Photo Contest Tips from Past Showcase Winners, Part 2

“Silverback Mountain Gorilla Portrait," Bwindi National Park, Uganda, Showcase 2021 Judges’ Choice, Mammals © Hector D. Astorga.
“Silverback Mountain Gorilla Portrait,” Bwindi National Park, Uganda, Showcase 2021 Judges’ Choice, Mammals © Hector D. Astorga.

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

Many NANPA members look forward each year to the Showcase photography competition. NANPA’s 2022 Showcase competition is open now, with entries accepted until 11 p.m. EDT, September 20, 2021. That’s tonight, if you’re thinking of entering, now’s the time to get busy! You can find all the rules, information, entry forms, and more on the website. But, we also asked some photographers who have received multiple Showcase awards to share some of their best tips for photo contests (see part one here).

Start with the basics

Hector Astorga has received many Best in Show, First Runner-Up, and Judges’ Choice awards, and had a lot of other images selected for the Top 100 and Top 250. “The first thing I do when selecting the images I will enter into a competition,” he said, “is make sure that they have what I call the three basic things all images must have:

  • Correct Focus
  • Great Composition
  • Correct Exposure

“Once the images pass the basic test it’s time to select them by how big a “Wow” factor they have.”

"Fighting Northern Bobwhites," Santa Clara Ranch, South Texas" 2018 Showcase Judges' Choice, Birds © Hector Astorga
“Fighting Northern Bobwhites,” Santa Clara Ranch, South Texas” 2018 Showcase Judges’ Choice, Birds © Hector Astorga

The wow factor

“To create the ‘Wow’ factor,” Astorga continued, “images must be:

  • “Unique – They must show something seldom seen or captured. They might capture a subject in a different way than most photographers would. Or they might use a unique perspective or point of view. The photos must show something that will make the judges stop and look closer, since it’s something they haven’t seen a hundred times before.
  • “Combining Compositional Guidelines – Images will have better compositions when you combine several of the well-known compositional guidelines. By combining leading lines, rule of thirds, great backgrounds, depth, and point of view your images will better tell your audience the story you want to convey.
  • “Include Extra-Ordinary Conditions – Select images that have that little extra that sets them apart. Extra ordinary conditions do not have to be a once in a lifetime event; something as simple as great golden morning light, a pleasantly diffused foreground that leads to your subject, or wildlife a behavior that is not normally seen. “
"Eastern Bluebird Male Posed on Teasel: A Pencil Sketch," Cherokee County, Oklahoma, 2021 Showcase Best in Category, Alternate Reality © Ron Day
“Eastern Bluebird Male Posed on Teasel: A Pencil Sketch,” Cherokee County, Oklahoma, 2021 Showcase Best in Category, Alternate Reality © Ron Day

Artfully Altering reality

Ron Day won Best in Show in Altered Reality last year. What makes a winner in this category? Day agrees with Astorga that getting the basics right is paramount. “In the domain of Altered Reality my primary photograph must be well composed and technically correct.” Only then will he begin to develop or process it “creatively and artistically with any number of tools available on my computer. The ultimate goal,” he says, “is an image that is beautiful and unique. I do not try to follow the style of others. My vision is to create an original artistic piece unlike anything else.” There are any number of tools photographers can use in post processing these days. The sky’s the limit and you’re only bound by your own creativity.

What the judges say

The judges agree: show us something different or unique. Past judges have told us that they see tons of images of popular subjects, for example bears or birds in flight. It takes a lot to stand out. Consider instead subjects that others aren’t photographing and entering. And how do you know? Take a look at past winners. NANPA members have access to all the Top 250 images each year in digital copies of Expressions, found in the Members’ Area of NANPA’s website. Reading the comments for the Judges’ Choice winners can also give you some insight into what the judges find compelling.

What’s one thing all the winners had in common? They read and followed the rules! The wrong format or a watermark can disqualify your image before a judge even sees it. Don’t let that happen. Read the rules.

There’s still time, though not a lot. Maybe you have a prize-winning photo in your catalog. You won’t know if you don’t enter.

Good luck!