Hey I Won?!
I recently won a photography contest and was bestowed the title of "Rising Star"! I won a Pixoto Photo Challenge and got an email telling me that a photo I had submitted won "Photo of the Day"!
Go check out pixoto.com and you'll see some amazing images, many of which just make my jaw drop! They're amazing and beautiful. How did I win, pitted against some amazing talent and images? Well to be honest, I haven't developed a secret formula, but I CAN share with you some tips I used that might have helped.
1) Check out the competition: If you poke around Pixoto (or any website in which you might enter a contest) you're bound to see some amazing work. Don't let it shut you down, feeling that you'll never produce anything that looks like "THAT". Instead use the opportunity to see what other people are submitting and in particular images that are trending or winning. Are they colorful, muted, cropped well? What compositions are catching eyes? Are Black and Whites dominating or are HDRs the current choice? What techniques are people using to stand out and not just blend in with the rest of the images? Pay attention, take notes, this leads to my second tip.
2) Tweak it: The original image of my winning Cheetah was a bit bland and poorly composed. Although I was zoomed in all the way, the lens I had just couldn't crop the image as tight as I would've liked. It left a LOT of surrounding (read distracting) foliage in the image. I noticed while browsing around Pixoto that a lot of animal shots were cropped tight. They didn't have a lot of "white space" in order to tell a story, the animal (and it's expression) was the story. I also brought out some of the colors that were really there at sunset. I sharpened the cat a bit and put a nice comforting vignette around the edges to encourage focus on the main subject. After re-cropping, adjusting and getting my image just the way I liked it, I was ready. Next comes my biggest tip ...
3) Enter! Okay, that might have seemed obvious, but how many times have you NOT entered a competition (which you could have), or put your images up for criticism because of fear. Me? LOTS of times! I've been reading and listening to other pros, that I respect and admire, and one thing they've said again and again, "You gotta put your stuff out there!". If the only people that see your work are your friends and family, you're not going to grow. Your friends and family love you and will probably shower you with compliments, the warm fuzzy kind that make you glad they are your friends and family, but they're biased. They love you and they flatter you (and really mean it) but it's not what you need if you want to grow. I know: Been there. Done that. So my tip? Enter! Put your stuff out there. Take a risk. If you don't win or if you get back mean and rude remarks, move on, but take genuinely thoughtful, constructive criticism to heart. They may be writing something that could give you the insight to move your photos to the "next level".
So go find a site, or put your stuff up on Flickr or 500PX or the photo site of your choice and ask for opinions. Check out the competition. Tweak your work and Enter!
Here's a link to my "award".