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Zack Arias Explains Why You Aren’t Winning Photography Contests


After an extended absence from the online space, veteran photographer Zack Arias is back, and he’s offering some advice to photographers who are frustrated that they aren’t winning any of the photo contests that they’ve entered into.

In a new video titled Why You Aren’t Winning Photography Contests, Arias brings his 20 years of experience to bear, sharing insights from two decades working with both online contests and print competitions. He explains how these contests are judged behind the scenes, so that you can understand exactly why your images might not be doing so well.

The full video is 25 minutes long—and if you’re interested in diving deep on this topic you’ll want to watch the whole thing from start to finish—but Arias advice breaks down into the five main reasons why he says your photos “aren’t winning in contests, or getting highly rated or scored in contests.”

  1. You’re putting your photo in the wrong category – It’s not the judges job to “re-categorize” your photo.
  2. Your clients are not photography judges – A great reaction from you client does not guarantee recognition by judges who have no emotional or financial connection to the work.
  3. You’re following trends – If you’re following a trend that’s won contests before, you’re already too late.
  4. You’re shooting specifically for contests – Overall, Arias says that people who shoot for themselves are far more likely to win over the judges.
  5. Your emotional connection to that photo isn’t coming through – Just because a photo is meaningful to you, or shows your personal progress, doesn’t mean that it’s on the level it needs to be to win or even place in a contest.

The reasons are a great guide, but one of the most interesting parts of the video is actually at the beginning. The first 9 minutes or so when Arias describes his reaction—when he was just starting out—to some of the images that were quickly rejected by the judges at the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar. His reactions and anger at the judges are reminiscent of many comments we see when World Press Photo or the Sony World Photography Awards announce their winners each year.

At best: These are fine, but there were better photos on the shortlist.

At worst: These suck! I take better photos all the time.

The lessons Arias learned from 10 years helping to run that contest—first as a volunteer, later as a member of the board of directors—are the real takeaways from the video. The core lessons at the bottom of the reasons listed above.

Check out the full video up top to hear all about Arias’ experience from the man himself. Especially if you’re interested in entering photo contests moving forward, the experience and advice he shares are indispensable.

(via ISO 1200)