Submitting Images for Fair Competitions

Summer is county and state fair time! These events frequently feature competitions for produce, livestock, and crafts, including photography. If you have an image you think is ribbon worthy, here are some tips for making sure you present it to best advantage.

Read the Submission Requirements
In addition to the submission deadline, there may be requirements related to the smallest and largest dimensions your photograph can be. Bigger pictures usually have more impact, so the larger a final print you can afford, usually the better.

You may be required to present your photograph matted, framed or otherwise ready to hang on a wall. Today there are a myriad of ways to display your picture. Besides the traditional glossy print behind a window matte, your image can be printed on watercolor paper, canvas, metal, glass, wood, or ceramic tile, among other surfaces. All these can be finished to be ready to hang.

Plan Ahead
Especially if you will have a photo lab print your entry, be sure to order your photograph with enough time for it to be delivered before the entry deadline. If possible, order the image early enough so if you don't like the presentation you chose, you have time to order something different. Also, occasionally your print could have color or exposure problems or (rarely) be damaged in shipping. So you want to allow extra time for any necessary reprint.

Choose the Correct Category
You usually need to specify in which topic or category you are submitting your picture. Typical categories include action/sports, wildlife, people, landscape, macro, etc. If you have an image that fits into one of the less popular subjects (e.g. night or astro photography), you increase your chances of earning a ribbon because you'll have less competition. Check with the contest organizers to see if they will reclassify your picture if you enter it in the wrong category.

Frequently, there are also different age or experience levels so younger or less experienced photographers are not competing with professionals. Be sure to enter at the correct level for your experience.

Submit Your Best Work
The picture you enter should at a minimum be appropriately exposed, have appropriate color balance, and display appropriate sharpness. I'm using "appropriate" specifically because effective images can have very dark or light exposures, exhibit a strong color cast (think sunrise/sunset light), or make use of shallow depth of field or intentional motion blur to convey a feeling or mood.

How do you decide if the "non-standard" exposure, color, or sharpness is appropriate? If you created the effect intentionally, then it's probably "appropriate." Remember that you may be competing against hundreds of other images, so you don't want to give the judges a reason to eliminate your picture early.

Be sure your picture file, after any cropping, has enough information (data) to be printed at your requested size. Most photo labs will warn you if you do not have enough pixels (resolution) for the size you request.

So look through all those images stored on your hard drive, phone, or in the "cloud," select your favorite best images and enter the competition early. You might have a winner or two!

Learn additional tips and get help entering images in the 2018 Western Montana Fair photography  exhibition in my class on submitting photos for the fair beginning May 17, 2018, in Missoula, Montana. Click here to register.