Picture This: Entering Photo Contests

Taking a break from our normal lesson on how to take good photos, we’re going to talk this week about what to do with them – specifically, entering contests.

Photography contests are alluring. The thought of winning money or new camera gear without much effort and for work you’ve already done is a tempting idea. However, if you aren’t first careful, you’ll find yourself out the rights to your best images and with no compensation.

When you are considering a photography competition, it pays to read the rules first. Don’t get distracted by big money in bold, flashing, glittery numbers! This is just a distraction! Most competition administrators want you to distract you by appealing to your hopes while they grab your photos and run! Think I’m joking? Take a look at some of these clauses from real photo competitions:

From Intrepid Travel’s monthly/yearly photo competitions terms and conditions:

“While the photographer retains the copyright of all images submitted as competition entries, Intrepid Travel and our Intrepid Photography Competition partners reserve the right to unlimited use of the photos for company brochures, promotion and advertising.”

This means that even if you don’t win, they can still use your photo as many times as they want, forever. Notice how there is no guarantee that they will give you photo credit? Notice how there is not limitation on this right? Notice how you are in no way entitled to any compensation at all? This is what I mean about competitions just gobbling up photos. Even National Geographic does this:

“By entering the Contest, all entrants grant an irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide non-exclusive license to Authorized Parties, to reproduce, distribute, display and create derivative works of the entries (along with a name credit) in connection with the Contest and promotion of the Contest, in any media now or hereafter known, including, but not limited to: Display at a potential exhibition of winners; publication of a book featuring select entries in the Contest; publication in National Geographic Traveler Magazine or online highlighting entries or winners of the Contest.”

“An irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide non-exclusive license.” This is key. This is what you need to look out for. “Irrevocable” means you can’t take away their license to use your photo under any condition. “Perpetual” means they can use this photo forever and ever, amen. “Worldwide” means anywhere – your photo could be the next big thing for National Geographic and they could use it to represent their company across the whole world without compensation. But wait! A silver lining! A “non-exclusive license” means you can still use your photo in advertising, sales, and in other competitions! That means they are leaving you with some rights. However, keep in mind that many competitions and potential buyers require that your photo has never been use in publication or in competitions anywhere else to protect themselves from potential lawsuits. You lose all of these rights by just entering the contest – you don’t even have to win.

Additionally, the National Geographic contest includes this clause:

“Entrants consent to the Sponsor doing or omitting to do any act that would otherwise infringe the entrant’s ‘moral rights’ in their entries.”

Your moral rights are important. By giving up your morals rights, you give up your right to be credited for the photo (even when it is wrongly credited to another person) and you are allowing the competition administrators to manipulate or distort your image without your consent, even if the resulting product damages your public image or reputation. It’s unlikely that National Geographic would use your photo is such a way, however, that’s not to say no one else will.

Many photo competitions also include clauses that allow use of your photo by their subsidiaries, i.e., any other business that falls under their company. So if the company also owns a chain of liquor stores, they may be able to use a photo you submitted of children in their advertising campaigns. Would you be comfortable with this? Would you want it to continue even if you protested? This is why you need to read the terms and conditions very carefully when entering a photo contest. Be sure you know how your photo will be used.

So that’s what you stand to lose by entering photo competitions! Some are better than others and you should do your research. If the stakes are high, you might not want to submit your absolute best work (that one-in-a-million shot), but if the terms of entering are solid, it might be worth a shot! For example, the Sony World Photography Awards are well-known for having fair terms and conditions:

“7.2 All entrants understand that any image submitted to the competition may be used by WPO, and its Event Partners, for marketing and promotional purposes of the event only, for a maximum of three years after the awards ceremony date in April 2013. You hereby grant WPO a non-exclusive, irrevocable licence in each Entry throughout the world for three years in all media for any use connected to the promotion of the SWPA event and/or competition”

It’s fair that the WPO sets a limit on their use of your photos with a three-year license. By doing so, they are enabling the photographer to continue using the submitted image(s) in future works and preserving the creative rights to their work. And”¦

“8. Any photograph used by WPO shall carry a credit line. Any failure to provide such credit line shall not be deemed to be a breach, as long as WPO uses its reasonable endeavours to rectify such failure within a reasonable period from the date of notice of such failure.”

