How I entered an international photo competition and won* … (*almost!)

Well, I never thought I’d be able to call myself a “prize winning photographer” but I guess I could now that my photo (below) has been awarded 2nd Prize Overall in the FormattPhoto 2014 Competition organised by leading photographic filter company Formatt Hitech. So how did I do it? Read on to find out more…
FormattPhoto prize winning photos - Overall Contest Winner Runner-up original

The Accordion Player – Awarded 2nd Prize Overall in the FormattPhoto 2014 Competition

Spotting the opportunity

I first heard about the FormattPhoto iOS app for iPhones and iPads after I bought a Formatt Hitech MultiStop fader variable ND filter last year after a Digital Camera World review recommendation. When I was checking out the Formatt Hitech website I noticed the adverts for their FormattPhoto app. With its promise of “professional style” filters (and no in-app purchases) I thought I’d give it a go. I installed it onto my iPhone and had a quick play around when on holiday in Wales during the summer of 2104.

The app wasn’t without its issues – in particular, it would regularly crash on my iPhone 4s (the app is recommended for iPhone 5 and above). I managed to fix the frequency of the crashes by selecting Large (2400×1800 pixel) images – one step down from the maximum resolution, and also taking most photos without any filter and applying the filter effects afterwards.

Entering the competition

As a follower of Formatt Hitech on Twitter I spotted their tweet announcing their Fall 2014 FormattPhoto Competition.

The conditions of entry seemed quite straightforward – photos had to be taken using the FormattPhoto app and could be submitted under four categories – portrait, landscape, freestyle and fine art.

So I thought I had nothing to lose by giving it a go and entering some photos, so over the next few months I used FormattPhoto as my main photo-taking app. On a few occasions I deliberately set out with the aim of taking photos to enter into the competition, whilst other photos I took when an opportunity presented itself (for example, I snapped the Accordion Player photo when out shopping)

Selecting and editing photos to submit

I soon had a reasonable selection of photos to narrow down to the 20 entries permitted by the competition rules – I figured the more photos I entered the more chance I would have!

When making my selection I was trying to include a range of different types of photo – from close-ups to wide-ranging landscapes, from urban scenes and street portraits to sunsets and nature. I also wanted to submit at least a few photos under each of the categories – but I focused more on landscape and fine art as the winners for these categories would be selected by a panel of judges – with the other categories being selected by public vote (and I didn’t think I had enough followers online to win a public vote). However, my shot that won the 2nd place overall was one I submitted under the portrait category.

Making the photos appeal to the judges

My final selections were determined by 2 crucial factors:

  • First, I made sure that all of my entries had a filter effect applied – after all this was a competition to promote an app with built-in filters, provided by a leading filter company! I am not a great fan of “over-the-top” filter effects, so I tried to keep most of my filter effects relatively subtle with a couple of stronger effects thrown in for good measure on a couple of photos just in case that was what the judges were after.
  • Second, I tried to make my photos look like they weren’t taken on an iPhone, as the app is promoted as offering “professional style DSLR filters”. I’m not sure how well I succeeded in doing this!

You can see all of the 20 photos I submitted in this FormattPhoto competition entries Flickr album.

Keeping my fingers crossed

After submitting the photos (and changing my mind about a few of the photos) it was then just a case of keeping my fingers firmly crossed after the entry deadline in mid January 2015 until the winners were announced in Feburary 2015.

And much to my amazement I had won! And not just one prize but two!! My photo of the accordion player received 2nd prize in the overall category (beaten by a fabulously contrasty black and white shot showing some beautiful bird-shaped clouds over water) and my photo of “Blue Circle” bench handles on Southsea seafront (see below) was runner-up in the fine art category.

The winning entries – before and after

I thought it might be interesting to show the difference between the original unfiltered photos and the images that won the prizes to show the impact of the filters I applied.

The Accordion Player

Before – no filters applied

FormattPhoto prize winning photos - Overall Contest Winner Runner-up original

The Accordion Player – original photo shot in FormattPhoto app but with no filters applied

After – filters applied

I had been unable to get closer to the busker because of pedestrians passing (I had to wait for a gap to take the photo), so the first thing I did was to crop to square format to remove some of the empty foreground. I then added the “1950s” filter to change the colour palette to emphasis the red of the suitcase lining, then added the “Wayback” filter to add some grain and contrast to the image.

FormattPhoto prize winning photos - Overall Contest Winner Runner-up original

The Accordion Player – photo submitted

Blue circles

Before – original image

FormattPhoto prize winning photo - Fine Art runner-up original

Blue Circles – original photo shot in FormattPhoto app with no filters

After – filter applied

The iPhone photo seemed too sharp to me (due to the small sensor in the phone). To focus the viewer on the perspective through the blue circles of the bench handles, I added a vertical “Tilt Shift” filter to blur the left and right edges of the photo.

FormattPhoto prize winning photo - Fine Art runner-up

Blue Circles – submitted photo with vertical Tilt Shift filter applied

 The secret to winning photo competitions

So is there a magic secret to winning photo competitions? Of course there isn’t – but it always helps when you enter a photo competition to try to give the judges (and/or competition organisers) the types of image you think they are looking for. And a good bit of luck always helps!

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