Our guide to the best photography competitions in 2020
August 10, 2020
With a lot of photography competitions out there we’ve compiled a guide of leading awards and ways to evaluate which are worth your time and money.
Photographic prizes are always a lottery – judged subjectively by the values of those on each panel. But at best, they are a reputable and independent affirmation that your work is of value, a beautiful sentence within your bio, an introduction to industry leaders or galleries and a welcome windfall of money.
These are all genuine benefits to an emerging artist or professional.
With a lot of awards out there – including a few aimed at profit or claiming rights to imagery – we’ve compiled a guide of leading competitions and ways to evaluate which are worth your time and money.
Here’s our pre-entry check list:
How much does it cost to enter?
A well-run award requires administration to make it a good experience. So when a reputable competition has free entry, you know it’s going the extra mile to secure funding from government grants, the commercial sector or private donors without artists footing the bill for creative opportunity. In the majority of cases where an entry fee is required to cover logistics, staff time and prizes, the fee should not be exorbitant, and there should be an obvious return in investment for shortlisted finalists in terms of media coverage, prize reputation/advancement of career or an artist fee for eventual finalists and winners.
What’s the prize?
Will it change your life? Support you in money or gear to make your next major work? The occasional grass roots or independent award may front up with meagre prize pools, but the good ones will have genuine incentives to make up for this. In many cases if the prize is small or non-existent, you need to question why you are entering.
Are there production fees for the artist?
Many awards (even reputable ones) involve printing, framing and shipping costs payable by participating finalists. The benefit in this is that artists have control over how their work is uniquely presented and can collaborate with printers and framers they trust. Costs can quickly add up however without any guarantee of winning your money back. If the award is reputable, there can be a lot of good opportunities and reasons to enter regardless. But it’s important to know what it will cost to put your best foot forward if you are selected, and also to know what you hope to get out of it, and whether this is the award that can provide what you are looking for.
Are you in good company?
A quick look at judges, previous finalists and the institution running it will indicate the quality of talent it attracts. Will your entry be put in front of people with power and influence to give you opportunities? If you get through, will you be hung next to artists you admire and aspire to be in the same category as? Could this be an introduction to a gallery you aspire to exhibit with? A stepping stone to your long-term goals? Will the title of 'Finalist' or 'Winner' assist you to land your next commission, grant or exhibition?
Are they asking for your copyright?
Awards will require some usage rights to specifically promote the prize using your image if you win – there is no getting around this. But alarm bells should sound if terms and conditions acquire legal copyright, exclusive rights or commercial rights to make further money out of your work without an appropriate amount going back to the artist. Some prizes are acquisitive, meaning the winning exhibited print will become part of an institution’s collection. If the prize money is substantial, this can be a double-win for an artist who can then lay claim to being collected by a reputable institution in addition to receiving a substantial fee. But if you are not willing to sell your work for the amount of prize money on offer, it’s best not to enter.
Who can enter?
If a prize is international, the prestige may be high but the chances of winning in an enormous pool are much lower. When a prize is local and specific it can indicate a genuine desire to promote artistic talent from a geographic area or genre – not just a way to profit from entry fees from a maximum portion of the population.
With the above in mind, there are no hard and fast rules about which compititions are the best for you. It will depend on your own goals and values as an artist and the direction of your career, and you should always carefully read the terms and conditions annually in case they change. That said, here are some of the leading competitions available to Australian photographers.
Australian Life is traditionally free-to-enter as part of the annual City of Sydney Art & About Festival. Largely focused on documentary, photojournalism and environmental portraiture, finalists’ work is hung large scale in an open-air gallery in the centre of Sydney. It achieves a great mix of emerging and established talent and puts your work in the midst of a wide audience beyond the usual gallery crowd, covering production costs and paying artist fees to all finalists and $10,000 to the overall winner – this one ticks all the boxes.
This generous $30,000 prize is awarded by the Monash Gallery of Art in Victoria with all finalists exhibiting in one of Australia’s premier galleries. It is broad in scope and promotes a wide range of contemporary and experimental photography, often exhibiting innovative installation. Entry fee is between $35-55 dollars.
Head On runs portrait and landscape awards as part of their annual festival in Sydney. For a $30 fee you have a chance to win $15,000. The exhibition venue changes regularly but it is always somewhere prominent and there are no further production fees if you are shortlisted. Though based in Australia it’s been opened to international submissions in recent years.
Queensland’s biggest photography award has been run by Home Of The Arts (HOTA) in Surfers Paradise since 2002. It’s open to photographers of all genres and professional levels and biennially awards $25,000 to support and encourage Australian artists, at around $40 fee to enter.
It’s international. It’s online. It charges entry fees (ranging from $20 for a single entry to an annual membership for USD$100). But it also puts in some hard yards selecting well known judges, curating regular international exhibitions in respected venues and to offering $2,000 monthly prizes.
The most significant photographic prize coming out of our nation’s capital annually curates and displays the top portraiture in Australia within their state-of-the-art gallery. With $30,000 at stake it attracts the best and brightest talent – and a good mix of known and new names. Entry fee is $30 per entry.
Tweed Regional Gallery administers this biennial portraiture prize offering $20,000 prize money in memory of photographer Olive Cotton. The prize is acquisitive and awarded to photographers living and working in Australia. Their galleries are beautiful and the area is scenic - you won’t mind travelling to this part of northern New South Wales for opening night if selected. Previous entry fees have been around the $35 mark.
The Pool Grant is an annual initiative of the Pool Collective, run by photographers with photographer interests at heart. Aimed at launching emerging local talent, a $50 submission fee puts you in the running to win $15,000 plus a year-long mentorship and includes an exhibition.
We’ve designed this one ourselves funnelling our extensive industry networks, platforms, space and equipment resources into a practical annual prize designed to launch new talent across Australia. While the format can shift slightly from year-to-year, SEPA has traditionally been free to enter with a prize pool of up to $25,000 to spend across SUNSTUDIOS retail, fine art printing, gallery, equipment and studio hire. SEPA judges are selected from leading agencies, practitioners and commissioning publications and work is judged blind without names to ensure all artists are given equal opportunity. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Instagram to keep across calls for entry and further information.
Based out of the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Taylor Wessing is international, but a genuine benchmark in portraiture world-wide, and a career-making award to win with 15,000 pound award at stake for an entry fee of 20 pounds.
SUNSTUDIOS annually supplies brand new Broncolor equipment to several of the largest colleges in Australia. The equipment not purchased by the college is returned to SUNSTUDIOS at the end of the year in mint condition and sold at heavily discounted prices with a 12-month warranty in the Broncolor ex-college stock sale.
Genres often known for being grand and imposing, the imagery of 2019 SEPA Landscape and Architecture finalists is instead gentle, strange and subtle. The judges have selected Debbie Gallulo, Ashley Ludkin and Matt Solomon as three artists with strong perspective on our built and natural environment.