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|| News Item: Posted 2011-02-20

Assembling a Contest Porfolio
I never think, "Wow, this would be a great contest picture!"

By Robert Beck

Contest portfolios... Hmmmmmmmmmmm…

Photo by Robert Beck

Photo by Robert Beck
The contest entering business is very time consuming. You've got to take all of those fabulous pictures (or "make all of those images" as some peeps say), find them at the end of the year and organize them in a way that will impress those that need to be impressed.

Taking them is the semi easy part. I'm assuming you enjoy shooting or you wouldn't be thinking about doing this in the first place. I never shoot to get an image for my portfolio (I don't have a portfolio anyway). I never think, "Wow, this would be a great contest picture!" I guess you could shoot that way but at my company I'm not sure that would work. I try to make good images, ones that work for our publication but good editorial pictures do not always make good contest images. I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Okay, you've shot a bucketful of great pictures throughout the year. Where the heck are they? Do you remember them all? I don't. If you are contest oriented it is advisable to start a folder at the start of the year where you can keep your favs. Come contest time you can go to that folder and start to whittle them down to your best 20-30. Don't have that folder? How 'bout checking your updates or your website updates throughout the year. Hopefully you've posted some of your best work there. If you have not done any of this you are in for a big scramble... And I hope you are a good detective or at least better organized than I am.

Many contests have a jumble of categories and you need to edit accordingly. For our selfish purposes I will target the prestigious Sports Shooter Portfolio Competition. This baby is pretty straightforward. Two categories: Pro and student. No mumbo jumbo. Do some homework here and browse past Sports Shooter winners, even the monthly clip contests. This gives you an idea of what the judges are looking for. Keep in mind that photography is an art. What you like may not be what I like which might not be what they like. And "they" are who you are trying to impress.

By the way, contest entering may not be for everybody. It can be frustrating and tedious. Most often you will not win. If you can be a gracious loser then entering can be a good thing. After going through the process you will see how you have done through the year. You will judge yourself and figure out what you need to do to become a better shooter.

Back to impressing them...Gather your favorite images and begin to edit. You need at least TEN good ones, no more than twenty. Weed out the crappy ones. Remember the basics: proper exposure, excellent composition and sharpness. If it is not a five star in those categories you can probably lose it. If an image passes those three tests ask yourself a few other questions. Is it interesting? Does it tell a story? Does it draw an observer in? Does it make you think or drop your jaw? I ask family members and peers for their opinions. As I narrow the selection down

I also keep grouping different sets of images together. You need a good mix here. Hard action from different sports. Sprinkle in a few feature shots or portraits. Put a selection together and recheck it the next day. Does it still look good or can you tweak it a bit so it will be more impressive? This whole process will take at least a week. There will be a lot of back and forth. You will probably end up with a mix of ones your editor liked, your Mom's favorite and a few of your personal favorites.

Don't have enough good images? Not feeling it? Wait 'till next year and enjoy the entries of others. You don't have to enter every year.

But if you've got at least ten good ones get on it. We all like to see great pictures.

Robert Beck is staff photographer with Sports Illustrated and a frequent contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter. He will be a member of the faculty at the upcoming Lighting Luau. You can see samples of his work at his personal website:

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