We all want to win a photography competition, but what does it take to really make the competition judges sit up and take notice of your image. It’s likely that the judges will be seeing hundreds if not thousands of images during the process, so they are not going to study each one in detail to find the hidden wonder that we more readily see in our own photographs. To get through the hoops and make it to the shortlist or beyond, you need to produce something different. Outdoor Photography editor and Outdoor Photographer of the Year judge Steve Watkins offers five insider secrets for making your images rise above the crowd.
1. Good isn’t good enough!
This may sound a little brutal but good images will struggle to make it into the final rounds of a high-level competition. There are many good images out there, so that becomes the norm for the judges, and what they are seeking out are the exceptional images; the ones that have that little extra. Without a doubt, the images that always win through are the ones that connect with the judges on an emotional level – strictly representational images are less likely to do this unless there is a extraordinary element, such as stunning weather conditions or a magical moment, in the frame. Strive for excellence in every aspect of the image and it will stand a far better chance of moving the judges.
2. Take a different view
We are all very attached to our own images, as upon seeing them we recall everything that went into the taking of it, from the struggle to reach the location to the feeling of the wind on our faces. If you can’t find a trusted friend or colleague to give you a detached opinion of your images then try turning them all upside down in your processing software and then look at them. The rotation strips away some of the familiarity you have with the scene, which allows the graphic qualities of the image to surface more easily.
3. Trust your instinct
I’ve often heard photographers on the shortlist saying that they almost didn't submit the selected image, but something told them to include it anyway. That instinct is extremely powerful, because it speaks of emotional power, so tap into it. The obvious images are quite often obvious to lots of other photographers too, and you need to be unique to stand a chance.
4. Shoot what matters
It’s very hard to be a successful travel photographer as, by the very nature of the work, you are going to new places that you have very little knowledge of and usually spending a restricted amount of time there. Although you can take powerful images at first glance, it is more likely that being familiar with your subject will help you to see it in a fresh way. If you are not particularly bothered about what you are shooting then it’s unreasonable to expect the final image to be elevated to the level required to win a competition. Shoot what you are passionate about.
5. No second guessing
Be yourself. Don’t worry about who the judges are and what they may be thinking. If you try to second guess what they want and set out to shoot that then it is almost certainly doomed at judging time. Be yourself, explore your own interests and shoot in your own style. You are unique, and the images you produce will be unique too if you free yourself from other people’s expectations.
Outdoor Photographer of the Year is open for entries until the 2 November. Be bold in your image taking and selection! We can’t wait to see your photographs.
Steve Watkins, Editor, Outdoor Photography
One of the most regular pieces of advice our judges offer is “shoot for the competition”. Don’t just submit images that have been sitting on your hard drive for years, study the brief and then get out there and shoot.
Luckily, autumn here in the northern hemisphere has some wonderful light and colours to make taking that perfect picture just a little easier. Over on our Twitter page we’ve been asking you where your favourite places to grab those autumn masterpieces are, and the suggestions have been rolling in!
Here are some of our favourites…
Although Outdoor Photographer of the Year 2014 closed for submissions some four months ago, and we announced the winner 3 months ago, it is only now that the competition can really be said to be finished for 2014. That’s because Greg Whitton, overall winner of OPOTY 2014 has just returned from his trip-of-a-lifetime to the Arctic on the FjällrävenPolar expedition.
Greg has posted a number of fantastic and revealing blog posts on his website, detailing a journey that had a “profound effect” on him.
Here are the links, which include some gorgeous photos from the trip, featuring huskies, sleds, skylines and snow. Lots of snow.
Fjällräven Polar 2015
Part 1 – “It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside"
This Thursday, 12th February 2015, marks the start of the Telegraph Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show. Outdoor Photography magazine are delighted to once again host the PhotoBox stage.
As well as 4 days packed full of the very best talks on all aspects of outdoor photography, we’ll also be exhibiting the Category Winners and Commended Images from Outdoor Photographer of the Year 2014, and announcing the overall winner.
