Alex Hare Photography

Photography Competitions; Judges, LPOTY and are they worth entering?

Posted on 26th January, 2020

Landscape Photographer of The Year 2020 (LPOTY) is open for entries and I can officially announce that I won’t be winning it this year…

Reason being, my friend and Tripod Travels partner, Lizzie Shepherd, has been enrolled to judge the finalists!

Obviously, had I entered any of these two recent images it’s a certain fact that I would have won 😊…but the conflict of interest means I can only sit and enjoy it from afar this year.

Photography Competitions; Judges, LPOTY and are they worth entering?

If you have some photos you are proud of, and don’t mind putting them ‘out there’, I would always recommend entering any photo competition, as a general rule.

Photography Competitions; Judges, LPOTY and are they worth entering?

Take LPOTY, apart from offering £10,000 for the winner (the largest prize in the world for the winner in a landscape competition, I think) I have fond memories of being involved in the exhibition in 2012 when my photo of the Royal Crescent, Bath, was Highly Commended. 

Photography Competitions; Judges, LPOTY and are they worth entering?

But what’s the draw back and what do we need to know before we enter any competition?

First up, the fees. Most of the big ones require a fee to enter which will go towards funding the event and the prizes.  Unless you have images that are good (by which I mean it’s not just your mum that likes them!) paying to enter a load of big-time competitions might be a waste of time and money.

Instead, I would look further down the pecking order.  There are hundreds of ways to enter a competition very cheaply or for free; from camera club ‘battles’ to photo magazines and brand organised competitions on social media running weekly themes, there is something to enter all the time.

The Judges…

I know from my camera club talks and judging appearances that this is a big bone of contention.  The general feeling is that some judges seem to be any of the following: inconsistent, random with their scores, biased towards what they like to shoot themselves and unable to objectively assess a photo for its own merits

And I sympathise.

I’ve been fortunate to do very well in a few competitions, including winning two big ones.  I’ve also failed dismally, sometimes with the very same image!

Take this photo of the Second Severn Crossing:

Photography Competitions; Judges, LPOTY and are they worth entering?

I entered this into Practical Photography magazine Photographer of the Year awards and, sometime later, a national competition organised by a tripod manufacturer and judged by landscape legend and LPOTY head judge Charlie Waite.  I won both.  Charlie said some lovely things about my photo and I’m very proud of it.

Photography Competitions; Judges, LPOTY and are they worth entering?

Last year, I entered the same image into a small Facebook group’s weekly challenge themed ‘bridges.’   I thought ‘I wonder if I’ll clean up again?  Surely it’s a dead cert with a theme like that and a photo of such fine competition pedigree.’  But, you know what?  I didn’t even make the top 10!

Now, does that suddenly make my photo rubbish and Charlie Waite a judge who doesn’t know his stuff?  Off course not. It’s just sometimes a photo works for the judges and sometimes it doesn’t.  You can’t fight it, you have to just accept it and not beat yourself up about it when it goes against you. IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BAD PHOTOGRAHER.

I was actually pleased I didn’t win the Facebook competition.  I don’t feel a ‘need’ to win, its something I’ve had the thrill of experiencing before so failing here doesn’t really matter.  It was actually nice to see new images from people do well and ‘retire’ my prize fighter for good!

So judging can be erratic.  It can be frustrating and it can, as my experience shows, be contradictory.  If that drives you mad, don’t bother with a competition.  But if you don’t mind rolling with the punches then go for it.  Take the hits as good fortune as much as good photography and the misses as bad luck as much as erratic judging or not quite up to scratch images.

The main thing is; learn what you can from good judges that offer insightdul, constructive and thoughtful critical appraisal of your work. ‘Oh, not another photo of [insert well known location of choice]’ is none of the above.  It’s unhelpful, unconstructive and fails to consider the effort made by the photographer.

It also fails to take into account the particular stage they might be in their photographic development or their time available for image making.  A lady with a love of photography working full time, with a young family, dogs to walk and errands to run might have only 10 minutes to find and make a photo.  The last thing she needs is unhelpful criticism in her quest to make better use of her limited time available for photography.

Photography Competitions; Judges, LPOTY and are they worth entering?

So scour the web, the social media accounts and the magazines for some competitions and give your images a chance to shine on the big stage, be it the village hall at the camera club or the Southbank Centre on London’s embankment.  They all count and it’s all good fun not to be taken too seriously whether you win or lose.

As a humble camera club judge myself, I’ve developed a set of six basic criteria that I use to judge what I see, regardless of the genre.  I explain this at the outset of the evening so that everyone knows what I’m looking for and how I’m assessing their work.  My feedback has been warmly received and I think people can see how I might have come to my scores in light of my criteria.

As for me and LPOTY, well, the dream is to still win it someday.  In the meantime, I will have to look elsewhere for competitions to enter.  Which is fun; I can look at the entry themes and find work that fits a new brief and see what happens.

Hopefully Lizzie will bring her thoughtful, considered and uniquely creative approach to her judging of the LPOTY competition and we might all, for once, get a winner we can all get behind.  

Past LPOTY winners…

For the most part I don’t really mind what wins and I’m genuinely pleased for whoever wins it.  However, I have to admit to being surprised by the number of ‘well known/over photographed’ viewpoints that have won, including Buchaillie Etive, Corfe Castle and Old Man of Stor.

For me, I don’t understand how something we’ve all seen before so many times can win this particular competition unless it’s a totally new and ingenious take on the subject.  Which I don’t think would apply in the cases mentioned.  

Photography Competitions; Judges, LPOTY and are they worth entering?

As photographers, we’re in the business of ‘creating’ and landscape photography is something we embark upon as an artistic endeavour.  This approach is, therefore, inherently linked with originality and, in the case of landscape photography, the idea of showing something new about a place that comes from within ourselves.  If the winner this year can show these qualities I would hope it would be a unifying winner, not a divisive one.

So good luck to everyone that enters a competition, from a Facebook internal group, to the Sony World Photographer of the Year; I can’t wait to see the winning images and, as the Lotto used to say; ‘It could be you…’.