a model release!

So no doubt the ‘winner’ will be once again some arty-farty image with muted colours of some skinny kid with freckles staring dead-eyed into the camera.

A ‘Portrait of Britain’ can be found out on the streets not in this sort of competition.

6 thoughts on “Photo Competitions – why they’re not for me!”

  1. I saw one the other day ( waterways of Britain) it was free to enter and there were several prizes. On reading the rules though it turns out that any photos submitted could be used in their promotional material or advertising and yet the photographer would not be credited! The prizes were books on the waterways of Britain and a few magazines on waterways!!! I decided to give it a miss!

    1. Most competitions are for the benefit of the organizers rather than the photographers who enter. It’s a cheap way of getting photos for them.

  2. Could not agree more with everything you said John. I have been asked on more than one occasion to submit images, then read the small print 🙁 Just a cheap way of obtaining images and overall copyright. The BBC is one of the worst offenders.

    1. The value of the ‘prizes’ must pale into insignificance compared with the amount raised in entry fees and as you say the value they potentially make from the use of the images even more so.

  3. For three years I was a member of a camera club but decided apart from the three or four talks by experts in one branch of photography or other there was nothing there to interest me. As a pensioner I object to paying £40 per year when the club do little but hold competitions. When I am shown a photograph I have two choices, I either like it or I don’t but please don’t expect me to sit looking at image after image for two hours and give a mark out of twenty for each one. So yes I am in agreement with you John. Photographs are very objective and if you like steam trains you mark high and if you don’t like cats you mark low. Frankly it’s just nonesense.

    1. I’ve never been a member of a camera club but have given talks at them. From a social point of view though they’re ok.

      There are very few opportunities to hear other photographers speak about their work though so in that way they’re a useful resource. We’ve quite enjoyed giving the talks to the various photographic societies we’ve been invited to. If we’ve managed to get a few of the audience members to try something new or look upon photographs in a different way then I think it’s been worthwhile.

      I think photos should be displayed more in galleries and made more accessible to the non-photo enthusiast. A lot of people seem to look on photography and photographers with suspicion nowadays, perhaps if people could see the end results more often rather than imagining what the photos might be used for then it would be to everyone’s benefit.

      We’ve talks coming up at Wakefield Camera Club in April and Pontefract in June this year.

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