Do Not Take Photography Competitions Too Seriously

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry 8 Comments

Photography competitions are a great way for you to look at your own photography, go through a process of critically assessing your own work, and putting it out there to be judged alongside other great images.

That being said, there is no reason to get nervous or tense about how you do in these competitions, as once you submit your images you don’t have the ability to do anything to affect the result.  From that point on it’s over to a group of judges who may or may not like the images you have produced.

May or may not.  You cannot do anything.

Doesn’t it feel like a bit of a waste then?

A slightly helpless feeling that you cannot do anything to affect the outcome of the competition?

Then, when the winner is announced there will always, always, be people who don’t agree and either bitch and moan that they have better images – so why didn’t you enter then? – or that the winning images is not the best out of the lot.  Unfortunately this will always be the case with competitions that involve art as, at the risk of oversimplifying the process, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Sure, there are a number of technical and creative guidelines that we can use to try and quantify why a certain image is better than another one, but more often than not, great wildlife images are more than just the sum of all their photographic parts.

You as a photographer cannot decide, either when out shooting, during your processing or during image submissions, that you will win.  You cannot dig deep and put in a remarkable performance in order to sneak a win at the finish line because – and this is the reality of photographic competitions – a group of random judges will be deciding which image wins.

On the flip side of the competition spectrum,  I compete in Crossfit and there, as with most competitive sports, things work very differently.  If, for example, you have one minute to do as many repetitions of any given exercise as possible, the guy with the highest number wins.

African Regionals 2013 - Justin Landman and Gerry van der Walt

African Regionals 2013 - Leon Manders

The judges are not there to look at and judge on the artistic quality of your movements.  They simply make sure you comply to the minimum requirements, and from then on it’s up to you to beat the guy next to you whatever it takes.  It’s as simple as that and the people competing, the judges, and anybody watching will all agree with the result because the artistic merits are not up for discussion.

You do more, you win.  And if you don’t you only have yourself to blame and you know you need to work harder next time.  No blaming anything on the judges.

So coming back, does that mean that entering photography competitions is pointless?

Not at all.  I think that the moment you enter your images into a competition you have already won.  Yeah yeah I know that might sound very corny, but hear me out.

The moment you submit your images you end a long creative process of looking at your own work with more than usually critical eyes.  You would have gone through a long process of creating the images, selecting the right one, processing it to best reflect your vision and intent, writing captions to fit the image and ultimately made a decision to put your work in front of a group of people to be judged.  Done!

That process is, to me, the real value of a photography competition and I strongly believe that anything that happens from there on is just a bonus because from that point on you no longer have control of the outcome.

There is most definitely value in entering photography competitions but you should never allow the results to taint your opinion of how good a photographer you are or how great your images are.

Go through the process and enter your images but do not make entering competitions the reason why you photograph and capture special moments.  The reality is, is that none of us will probably ever have an image that absolutely everybody likes which makes winning a serious moving target.

Focus on the images you like and stay true to your own creative voice and vision.

If people like your work and it wins awards, hey that’s a bonus.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

Bottom line, if you want to truly compete take up a sport and do whatever you can to beat the person next to you but whatever you do, do not take photography competitions too seriously.

Until next time.


Share this Post

About the Author

Gerry van der Walt

I am a private and specialist photographic safari guide, public speaker, co founder of Wild Eye and wildlife photographer. Visit my website at or follow my journey on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter a look forward to changing the way you see the world.  I also host a Wildlife Photography Podcast and I Vlog!

Comments 8

    1. Post
  1. Laurenda van Breda

    Hi Gerry.

    Just wanted to say thank you for your very wise words. I have been feeling so down about not winning competitions and was seriously starting to question if I had any talent whatsoever. You have really hit home with your words and it has really gotten my confidence back.

    Thank you 🙂

    1. Post
  2. Pingback: Stop Being Afraid - Wild Eye

  3. Pingback: A night at the Oscars - WPY2015 - Wild Eye

  4. Carolyne Barber

    Thanks so much for this inspiring and thought provoking piece Gerry. It has put me back on track. I’ve had a bit of luck with competitions but in the long run this has somewhat squashed my creativity and motivation. Waiting for that competition email that doesn’t come can crush any passion. You are so right in what you say about the importance of enjoying the journey in taking pictures. I take pictures to please myself now and if people enjoy them then that is a lovely bonus.. C:)

    1. Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *