A few days ago, Kristi Odom shared her wisdom about entering photo contests for self-growth. The benefits to your photo business are clear, but there’s still another benefit. It’s a hand-me-down tip from renowned wedding photographer David Beckstead, but its second-hand nature doesn’t diminish its value one iota!

Here it is: many contests – and you should ask about this for any contest you enter – allow entrants to sit in on the judging process. So, if you entered WPPI’s print competiton this year, you should sit in on the judging process. It can be brutal, but it’s the kind of critique that can change your business forever

 “I use it as a teaching lesson,” Kristi Odom says, “seeing hundreds of images submitted by people who think those frames are among their best work – and then hearing them discussed. For one thing, the quality of discussion is typically higher than in blog comments.”

For another, it reinforces some of the lessons Kristi learned just starting out. “From going to all the critiques I can see people that believe in the classic rules,” she says. “Sometimes the judges will debate with each other and argue with each other,” going back and forth about merits and debits of a particular image in a way that can get her thinking in new directions too.

WPPI is one of those that allows the public to sit in. (It’s March 9 and 10 this year, just before the annual expo, which starts March 11.) And for first-time entrants, the judges return comments on every image. After watching the WPPI 16×20 Comp Judging in 2011, Kristi entered an image in the 2012 WPPI first half competition. It took first place in the bridal-party category.

“I didn’t expect to do as well as I did,” she says modestly – though she ought to be sure her experience in the judging room helped boost her work in the intervening year, and her chances in the contest.

One thing she found was that judges were looking for “impact.” She recalls, “I kept hearing that word over and over again.”

It pushed her to work to find impact in her images – and, at the outset, it also bummed her out. “For the first time in years I started seeing everything that was wrong with my images,” she says.

But then she decided not to bend to the challenge of becoming a better photographer – rather, she would embrace it. She noticed results right away, both in how she felt about her images and how judges recognized them.

She’s not sure if her contest wins have meant new business yet; she did observe a jump in her Facebook follower numbers after her Junebug win. But winning a Nature’s Best contest has given one of her photos the chance to be displayed in the Smithsonian Institution. And a Kodak contest got an image of hers shown on a Times Square electronic billboard. (Still modest, Kristi just says, “It was really nice to go to Times Square.”)

But she really isn’t in it for the winning, so much as the improvement. “In our industry we have to find critique where we can get it,” Kristi says. For 2013, she’s looking into more contests beyond the ones she’s been in before. “I’ve just started making a master calendar” of deadlines, judging, and other details. She’s entering – why aren’t you?

 

About Kristi Odom

Kristi Odom has a background in travel and nature photography that she brings into destination wedding photography. She has photographed weddings around the world including Ethiopia, Australia, Ireland, Thailand, amongst other locations. Her adventurous side tends to come out in her shoots; may it be shooting a wedding in a blizzard, on top of a castle in Ireland, or along the edge of cliffs.

Kristi’s work has been seen in Times Square, RollingStone’s website, National Geographic’s website, Eco-Beautiful Weddings, United With Love, Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine, Kodak’s website, amongst others.

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