Are photography competitions really money making scams?

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If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen the so-called influencers issuing warnings about the dangers of entering competitions. In particular, youtube videos and blogs that make frightening and ominous claims about “hidden impacts”, “pitfalls” and photographers being “exploited”. That photography competitions are “money making scam”s and the organisers are “leveraging your images” for their own profit.

I’ve seen them too, and its fairly obvious that these influencers aren’t presenting objective facts. On the contrary, they’re spreading fake news and click bait to generate advertiser revenue for themselves.

None of these influencers actually run a photography competition, but as someone who has done for the past 10 years, I know the facts and I’m going to debunk these claims in this article.

So, are photography competitions really money making scams?

In the UK, known money making scams are listed by the Police on the UK’s national fraud centre website. Photography competitions are not listed, therefore, photography competitions are not scams.

That said, some competitions that have launched in the last 3 or 4 years are charging extremely high fees to enter. This is a characteristic of competitions that are set up to make money for their organisers. I would strongly urge photographers to do due diligence before entering these type of competitions. I’ve put a list of red flags and things to look out for further down the page.

[* Anyone that brands a photography competition as money making scams should be aware that they are treading on dangerous ground. Should any blogs, videos or comments be aimed at a particular competition or organiser, they could end up in court being sued for defamation.]

Are there hidden impacts and pitfalls?

According to influencers, if you win an award and get lots of publicity, but you don’t become rich or famous overnight, then this is a hidden impact/pitfall.

To be clear, competitions give awards to the photographers and these can be used to promote themselves. It is the photographer’s responsibility to put promote themselves and build on their success. It is not the competition’s responsibility.

Many photographers do leverage their awards to promote themselves and do well from it. For example, Dylan Nardini, David Queenan and Grant Bulloch, held a joint exhibition recently. They did not sit back and do nothing. They leveraged their awards and made their own efforts to secure the exhibition and go on to promote themselves and their work.

Are photographer’s being exploited?

This relates to the practice of copyright or image rights grabbing. It essentially means the photographer hands over the rights to their images so that the competition can leverage them and sell them to make profit. You should not enter any competition that asks you to hand over copyright.

When you enter SLPOTY you retain full copyright of your images. You simply allow the competition to publish your images in our book and exhibitions. This is made clear in section 11 of our terms.

So what are the best type of competitions to enter?

The best type of competitions to enter are the ones whose main aim is to promote photographers. There are many reputable competitions that do this and best of them are (arguably) the long established major competitions like the ones we have in the UK. Competitions such as SLPOTY(obviously), UKLPOTY, IGPOTY and WPOTY for example.

They all charge an entrance fee, award prizes, produce a book and run exhibitions which go on to promote photographers. Their fees are transparent and broadly similar for all these competitions – roughly £30 to £40 for an entry of up to 20 images. Their books are all priced reasonably too, at around the £25-35 mark, and the combination of entry fees and book sales goes towards funding their exhibitions.

To give you some perspective, SLPOTY puts on an annual exhibition of 150 high quality images which can cost in excess of £15-20k to host. When the exhibition moves to different venues over the year, we need to replace any damaged prints and the costs can quickly add up. Most of the major competitions (which are much larger than SLPOTY) do the same, so their costs are likely to be much higher.

Another benefit of entering one of the major competitions is the media coverage they attract. SLPOTY, like the others have a track record of being picked up and featured in all the major media outlets and this means more exposure for the winners. It means more people visit the exhibitions and more people buy the books – and this is all excellent promotion for the photographers.

What’s also worth noting is that the major competitions are sponsored by national trusts, museums and environmental organisations. SLPOTY has had a long running relationship with the John Muir Trust for example.

In running SLPOTY, I often imagine myself as an entrant and ask myself if I would enter any of these competitions above and the answer is easy. Yes, I would have no hesitation in entering any of them because it is clear where the money is going and the publicity they generate means there is potential for a a great deal of exposure and raising my profile,. I can also back this up, because I entered the UK LPOTY in 2012 & 2013

Where does your money go when you enter SLPOTY?

We generate around £2000-2500 from entry fees which covers the prize fund of around £2000. We produce a book which costs £6000 for 500 copies. There is not enough money from entry fees to pay for the book, so I personally pay for the books out of my own money.

If all the books sell out, I am reimbursed the cost of the books. If the books don’t sell out then we have to pay storage and the longer they are stored, the more money we lose.Currently we have a surplus of around 300 books which are effectively costing us money. Typically, we generate around around £4000 once all the books have sold and costs deducted. We give away free books for prizes and others for review. Where bookshops sell the book, they take a 30% commission from the retail price, so we are usually left with around £1500 in profit each year. We then have approximately £3500 in running costs to deduct from this which are our website server fees (£600), software licences (£450), printing inks(£1700), book wrap mailers(£300) and book storage costs(£400).

Where exhibitions are concerned, there is no money for this so we rely on the generosity of sponsors to subsidise this. I can’t divulge the exact sums but putting on an exhibition of over 150 prints is significantly in excess of £10k. Paper is provided by sponsors but I do the printing to save costs and this is done on a large format Canon Prograf inkjet printer.

So the bottom line is that SLPOTY makes a loss.

My reasons however for running the competition are to promote photographers because I am a passionate about promoting photography and others. I love Scotland with all my heart, and I love the people who come to visit our amazing places. I give my time, and my money to do this and I ask for nothing in return – only that you share your images with the competition so that I can raise your profiles share your images with the world. I never use the competition to promote myself or raise my profile.

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