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Years and years and years ago, I entered lots of juried photo competitions. Those that I entered tended to be sponsored by galleries or local art associations. Some were sponsored by governments or art schools. I always felt like it was worth my time, and don’t know why photographers don’t make this more of a priority.
Back in the day, I probably made a few hundred dollars a month in prize money entering these contests. It wasn’t much money but it always helped – and it was reinforcement that I was doing something right.
Beyond the money or other prizes – the real value of these competitions comes in getting your work seen by lots of people, including the judges. Juried exhibitions are always more valuable because real, live, living human beings judge the work. These are typically photographers themselves or artists or people associated with the industry. Their decision to hang a print and/or award prize money carries more weight than contests that allow the public to select a winner in my book. I know not everyone agrees, but the reason I feel this way is simple. The online contests especially can easily be spoofed. And the judges have no real experience most of the time judging art. The juried shows offer the approval of your peers, and they typically have a better understanding of what it takes to make a good piece of art than the average consumer. And try telling the local museum curator that you won a Flickr contest and see how far that gets you towards a show. Having some serious juried show awards in your back pocket will absolutely help.
One thing you should know – juried shows often have an entry fee. When the competition is tied to a physical gallery or local arts organization with a good reputation, I have no problem paying a small entry fee to help support the show. These fees are usually returned in the form of prize money to the winners.
If you’re looking for these types of events, contact your local arts organizations or simply use an Internet search for “juried photo competitions.”
You’ll find lots to choose from, although not as many as there used to be. The Internet has taken over as a venue for this sort of thing in many places, but in my opinion, nothing beats having your work be accepted by and hanging in a physical gallery for all to see.
Give it a try. You may just win. And if not, you’ll get to know local artists, see what DID win and find out how your work measures up. You may also get your work hung, even if it doesn’t win and every time you show your work, you have a chance to make something good happen.