First off, sorry to break it to you but there isn’t a cheat sheet to winning a photo contest.
Sometimes, the judges are captivated by the untold stories in a picture, sometimes they are blown away by the photographer’s prowess and his translation of a subject, and sometime they just go with their heart.
Having said that, there is definitely a checklist of what makes a photo worth being a part of the final line-up.
It isn’t just a piece of the photographer’s interpretation that judges look for, they also glimpse at all the background work that goes into making a picture worthy of a win.
Here is a list of how to win a photo contest by getting the most important element – the techniques – right.
1 – Failing to plan is planning to fail
Accidental clicks? If you’ve ever in your life accidentally clicked a shot and it turned out to be half as good, then consider yourself lucky. Because accidental clicks don’t win contests. What flour is for baking a cake, preparation is for clicking a masterpiece. You have to prepare in advance. Do you have a vision in mind? What location would you choose? And which time of the day or night would that be at? What about the gear? And what other things should you consider tagging along?
You have to plan ahead. And when you are preparing for a contest, you can’t rely on accidental clicks. Anne McKinnell, in her free e-book gives you a detailed insight into what preparations you should do in advance to create stunning images, every time.
2 – Build your camera camaraderie
To click stunning images, you need a camera that’s an extension of you. There are tons of professional DSLR cameras populating the market but which one is your perfect match?
And then there’s a persistent need to be in tune with your camera, testing and choosing the correct settings, and overall ‘training’ them to function at their optimal best. Make your DSLR align with and produce the vision of the image you have in mind. Learn all about the settings and how to put it to work for you.
3 – Sharpness can make or break your image
Crisp sharp images are the basis on which the eventual look of your image turns out. Some experts argue that a handheld click will never win when pitted against an equipment-mounted one, and that’s largely true too.
Camera shake is the number one reason for blurred images, with not being able to adjust focus coming a close second. While a tripod helps with shake reduction, manipulating focus is a different ballgame altogether. But, you can master the art of focus – both while clicking and post-processing – with tutorials online, here’s a great pick by James Brandon.
4 – Save time while enhancing images using Actions
Photoshop Actions are a proven way to transfer images. If you’ve clicked and edited an image that you feel could still do with adding some power-packed pre-created steps, then be sure to look for Photoshop Actions.
Actions are a series of recorded steps that both include and build up on the basic steps every photographer takes during the post-production image saving you a lot of time, especially if you’re on a deadline. Plus these also add to the overall look of the image.
5 – Managing Natural Lights
That sun-kissed look on your selfie is courtesy of natural lighting. But while it can sometime bless you with lovely glowing pictures, most of the time natural lighting ends up making your pictures manifolds different than what you envisioned.
The time of the day is just one factor to consider, what about the angle of the light? And how does natural lighting influence your indoor-clicked pictures? You have to know and understand this in detail and then manage natural light to get the best out of your picture.
6 – Flash isn’t your foe
If you keep to clicking all your images at the Golden Hour, you wouldn’t have a lot of time or a lot of pictures. All professional photographers know that natural light doesn’t always suffice. And they also know that working with flash is tricky.
If you don’t want to end up with a brightened-beyond-recognition portrait or a landscape where you’d have to squint to see features, then understand how off-camera flash works. Find how it syncs with your shutters and choose the correct modifier. Agreed flash isn’t easy to master but when done right, it could give your pictures the extra edge.
Not sure where to get more information? Here’s a practical and comprehensive guide on everything flash.
7 – Portraits are more intense
While the contest rules would govern what type of picture you click, but if you do have the creative freedom to take a pick, then go for portraits. Some professionals believe that portraits have a striking, resemblant and captivating qualities that make them stand out.
Portraits could be tricky though, especially if your subject isn’t accustomed to posing or even staying still with a camera thrust in their face. And if you are a believer in Klein’s idea of taking pictures – moving in really close to get the shot – then you’d have a hard time getting your subject accustomed to the camera. Portraits are tricky, agreed but you can learn how to do it like a pro, from the basics to the advanced tips, this deal covers everything.
8 – Hands off!
While we are on the subject of portraits, an important but maybe overlooked feature that could destroy your image is the position of the model’s hands. You might think, really does something as mundane as a hand posture jeopardize your chances of winning a contest?
Sadly, it does. Sometimes that awkward hovering hand, that sad little fellow who doesn’t know where he belongs can ruin your picture. But what do you do with the hand? Learn how to position hands in a way that complements the portrait, adding a touch of its own. Not sure where to start? We sourced a free comprehensive guide full of ideas on hand postures.
9 – Night photography never fails to impress
The word ‘photography’ itself loosely means ‘writing in light’ in Greek, and it’s observed that pictures that are taken in minimal light have the brightest shine. Night photography is difficult to master, more often than not pictures come out with a grey scale but you cannot disagree with the fact that nightscapes and star trails have an ethereal touch to it.
If you’re serious about night photography, you can easily attempt one and stand out from the other competitor’s works. Since this is a challenging avenue, not many venture down this path.
But you should, and here’s a free guide by Alistair Ben that will teach you the nuances of night photography. Or if you want to etch your mark in the night photography world like David Baldwin and Robert Brook, you’d want to check out this resource material with textual and video guide on everything night photography.
10 – Control the contrast
There’s so much you can add to a picture just by playing with the contrast. Whether you choose two colors across from each other on the color wheel or adjust RGB for a better and prominent overall look, contrast can do wonders for your image.
In the editing phase, brightening the shadow would add depth by darkening some areas or you can adjust the highlights too.
Some people think contrast is super easy, like all you need to do is work with saturation and contrast options, and you’d end up with fantastic images. But that’s not true, contrast is difficult to master but if you spend time learning the techniques, you’d be amazed at the difference it makes to your image.
11 – Pay attention to the details
It’s the minute factors that change the face of an image. From choosing to highlight a nondescript subject in a different light through your interpretation, to editing to bring out the best of an image, it’s all about details.
Photoshop is your best friend in the processing stage, what level of sharpness should you employ to make them clearer, or how should you adjust the clarity, should your details be sharp or soft to convey what you want to communicate, there are a lot of considerations to factor in. Read up on as much as you can on this, and then practice on your clicks, or you can install a detailizer plugin too that would automate the detailing steps.
12 – Get more followers on social media
This point makes it on the list mainly because a lot of photo contests these days include sourcing likes and shares on your entry. If that’s the case, and if you have a win-worthy click but not the follower strength to get the required amount of social media interaction, then you’re doomed.
Even if it’s not for a contest, photographers must have a prominent and engaging social media presence with a large follower base. Here’s an e-book that breaks down how to work social media in your favor as a photographer to both win photo contests and make a name for yourself.
13 – Creativity is key
A cliché perhaps but true nonetheless, creativity indeed is key. The problem is creativity, like motivation, isn’t constant. Just like how writers face the infamous writer’s block, photographers too at some point or the other find their clicks turning stale.
How do you then work in creativity if you’re preparing for a major contest? In this e-book on creative images by Andrew Gibson, esteemed photographer and contributor and editor for EOS magazine, shows tons of hacks to boost your creativity quotient along with techniques to better your work.
14 – Add overlays for that something extra
When you are somewhat happy with your image but feels it can do with a little extra, consider overlays. Text overlays help you add a few words that resonate with the click, or add patterns and textures to give your edited clicks an added element.
We hope that armed with these techniques, you’d now be a little more prepared to click an amazing contest-winning shot. All the best!