Five Reasons to Study Contest-Winning Photos

Winning photos in the Audubon Awards were recently announced.
Winning photos in the Audubon Awards were recently announced.

The winning entries for the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards and National Geographic Travel Photo Contest were recently posted.  Like many contests (including NANPA’s soon-to-open Showcase), these competitions attract passionate photographers of all levels.  But, beyond a quick look at the prize-winning pretty pictures, can you learn anything from them?

Yes!  And here are five good reasons to spend some time studying and appreciating contest-winning photos.

If Your Photography is Getting Stale

In anything one does, there’s always a danger of getting complacent.  We may know enough to be satisfied with our work.  Without new challenges, however, our photography risks becoming stale.  There’s a saying, attributed to author Bruce Barton, that “when you’re through changing, you’re through.”  Without new locations, new subjects, new techniques, new bits of knowledge and, yes, sometimes new gear we might be doing the same thing time after time without growing or improving.

National Geographic's Travel Photo Contest Winners represent many different categories.
National Geographic’s Travel Photo Contest Winners represent many different categories.

Inspiration

There are days when even the most zealous photographer just doesn’t feel it.  Maybe you don’t feel like going out in the rain, or fighting off the mosquitos, or getting up at dawn today.  Maybe you’re not as motivated as you could be.  Seeing some of the winning photos always inspires me and makes me want to get outside shooting.

Learning From the Best

Learning from the masters, like Ansel Adams or George Lepp, is one way photographers up their game.  Learning from contest winners is another kind of education.  Taking a look at previous contest winners’ photos is a great way to learn about what judges (who are often excellent photographers themselves) look for, what kinds of photos stand out to them.  Even better if judges’ comments are included. You’re sure to pick up something when you closely examine a few winning photos.

Improving Your Own Contest Entries

Taking a close look at contest winning photos helps develop your own eye for the kinds of details, wildlife behavior, and compositions that will impress judges and, perhaps, future clients.  You’ll have a much better chance of having your photo noticed when you’ve spent some time analyzing what made previous winners stand out.

If you’ve never entered a photo contest, what’s holding you back?  Don’t have the right photo?  Well, get out there and shoot one!  Keep an eye out for photo contests that appeal to your interests and style of photography.  (Do read the fine print, however, as some shady competitions wind up owning all rights to the photos that are entered.)  Hesitant to enter a contest? Check out Karen Schuenemann’s tips for getting over the hump of your first entry.

NANPA'S Showcase winners are featured in Expressions, available in the Members' Area on the website.
NANPA’S Showcase winners are featured in Expressions, available in the Members’ Area on the website.

Showcase is Right Around the Corner

NANPA’s Showcase competition opens on August 1st.  The top 250 photos are featured in NANPA’s annual Expressions publication.  Each week, seven photos from the top 100 are highlighted in NANPA’s home page carousel.  And the top 20 get individual profiles on NANPA’s blog, a portfolio page on NANPA’s website and a feature in Expressions.  Past issues of Expressions are available in the Members’ Area of NANPA.org and give you all the glorious photography you need to get inspired, educated, motivated and determined to make this year the one where you get an image selected.

Note that there is a new Conservation category added this year, increasing the range of topics, subjects and opportunities for you to have a prize-winning photo.

So what are you waiting for? Examine some contest winning photos. Go through your own files for potential entries to Showcase. Get out in the field and capture some magic!