Winning Contests Takes Skill, a Desire to Learn — and Luck

January and February is contest time in our business. Lot’s of talk about whether contests are important or just a waste of time. Believe me, they are important — especially for a young photographer making a mark. They are very useful for an older photographer (like me) to keep track of your best work over the years. The 16 x 20 mounted prints for the White House News Photographers Contest are my only record of my best efforts of the ’60s to the ’80s.

The White House News Photographers Association judging was the first judging I attended this year. It was held at The National Geographic Society and it was an open judging — anyone could attend. The people who took the time to attend were the smart photographers who wanted to learn, and these are the photographers who tend to gather the largest amount of prizes over the years.

I am not saying that you can learn and automatically become a prize-winner photographer. Actually you have to be a good photographer and a lucky photographer. We asked people who judged contests to say in one sentence what they are looking at in a prize winner. Take a look at the January White House News Photographers Association newsletter, The Report (pages 4-5). One thing is certain: A prize winning photograph takes a combination of technical skills to make the picture and LUCK.

An interesting thing happened at the video portion of the White House News Photographers Association contest. Two still photographers won awards for video stories that they made for newspaper Web sites. Steve Crowley won a third for a story named Body Snatcher on and Preston Keres for a story named Drumline on

The next week I took a seat as a judge of the Boston Press Photographers Association contest. Steve Liss, Lori Grinker, and I did our best to pick the very best portfolio and there was one that was clearly the best — this photographer had the most dramatic images from Iraq (even Saddam ranting — we didn’t give those any prizes), a story on the Israel-Lebanon month-long war, and the election in Venezuela.

We knew that most Boston photographers did not have the chance to make these photographs, and that bothered us. The winner was a young man who had taken a year-long contract with the Associated Press in Iraq, but was a member in good standing of the Boston Press Photographers Association.

The judging season continues for me with the Robert Kennedy Awards and the Military Photographer of the Year. Perhaps those will be covered in another post.

[tags]Dennis Brack, photography contests, WHNPA [/tags]

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