International Garden Photographer of the Year
Photography competitions are popular. Popular with the public who have the opportunity to see wonderful images on a single theme, either at exhibitions or online.
Popular with many photographers who can use the huge public acclaim and attention to create a reputation which, in a very crowded market-place, can be the making of a humble snapper.
As a teenager in the late 60s I took my purple bell-bottoms along to the Mall Galleries to see one of the early Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibitions. I did have a Kodak Instamatic camera at that point, having upgraded, (a word that hadn’t yet been invented), from a Brownie 127.
When I saw what you could do with photography, the plants, the trees, the birds, the badgers – especially the badgers- I was hooked. Now I knew what photography was for.
I was the guiding light of International Garden Photographer of the Year for seven years. In that time I discovered a great deal about photography competitions, the good, the bad and the very ugly.
There are a lot of competitions that are simply marketing exercises for a company or organisation. Of course, all competitions are designed to reflect well on the organisers, but not all organisers put heart and soul – or resources - into showcasing great photography.
They are really concerned with attaching their brand to one or two outstanding images that will get press coverage.
I found that a good way to assess a competition’s authenticity is to look at the judges. If you’re not told who the judges are, then you have no way of knowing if it is going to be judged professionally.
If the judges include a marketing executive, a tame photographer you’ve never heard of, and someone who runs the company website, then you have to make a decision whether you feel your work is going to be looked at properly.
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year judges’ panel reads like a directory of eminent names in the field. At IGPOTY we have been fortunate to have the support of photographers at the top of the profession – including Andrew Lawson, Clive Nichols and Andrea Jones.
Then there are terms and conditions. Not long after we started IGPOTY, I ran into a firestorm among professional photographers around issues of copyright.
I soon learned that many photo competition organisers were assuming reproduction rights over any image that was entered, creating a free image bank with nothing going back to the photographer.
We worked with the Digital Rights Alliance to help establish a new protocol, which would protect photographers’ rights, while at the same time giving competitions the ability to publicise themselves using winning images.
I am very happy that this issue seems to have settled down - the protocol that we developed now seems to be the standard. But it is always essential to check what rights the competition organisers assume over your property.
As IGPOTY grew I became very aware that we were showcasing very few of the many thousands of entries that were entered. Many photographers were not getting anything more than the ‘sorry not this time’ email.
So I thought it would be a good idea to offer feedback on peoples’ entries. I knew we couldn’t give feedback on every single entry, but if someone was interested enough to make an email request for it, then surely we could give them a few pointers and ideas?
I didn’t think through how popular this would be and after the 2014 competition we were swamped. Since I had recently handed over control of the project, I now had more time to spend on providing feedback. I really needed to as we had many more requests than previous years – around a thousand.
As a consultant to IGPOTY, I now spend a lot of time on feedback, alongside the workshops in garden photography that I run. And I see now that some of the other major competitions are offering feedback as well- this is a good thing.
The competition has inspired me and my photography. What has surprised and delighted me was the growing realisation that it also inspires lots of other photographers – professionals, wannabe professionals, serious amateurs and happy snappers.
Some – like Magdalena Wasizcek in Poland, have built thriving professional careers as a result of their success; others have simply taken great pleasure from it.
Competitions in art are sometimes controversial, should artists be competing for money? My own view is that competitions have produced great art for centuries- they were important in the development of Renaissance art for example, and the idea that artists should not be concerned with material gain is a very recent idea.
I always find it inspiring to go to the exhibitions, to buy the books, to meet the photographers at events or talks. I find they push my own work forward , provide new ideas and insights and force me to question my way of doing things.
So if you are thinking of entering a competition this year or next there is only one thing to say – good luck!
International Garden Photographer of the Year deadline is October 31st, with a top prize of £7500. For all the details go to www.igpoty.com.