This is also fair and should be standard. When entering a competition and giving a company or organization rights to use your photos, you should be compensated in some way. It’s not fair that you enter, give up your rights to the photo, allow the company to profit off of your work in advertising, and not even receive recognition as an artist. Especially if the competition has an entry fee – don’t pay someone else to use your work! Many people consider their photos as just snaps they took and they would be happy for just some exposure and/or some money, but if you care about your photos, think about their value. Would you give away your art work for free? If your work is good enough to be published, then it’s good enough to be paid for.

What are your tips when entering photography contests? Do you have an experience you would like to share? Put your thoughts and your images into the comments! In another up-coming article we’ll talk about how to actually win a competition!

By Thelma

Thelma is a photographer and traveler currently residing in Sydney, Australia. In her free time she can be found with her nose behind a camera or obsessing over koalas.

6 replies on “Picture This: Entering Photo Contests”

The Zoo here has an annual photo contest that’s pretty interesting. Last year’s winner (she got an AMAZING shot of the notoriously shy mama gorilla holding the new baby gorilla) ended up having her photo used on a round of billboards! A number of the photos end up getting used in a calendar, and the Zoo has the exclusive rights for it to put on coffee mugs or postcards or whatever forever. I’ve only entered once, and my photo wasn’t used, but I’d be ok about it because it’s a local nonprofit org I have a lot of strong positive feelings about.

I had no idea National Geographic was such a scam, though!

I think a zoo contest would be great and something I would totally get behind. I wouldn’t mind giving up my best photos to benefit a non-profit dedicated to wildlife preservation! And yeah, National Geographic… It’s an alluring thought to think your photos could be featured in one of their magazines and I would be lying if I said I haven’t given any thought to entering myself (it would be good exposure, afterall). But on principle, I feel that an organization like NG should have better policies when it comes to sourcing photos for their organisation. With their resources, they don’t need irrevocable, perpetual licenses from every entrant. I feel it’s a bit immoral.

Prft, the Picture This! Group doesn’t exist, my browser likes to think. So I will add a small link here. Remember when we talked about shooting in the dark and shooting the movement? It was a ..variety of successes. I liked the last two best. The others just show I’m really good in being late.

And I could easily be offtopic like this because I will never reach the quality you need for a contest anyway.

Yay! The circus!!! Loved looking at your photos! I think they’re fantastic and such a good place to practice low-light photography! And I bet you could win a contest. I think it’s all just a matter of knowing what the contest organisers are looking for (I’m going to write about this later). That being said though, I’ve never won a contest either. Except at the county fair when I was in 10th grade. I won a couple of ribbons. But then again, I’ve only entered one contest since then so I guess if you don’t enter, you can’t win, right?

Years ago I entered two local photo contests on the urging of Mr. Bacon and my parents. One was for a local printer who was going to select 12 winners to create a calendar. I won for the month of December with a photo of a monarch butterfly, most likely because that’s monarch season where I live and I may have submitted the only good shot of one. Almost a year later a coworker brought in a few advertisements from the printer and they had used my photo for the postcard ad. I knew when entering the contest there wouldn’t be compensation and the photos could be used for future promotion. It was cool to see my photo and I was given credit for it.

The second contest was for a local paper and each photo had a $5 entrance fee. They have the contest every year and I submitted 3 photos. It took months to announce the winners and they had a party in their parking lot where they projected the photos on the side of their building and offered free tiny cups of bad wine. Everyone that won was either a past winner or knew someone on the judging comittee (they made a show of announcing so and so winner as friends with so and so who works for the paper). It was all so disgusting and rage inducing and I was so pissed I had spent my very hard earned money to support this obviously nepotistic event. There were quite a few people after the event who were pissed off by it. I’ve never enterd another contest since then despite friends and family urging me to so.

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