On Contests

Without further introduction, these are my thoughts and issues with photography contests formed after taking part in 50 or so of them.

Too many winners, nobody actually wins. There are many contests, which select something like 5 Gold Awards, 5 Silver Awards, 5 Bronze Awards plus Honorable Mentions in every category. This will result more than a hundred pictures or even series being awarded something and actually nothing. No single person will probably browse through all the results, even if he/she has taken part in the competition. The worst that I've seen is that basically all entries are awarded with Honorable Mention - there was more than 5000 of them altogether. This strategy is probably used to get you participating again next time - you feel you got at least something and hope to do better next time. Example of this type of competitions is International Photography Awards. There are several other competitions using the same platform, all looking very similar (Moscow Photo Awards, PX3, etc).

Too few winners. There's a category of contests which announces only one winner and that's all. It's fine if the contest is small and, say, geographically limited. If it's an international contest with hundreds if not thousands of entries, then why not show runner-ups? Aperture Portfolio Prize is a positive example here - there's one winner and runner-ups, but only one winner is published by British Journal of Photography’s International Photography Award (the one image that wins the single image award seems almost a joke, as the whole competition appeals to quite narrow audience, the single image is guaranteed to seem totally random). 

The winner takes it all. There is this funny competition - Black and White by I Shot It, where the winner gets half of the money gathered by all entries (during good times around 15 000$) plus Leica M Monochrom (worth around 8000$), while all the recommended photos (usually around 8-10 are chosen) get 20$ (yes, twenty dollars!) and not in cash but credit for future entries. The popularity of this contest has gone down all the time I've followed it and I can guess why. Baltic Photo Contest is another example of this - the winner gets a pro camera kit and the rest get nothing besides title. Same has to be said for Leica Oskar Barnack Award, although it's interesting contest otherwise (I found a lot of inspiring photography browsing through the shortlists - they list 50 best - and it seems to be quite balanced between hardcore art and more 'general' photography). 

Too broad. There're competitions with tens and tens of subcategories, ranging from abstract fine art to war documentary, for professionals and amateurs, for single images and portfolios. It really makes me wonder about the multitalent expected from the jury members. Can one person really be competent in all those areas? Sony World Photography Awards is one example of very broad competition, although they seem to have narrowed down the categories a bit for 2016 competition and the jury is also separate for Art and Documentary categories.

So are there any competitions that I like?

Although I've been frustrated by several rejections I think Lens Culture competitions are one of the best in the business. They have separate competitions for different topics throughout the year (Portrait Award, Documentary Award, Earth Award, etc), they nominate first three places plus finalists (which is better than nothing and gives you at least some amount of publicity if you're finalist). They even offer portfolio reviews for series entries (although the first one I got was rather meaningless - there wasn't much that could help my work forward).