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Why enter awards?

For a photographer who wants to be successful, exposure is everything. 

In a world where if you google photographers, you might get 1.6 million results, it’s amazing that certain photographers are well known and millions of others are not. Photography and most of the visual arts are exceptionally competitive, each year there are hundreds if not thousands of graduates, so what makes some successful, household names or at least employed and published?

The ones who get noticed. They get exposure, they are the ones who win awards, have great social media presence and the ones that the magazines feature.

It doesn’t happen overnight and it’s not just about great talent, it should be, but to be successful in any field requires dedication, talent, perseverance & luck, but not necessarily in that order.

In days gone by a talented artist could be spotted in early education and then progress through the system of art college and maybe get to the Royal College of Art and benefit from the established art society, there was arguably good grants & bursaries that could help the disadvantaged. It may have been fairer but Artists have always struggled, the ones who made it were usually so passionately driven that they would have always been successful. Those days are over and today there is a far more democratic system, the internet has provided a way to publish your work without the great cost of a physical exhibition and anyone can do it, but there is a problem – digital fog, there are so many artists published online, that its hard to stand out, however talented and ambitious you are.

This is why it is important to enter awards. The endorsement of reputable awards can make a career in the arts. The exposure you receive helps further your career but it is only a part of the mix.

© Gianluca Urdiroz-Agati. Best in Show, Student Awards 2019
© Paulina Soltysiak
Enter the right awards.

There seems to be thousands of awards for all artists, especially photography. It is a lucrative business that attracts thousands of hopefuls who often have to pay an entry fee, or surrender their copyright or just their email address. 

As a student of photography it is already expensive buying the right kit and paying fees for your course, and until you find your voice and feel comfortable with your work, then maybe you should just keep your work on your blog or carefully on social media, but when you are ready and you wish to develop further then entering awards is certainly a consideration.

The OCA is an accredited course that is acknowledged by the AOP as one of the UK’s leading photography courses, and as such, students of the OCA photography BA course may become student members of the AOP, I recommend that you take advantage of this, there are many benefits, including  access to the AOP Student Awards. 

It would make sense to be judged against those at a similar stage in their career and although there are entry fees, they are realistic and you are competing with students across the UK in 27 other universities, rather than some awards where you are competing internationally against many thousands. 

The main AOP Awards have been around since 1983  (only full members may enter) is considered one of the world’s most prestigious and respected awards and that over the years has seen such winners as, Nadav Kander, Julia Fullerton-Batten, Edgar Martins , Simon Norfolk & Anderson and Low.  The awards may not have made their careers but it is part of the mix of exposure in the media that makes such artists and brings them the commissions and credentials

© Dominika Kreft
© Elena Helfrecht

Many famous photographers have benefited early in their careers from successes in awards and the next generation of photographers may start their career doing the same.

Some notable awards such as the Taylor Wessing Portrait Awards, Sony World Photography awards, Lensculture Street Photography Awards and Portrait of Britain /BJP, are all worth considering as a way to gain recognition and the exposure but remember they are many ways to market and gain an audience, social media has also provides platforms that are free, Instagram is certainly a way for many. Magazines in print and online have launched or simply become the careers for many. 

Whatever your ambitions for photography, if you want your work to be seen, it needs an audience and therefore you have to publish in some form. Awards may be a part of that process.


Here are the details of the upcoming AOP students awards that you may wish to consider. Closing date is 28 April 2020.

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Posted by author: Lorentz Gullachsen
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