So you want to win a mobile photo competition?
The MPAs and the IPPAs: the two leading mobile-only photography awards
All photography competitions are businesses in some form or other. Some competitions make profits for their organisers, some are marketing vehicles for their sponsors, others are designed to build archives of photos for sale and some simply want your contact details so they can offer you other products in the future. When entering a photo competition, you are really a customer (even if you don’t pay to enter) and as such, you want good value. So how do you judge if a competition offers good value and how do you get the best value from your entry? In other words, how do you win?
To judge if you’re getting good value from a competition you have to ask three questions: 1) how much does it cost to enter? 2) what do I get if I win?; and 3) do I stand a fair chance of winning? On the first question, some competitions require hard cash to enter. Other competitions may be free, but in exchange you may have to give the competition a free licence for your photos, to be sold or used in advertising. In answer to question 2, what you get if you win is not necessarily the same as asking what the prizes are. Some competitions have good prizes, either money or things (which you can sell). But you may also get something intangible by winning a competition: recognition. Recognition may come in the form of an exhibition that goes on a tour of leading galleries (where your photo might get sold, too), or it may come through media attention or kudos from recognised experts. And you might be able to monetise all this at a later date.
In answer to question 3—do I stand a fair chance of winning?—consider a number of factors:
- The first is the judges. Who are they? Are they recognised experts in the categories they’re judging? If they’re not, or worse, if you can’t find out who they are, alarm bells should be ringing.
- Second is the judging process. Check that the judging is anonymous and that it follows a clear process to ensure that everyone is fairly treated. If the judges don’t seem credible or if you can’t find out how the judging is organised, you may be entering little more than a lottery.
- Third, check out past winners. If the competition seems to favour a style that your photos don’t have, you should perhaps not bother entering that competition. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and your photos may be beautiful in a different competition’s eye.
- Lastly, if there’s any hint of favouritism in the judging, towards particular people or groups, maybe reconsider your submission.
So you’ve decided that it’s worth entering a competition because it offers good prizes or recognition and you’re satisfied you stand a fair chance of winning. How do you maximise your chances?
- First of all, choose your categories carefully. Categories such as People or Street are very popular and so you will face strong competition. More obscure categories might be easier to win.
- Second, see what has won that competition in the past. If the judges are the same, they may well choose similar pictures again, so favour those of your photos that fit that style.
- Third, try to enter pictures that will stand out when small. When a judge has to choose from hundreds of entries very quickly, they may well be looking at very small thumbnails, at least in the first round.
- Fourth, if you can, use captions as extensively as possible. Sometimes you can draw attention to an important feature in your photo that might otherwise be overlooked. If there’s a back-story to the photo, try to tell it if it reveals more about the photo.
So what competitions are out there in mobile photography? The two leading mobile-only competitions are The iPhone Photography Awards (IPPAs) and the Mobile Photo Awards (MPAs). Founded in 2007, the IPPAs is the longest-running competition. Thanks to this, it has a strong reputation and so is widely covered by the mainstream media. While widely seen as an authority in its field, its judging process is quite opaque and, perhaps for this reason, the winners seem to follow a consistent style, favouring relatively unprocessed photos in all categories. By contrast, the MPAs, which is currently in its fourth year, has a broad panel of judges who are recognised experts and it generally favours quite heavily processed images. Most other mobile competitions run alongside other photography competitions. Two well respected “big camera” competitions recently added mobile categories, the Terry O’Neill Awards, which favours photo essays, and the Sony World Photography Organisation, which offers as a prize a place in its exhibition in a leading London venue along with various bits of Sony hardware. The leading mobile sharing platform EyeEm last year launched a major free-to-enter competition with some prestigious judges (eg Rankin) though it is also open to photographers with other devices.
Other competitions with mobile sections include Blipfoto’s free Lovers of Light and PopPhoto’s Readers Mobile Photo Contest. In addition to these, there are myriad monthly, weekly and daily online competitions run by blogs and websites, offering a range of sponsored prizes and recognition of varying degrees of desirability. And remember, your camera phone is also a camera like any other. So you can enter all photo competitions with your mobile photos if they’re good enough. And lastly, while winning a competition may bring you some nice prizes, a bit of media attention and maybe some business opportunities, often the most important judge of the quality of your photography is yourself – not a panel of competition experts.
The author has been a judge on various mobile photo competitions, including the MPAs and the Terry O’Neill awards. He was also won the Environmentalist category at last year’s EyeEm festival and the 2014 Terry O’Neill mobile prize.