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What is an award winning photograph?

Just recently the Moran Photographic Prize of $80,000 was awarded, for the second consecutive time, to Dean Sewell a Sydney Morning Herald photographer. Judged by a fellow multi-award winning photographer Stephen Dupont, this very rich prize is highly contested by the Australian photographic elite.

But what really is an ‘Award Winning’ photograph? And are the plethora of photographic competitions really worth entering?

Submitting work to photographic competitions largely depends on your character. Photography is a very subjective art form and within its ranks many subscribe to certain formulaic and stylistic traditions. Where, for instance, the digital manipulation of an image in Photoshop may be seen as abhorrent by ‘news’ photographers, it is often relished by ‘art’ photographers. And what is acceptable ‘art’ practice is often hotly debated (see Bill Henson and the argument surrounding his work.)

If you know that you have taken a really special photograph and you would like to share that with the world, there are a number of things to take into consideration when it comes to entering a photographic award. Firstly are there rules that you need to adhere to, such as not doing any digital manipulation to the image? Does the photograph have to be of a certain resolution that would be impossible to shoot on your compact camera? Does your image fit into the categories that may be nominated, such as sport or daily life? And most importantly are you still able to maintain the rights to your photograph?

Many photographic awards stipulate that on entering that you must renounce any pretensions to copyright you may have for the submitted image. If this is the case, you must think very carefully about whether you may ever want to use that photograph again in another context, because you may be just giving up your rights to use it.

While many photographic awards can bring with them much publicity and acknowledgement for the winners, revoking your rights to your photographic property may not be in your best interests. Always read the fine print of any competition very carefully.

Entries for many awards now can have quite substantial fees and therefore it is also wise to work out exactly what you wish to achieve, by entering into a photographic prize. While judging for most awards is carried out by industry professionals and is democratic, generally only one person can win so it can be somewhat like a lottery. You may be lucky, or not, as the case may be.

Every year, the World Press Photo Awards garner at least 100,000 photographic entries from photographers in over a 120 countries so the odds of being one of the 56 winners are almost impossible.

There are though generally three possible outcomes to entering most photographic awards. One is that your work is selected for exhibition, secondly it is not selected and thirdly you may just win! And when the prize is $80,000.00 that would be a pretty amazing thing.

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