Rural Photography Competitions

Thinking about running a rural photography competition?

Let me make it easy for you!

I've been involved in judging, advising, publicising and entering a wide variety of photography competitions for more than twenty years.

I've seen everything - from some fabulously well-thought-out awards that benefit all involved; to many appallingly ill-conceived and executed arrangements that leave everyone unhappy (and out of pocket).

Let me help you set up a fantastic photography competition that cost-effectively achieves your core aims, receives great publicity, and leaves sponsors and entrants feeling very satisfied. With the potential to become an annual event everyone is thrilled to be a part of.

My experience with photography competitions:

20+ years advising large and small organisations on the most suitable photography competition 'terms & conditions' for their specific purposes

With 6 years as the Competitions Advisor for the Society of Australian Commercial & Magazine Photographers. (ACMP has since merged with the Australian Institute of Professional Photography, which I was a member of for some years, but no longer.)

25+ years entering photography competitions (although I don't enter often - I enjoy judging, more)

Awards won include: Nikon/Panorama Showcase Photographer of the Year, Waltzing Matilda Centre 'Image of the bush' photography competition, Heritage Building Society Acquisitive Photography Awards, Banool Conservation Award, HeadOn Photo Festival.

19 years judging rural photography competitions, including:

  • On the judging panel of the Australian Women's Weekly/Meat & Livestock Australia 'Champions of the Land' photography competition. 
  • The first Australian judge appointed to the 3 person panel judging the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists 'Star Prize for Photography' award (entries from more than 30 countries).
  • Judging local and regional photography competitions, such as for local branches of the Country Women's Association (CWA) and statewide for the Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women's Network (QRRRWN).
  • In addition to judging; setting up and running photo awards, from start to finish - eg the 'Rural Women at Work' photography competition, for the International Rural Women's conference in Adelaide.

Most recently, I helped judged the NSW Government's Local Land Services (Western region) 'Life and Light' photo competition (exhibited in Broken Hill).

Why engage a consultant to help set up or improve a photography competition?

Why not just replicate someone else's photography competition terms & conditions?

Because there's a plethora of badly set up competitions, which do a poor job of achieving organisers aims and leave entrants feeling unhappy.  Most significantly - there are many photography competitions that put the organisers in a bad light. Some of these photography competitions involve tens of thousands of dollars and they may have been running for a while. But they've been set up without advice from anybody with comprehensive photography competition experience; and organisers may be completely oblivious to the fact that they're riding an expensive 3-legged horse.  Often these lemons are the combined creation of marketing and legal departments - which almost invariably results in a competition that leaves entrants feeling ripped off (thus making it impossible for organisers to achieve the very best outcome).

No two businesses or organisations have identical aims or circumstances - or customers or members.  So copying a 'one size fits all' photography competition squanders the ability to maximise ROI.

Good photography competitions require careful thought in regard to aims, themes, marketing/PR and most important of all - terms and conditions that are win/win for all involved. 

Many photo competition organisers fail to do the very first things they should do: 1) consider carefully what their core aims are; and 2) what's in it for entrants. I help with 3) - which is how to get 1 & 2 right.  This requires a dose of realism based on practical experience regarding what works and what does not.

Some of the benefits involved in running a good rural photography competition:

  • Unearth a range of good quality photographs (for possible use, in exchange for fair prizes)
  • Great publicity - by providing interesting news stories for the public (via the media)
  • Excellent brand-building and fosters a positive corporate reputation
  • Ideal platform for collaborations with other organisations and businesses (eg sponsors with common aims, and schools)
  • Opportunity for primary producers and rural communities to tell their first-hand stories - helps protect social licence and dispel myths, fosters confidence, spreads good ideas, encourages community pride and regional tourism
  • Provides an opportunity to improve artistic skill (including creativity amongst school children)
  • Able to efficiently promote specific aims - such as encouraging best-practice land, animal and business management
  • Can have industry-specific, local, state or national reach - you tailor it how you'd like it.

I can discuss pros and cons involved in potentially problematic aspects:

  • Should there be restrictions on how much digital manipulation is allowed?
  • Are popular voting awards a good idea?
  • Legal issues - are model release forms required? Are indemnity clauses necessary?
  • How to ensure no entrants are cheating, and that the competition is fair to all?
  • Is it best to run a photography competition open to everyone, or only open to amatuers or professionals?
  • Are judges anonymous? Entrants anonymous? Are captions included as part of the judging process, or just images?
  • How many judges and how best to choose them?  What guidelines should they be given?
  • What theme is best? How many categories?
  • How should prizes be divvied up?

Plus many other aspects that are worthy of attention.

To create a photography competition that everyone is satisfied with, it is vital to carefully consider what's in it for entrants:

  • A cash and/or an in-kind award (for the winners)
  • Motivation to improve skills
  • Experience and a confidence boost
  • Publicity (for themselves or their photography subject, which may be a location, particular industry or personal business-related)
  • An opportunity to promote something they care about (primary production, agricultural careers, rural lifestyle etc)

Judging photography awards - what is good art?

It's popularly said that artistic merit can't be judged. But the preliminary culling process is actually straightforward.

There are two fundamental aspects under consideration:

  • The technical skill involved in production
  • The idea or inspiration behind it

A good idea badly executed is ultimately not a success and vice-versa. To a certain extent, assessing whether a photograph meets an acceptable technical standard and has an interesting original idea behind it can be judged in a reasonably objective manner - if the judge has a sound understanding of photographic techniques, and a thorough knowledge of what other art has been created in a similar genre, recently and historically, here and elsewhere. (Perfectly executed cliches need not apply.)

  • The third aspect is the indefinable quality that turns good art into brilliant art.

All notable art has one thing in common - when you see it, it evokes some sort of emotional response.  If you look at it and feel completely unmoved then it has completely failed its purpose in life - a failure for you, at least.  It is just pretty wallpaper (if that). It doesn't matter how technically proficient art is or how creative it is - if the viewer is unmoved, then the artwork has failed.  Conversely if you look at an artwork and feel passionate, enthusiastic, mournful, contemplative, inspired, intrigued - or some other strong emotion - then the creator has had a degree of success.

Whether or not it is your particular cup of tea is completely subjective, and should interfere as little as possible with your judgement regarding quality.

But - when judging photography awards - there is a fourth vital element:

  • Does each entry meet the specified criteria, and fit the theme?

If not, then no matter how meritorious the photograph is in other respects, it cannot win this award. Only entries that meet the specifications are in the running, because to do otherwise would do an injustice to those who abided by what the organisers have stated is necessary.

Consultant fees:

Time permitting, I can provide some time for advice free of charge for charitable causes, and a paid service to assist others.

If you are interested in discussing how I may be able to help you, please contact me.

For examples of my award winning photographs refer to the books. More than 800 of my best cattle station photographs are included in the 3 books published to date.  (Most of the photos on these website pages were taken on my mobile phone; not the professional equipment used to capture book and advertising photos.)  I also run photography workshops, which can include advice on entering photography awards and holding exhibitions.

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