Using Photography Contests to Boost a Career

Scott noted that the winners of the World Press Photo of the Year 2006 awards were announced recently. As always, the quality of the winning entrants was outstanding. You can see them all here.

So what can those winners expect such an achievement to do for their careers?

Although photographers like to imagine that one spectacular picture will produce royalties that fund all their personal projects, it’s not the income from a winning photograph that will make the difference. It’s the trust that the award brings.

A photographer who a photo editor can trust to bring back the picture he needs has a huge advantage. A major award in which a photographer’s work stands out from tens of thousands of entries tells an editor that this person can do the job right.

For example, we recently sent a photographer to do an assignment in Turkey. The editor told me that she needed just one picture — a double-page spread — but she didn’t know what it was. “I need to see it,” she said.

Usually, that sort of very general instruction can lead to trouble. If an editor tells a photographer exactly what she wants from an assignment, she’s more likely to get it. But because this photographer had won many awards, the editor trusted him to use his intuition and his skill to get the picture she had in mind. He got it.

Of course, even entering major competitions like the Picture of the Year or World Press Photo Awards isn’t easy. And it’s not cheap, either. Although photographers on a mission can think nothing of sleeping on the floor and going without food for… oh, I don’t know, weeks at a time… it can still cost thousands to get the kind of pictures the judges are looking for. That money has to come either through savings or through seed money from an agency, an interested organization or a publication that will commit minimal funding for a first look at the project.

If you’re known, you can pitch an idea, create a story and enter the contest. But the best way to get known and to be trusted enough to receive that sort of funding is to have won an award already. Catch-22 applies as much to photographers as it did to Joseph Heller’s pilots.

So what do awards do for photographers? Well, apart from getting them more jobs, they also help them get more awards.

(That photo you might recognize was taken by Kirk Weddle.)

[tags]photography contests, professional photographers, photography, anh stack[/tags]

Leave a Reply