We spent a good chunk of this week editing for a contest, so I figured I’d share a few tried and tested tips for tackling the beast that is contest editing.
1. Take off your photographer hat, and put on your editor hat
This is the most important step of the editing process. As a photographer, we all have memories associated with the photographs we’ve made. Unfortunately, the judges couldn’t care less that you trudged through the mud for four hours and then met this fantastic lumberjack in the wilderness and caught a neat portrait of him as the sun was breaking for the first time all day, et cetera, et cetera. All they care about is the photo in front of them.
Disassociating from your work is the hardest part of editing yourself, and this is also why tip 2 falls inside of tip one – Edit with a buddy (preferably one that has some visual knowledge and isn’t afraid to step on your toes a little if they need to). If you don’t have an edit-buddy, then ask yourself what information the photo tells on it’s own, whether or not it has emotional impact, and how compositionally strong it is.
Typically, photos that should be entered make up maybe 1% of your work – plenty of good photos aren’t contest photos.
3. Just because they’re bigger, doesn’t mean they’re better
On the flip side, everyone is their own worst critic. Maybe you don’t have the fanciest camera, the best access, or the most unique subject matter, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have work worthy of entering.
Play to your strengths. The “big fish” have certain things that they excel at, but so do all of the little fish! Figure out what your edge is, and edit accordingly.
Maybe you have some really nice sports action photos, but know that you’re going against photographers that have access to more emotionally charged sporting events, or get to set up mounts at every game. Instead, give the judges something that will give them a break from the monotony of great but similar photos. A great shot is good, a weird great shot is fantastic.
4. Don’t be afraid to play the game
A lot of contests have categories, and a lot of categories have skewed entry numbers across the board. As far as photojournalism goes, feature and sports photographs tend to get overrun with entries while things like portraiture and pictorial categories can be overlooked. If an image can sway between two categories, think about your competition, and consider putting it in the less populated of the two.
5. Pay attention to details
Here’s the obvious but often overlooked tip – KNOW THE CONTEST RULES. Know the dates that photos have to have been taken, the sizing of the images, the naming conventions. Know the deadlines, and whether the midnight deadline is EST or PST. I promise, you don’t want to realize any of those little details got overlooked 20 minutes before (or worse, after) deadline.
And, finally 6. Try not to stress!
It’s easy to get wrapped up in contest junk and tear yourself down, but the worst that can happen is that you spend a few bucks and learn from the experience. After all, you can’t win if you don’t enter. Try to at least have a little bit of fun going through your archives!