Photo Contest Tips from a 100x Winner
Known for his iconic blackwater and behavioral images, Steven Kovacs is a prolific, award-winning underwater photographer. He knows a thing or two about entering photo contests and we got a chance to pick his brain about his approach.
1st Place - Blackwater, Deep Visions 2021 © Steven Kovacs.
Rule #1 Follow the Rules | Reading the rules carefully and staying within the framework of those rules is a given. The judges do pay attention to that and will not hesitate to eliminate rule breakers.
Stay Sharp | I believe it's imperative that the images I enter are technically perfect to stand a chance in any competition. Sharpness, composition and exposure have to be spot on or a I won't enter it.
Don't Follow the Crowd | Nowadays, photo contests can have thousands upon thousands of entries. I like to keep up with what kind of photographs are being produced by other photographers around the world (social media is great for that), not only to get new ideas, but also to see which images are very common. If a certain type of image is common, then it's likely no longer very impactful and several people will probably enter that same type of image in a contest. The judges will likely pass over these images for ones that are more unique. The same can be said for images that have won in previous years. A very similar image is not likely to place again. As a result, I try to avoid entering both commonly seen images and images that are too similar to previous winning images (for that particular contest).
1st Place - Behavior, Ocean Art 2020. Mating Crabs © Steven Kovacs.
Be Selective | Along the same line of thinking, if I have several similar photographs, for example of a never-before-seen animal, then I will pick the one I think is the best. I never compete against myself by entering several of the same type of picture in one contest. It would likely lose its impact and be self-defeating.
Rarity and Clarity | Whether it is because of different lighting, composition, or a rarely seen behavior, I know I'm much more likely to stand out if my image is unique or very rare. As a result, I enjoy trying to create those kinds of distinctive images. That's one of the reasons I enjoy blackwater photography and behavior photography. It allows me to create photographs that are unique or very difficult to attain. However, I realize it still has to be technically good to be entered in a competition. Just because it's unique or rare, if it's not a great image it won't place. That's something I've learned the hard way over the years.
Commended - Macro, Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022. Goosefish © Steven Kovacs.
Get Inspired | I also like to study other people's photographs and previous contest winning pictures that make me say "wow" in order to try and understand why they had such an impact on me. Rather than simply copy a photograph, I can then try and think of ways to incorporate different styles, lighting, compositions, or ideas into my own photographs. That way I can hopefully continue to grow as a photographer and produce images that are contest worthy.
Get Better, Not Bitter | Finally, I've learned over the years just how subjective contests can be. They are judged by different people with different tastes. If an image I think is amazing doesn't place I don't take it personally or get upset. It's part of the game. Rather than worry about results, I use contests as a kind of motivator to go out and try to produce photographs that have an impact.
Commended - Behavior, Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022. Hitchhiker © Steven Kovacs.
For a full list of Steven's awards click here.
Steven Kovacs was born in Canada and has had a fascination for the underwater world from a very young age. He started diving in the cold, rich waters surrounding Vancouver Island in 1999, and bought his first camera and Ikelite housing in 2001. A couple of years later he moved to Florida to pursue his passion in a more tropical setting. From there he quickly developed a passion for macro photography, with a special emphasis on underwater behaviors and blackwater photography.