Here’s the full schedule of talks for the Outdoor Photography PhotoBox Stage, sponsored by Fjӓllrӓven:
14:30 – 15:30 Steve Watkins Shooting in extreme conditions
15:30 – 16:30 Steve Behr The art of mountain biking photography
16:30 – 17:30 Alastair Lee Ulvetanna Exposed: life behind the lens mountaineering in Antarctica
17:30 – 18:30 Alan Hinkes Climbing the world’s highest mountains
18:30 – 19:30 Luke Massey How to take awesome wildlife photos
11:30 – 12:30 Luke Massey How to take awesome wildlife photos
12:30 – 13:30 Alan Hinkes Climbing the world’s highest mountains
13:30 – 14:30 Alastair Lee Ulvetanna Exposed: life behind the lens mountaineering in Antarctica
14:30 – 15:30 Andy Parkinson The art of photographing real wildife
15:30 – 16:30 Steve Watkins Top tips for powerful travel photographs
10:00 – 11:00 Steve Watkins The secrets of getting your photos published
11:00 – 12:00 Andy Parkinson The art of photographing real wildife
12:00 – 13:00 Pete Bridgwood The inner game of landscape photography
13:00 – 14:00 David Baker Between Sea and Forest
14:00 – 15:00 Neil Aldridge Wildlife photography: creating stories with impact
15:00 – 16:00 Alan Hinkes Climbing the world’s highest mountains
16:00 – 17:00 Ben Pipe How to shoot powerful travel photos
10:30 – 11:30 Pete Webb How to shoot adventure photos that sell
11:30 – 12:30 Pete Bridgwood The inner game of landscape photography
12:30 – 13:30 Neil Aldridge Wildlife photography: creating stories with impact
13:30 – 14:30 Alan Hinkes Climbing the world’s highest mountains
14:30 – 15:30 Outdoor Photograhper of the Year Awards
15:30 – 16:30 Steve Watkins Top tips for powerful travel photographs
Please note this timetable is subject to change. Please see the Outdoor Show website for an up-to-date timetable:
In early December 2012, Steve emailed to say that my image "Southbourne beach" was the winner of the At the Water's Edge category in the 2012 OPOTY competition, and would I attend the Outdoors Show in London's Docklands in January for a presentation.
I was fortunate to win the same category in the inaugural competition in 2010, so I was really pleased that an image of my (almost) local patch was the one that was chosen, especially in a category that's so very dear to me.
Southbourne is a little east of Bournemouth and nestles alongside Boscombe on a quieter section of the beach that effectively stretches from Hengistbury along to Poole.
I had followed a storm from Southampton to Southbourne, and as these usually break up across the Isle of Wight, thereby ensuring really interesting weather patterns at Southbourne, I arrived at Southbourne a little early ahead of the impending stormy weather.
A good thing about Southbourne is that there are undulations at the shoreline in the sand between the sea groynes, and these can produce absorbing sea trails. It was really a case of choosing one of these and ensuring a sufficiently low shutter speed to produce a pleasing wave pattern. That’s the excitement really and part of the reason for being a committed coast hugger.
Consequently, on Saturday 19 January 2013 I went to the ExCel centre in Docklands to attend the OPOTY presentation. Having spent the previous dawn in splendid isolation in a snowy New Forest, ExCel was a little busy.
All the OPOTY category winners and runner-ups were printed by theprintspace and displayed around the stand. The OPOTY presentation was excellent – each category winner came up to the stage and said a few words about their image, which was displayed on a large TV. The overall winner was to be announced live at the show, and it was… me. Overwhelmed is an understatement!
Afterwards I took in the inspirational talk by Pete Bridgwood on the ‘Dynamic Landscape’ and then went for a beer with the mighty man himself.
During Easter 2013, Pete emailed to ask if I wanted to show my work at his Masters of Vision exhibition at Southwell, which was to open in late July 2013. During that opening weekend I met David Breen and Dav Thomas from Triplekite Publishing. I knew of David's photographic work and of course of Dav's book, With Trees. In early August, David suggested a book based on my Sea Fever project part of which had been exhibited at Masters of Vision. The book was subsequently published in November 2013.
Aside from the previous exhibitions, almost all my work was seen digitally. I went away for a photo trip with Pete in May 2013, during which he said that I took control over all my image process until the printing, which was left to someone else. Why didn't I try printing? As a consequence I bought an Epson 3880 and acquired some excellent cotton rag paper (Fotospeed SC300) and started printing. It's very much a learning process but I love it. In today's digital world, an A2 print on 315gsm cotton rag paper is wonderfully tactile to hold.
So the consequences of being the OPOTY 2012 winner has been being an exhibitor at Masters of Vision, getting a book published, being interviewed about my work across many magazine platforms, undertaking my own printing, developing relationships with galleries and exhibition spaces, and of course, a friendship with Pete. All thanks to a photograph of a local spot.
I'm really keeping an open mind about what could constitute a winning image for this year's OPOTY. Current inspiration is drawn from a wide variety of sources, especially from the various online communities that include the free exchange of ideas, and links to work, projects and exhibitions. I'm just so pleased to be part of it this year.