Entering Contests

Entering Contests

California State Fair award-winning photo “The Apprentice”

There are lots of ways to get better at what you do, I happen to believe that entering contests is one of the best ways to bump-up your game. Whatever your passion, hobby, creative endeavor or profession – there is some type of competitive activity that pits your work against another.

Besides the thrill of the victory, why would you want to enter? The experience, the process, the journey, call it what you will, it’s all about what you learn between starting at one end of the track and crossing the finish line.

Reading the entry information is your first challenge with any contest. Understanding the rules immediately sets you apart from those who don’t even take the time to review them.

The submission information or “Call for Entry” outlines the who, what, when, where, why and how of the contest. Before deciding to enter a photography contest, carefully weigh the obstacles to fulfill, not only the entry process but the acceptance process as well, against your chances of being selected.

Here are some considerations.

INSTRUCTIONS – many people pay the entry fee but are immediately weeded out of the competition because they didn’t follow the directions. If the rules call for a short bio – don’t send eight pages – you run the risk of being disqualified.

DATES – look closely to see if the images must be taken during in a certain time period? Also check the entry, delivery, and pick-up deadlines for accepted work. Can you meet them? Gallery shows usually have an artists’ reception, check our calendar to make sure you’re available on that date also. The reception is where you’ll have a chance to rub elbows with their clientele (art buyers) and pick up your award check. Overnight lodging, food, transportation – if you win the big prize, rest assured you’ll figure out a way to be present.

COST – entry fee, printing, framing, shipping to and from. If your image is selected, some galleries will print and frame your photo for a fee. This service often costs much less than your expense to print, frame, and ship. Shows that are ‘online only’ are likely to have a lower entry fee because their show expenses are less than gallery shows requiring a physical space (freshly painted walls and new signage), hanging crew, staff to keep the gallery open, marketing, advertising, a reception, and the prize money.

FILE REQUIREMENT – do you know how to format a photo file? If not, you can hire someone to do it for you – just add another $10-35 to your budgeted investment. Actually add amount that in twice because if your image is selected, the gallery will need a higher resolution image for marketing, to produce the ‘show book’ which includes all selected images (and will be for sale through the gallery), and to print your image (if you decide to go that route).

THEME – do you understand what it is asking for? Some themes are straight forward like ‘Red’ and ‘Tree.’ Others are esoteric, such as ‘Before the Fall” (what does that mean? Fall as in a season, fall down, fall of the Roman Empire). To further complicate the issue, the instructions often say the theme is up to the artist’s interpretations. This is when you go through a week or more of conversations in your head trying to decide which interpretation you’ll choose, and then which photo best represents that interpretation.

JUROR – expand your knowledge of photographers by checking out the work of the judges. Don’t assume that because your work doesn’t look like their work, that you won’t be selected. One of the reasons jurors are selected is because of their prominence in the industry, which indicates they are well versed in the topic of photography. Another factor in their decision making is the number and type of entries, and putting together a cohesive show. Being a juror is not an easy task. They are responsible for selecting works that embody the theme and resonate as a related group of work.

AWARDS – In the California State Fair, I won a cash award that was accompanied by a huge ribbon and my photo hung in the art exhibit for the duration of the fair – that’s a big audience. My purpose in mentioning this is as a reminder that venues other than galleries also have art shows including museums, universities, banks, libraries, hospitals, and other facilities with public areas.

I want to be in shows with photographers of like-mind so I am very selective when determining where to invest my entry dollars.  I only submit to photo competitions with cash awards and gallery installations because I feel they are more prestigious and attract a more discerning photographer. Yes, they may be more expensive, but they offer added-value.

Bottom line, after you find a show that suits your criteria, pick your photo/s that best fit the show’s profile and turn every submission into a learning experience. You have to enter to be selected for coveted space on the gallery wall. If you’re not selected, treasure the new information you learned and apply it to your next entry.

You too can end up with a check and ribbon larger than your winning photo.

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Naming Your Photos by Parkinson’s Law

Volunteers “Weeding the Palms” at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco

Some photographers spend endless hours agonizing over naming their photos. I think about titles, but I don’t obsess over them, I let them come to me. I randomly consider many options, but rarely make a final decision until I have to fill out a form requiring a title. And miraculously – that’s when it comes to me – just before the deadline.

If you’re not familiar, allow me to introduce you to Parkinson’s Law, which according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary reads like this “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

This is not to say that I don’t think about titles, I do. The titles don’t simply fall from the sky just before I’m ready to push the submit button, I actually have a “loop tape of the mind” working from the time I see the processed photo until it finds its name.

Remember the quote of Roman Philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, (c. 4 BC – AD 65), “Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.” My method (outlined below) is something like that. Try it. You could potentially save many lost hours.



Naming a photo is similar to creating a headline. You need to select a word or phrase that inspires your image or story; helps the viewer or reader understand your intention; and draws them into the message of the image or story. When you use a photo to illustrate a story, you double-down on delivering the message through both a photo title and story headline.


“After the 2015 Blanco River Flood”


“Hey There Lonely Girl”

“On Little Cat Feet”

“The Last Peach”

“The Butcher’s Lover”

“Naptime in Riomaggiore”

Here are the triggers I use to activate my mind into searching for just the right title.

  • Identify the person, place, thing or activity – “Weeding the Palms”
  • Memory, smell, texture, sound – “After the 2015 Blanco River Flood”
  • Song title, movie title, book title, signage – “Hey there Lonely Girl”
  • Phrase, quote, poem, esoteric comment – “Little cat feet”
  • Time, color, season, terrain, landmark, weather – harvest “The Last Peach” (look between the 5th &6th rungs down from the top of the ladder)
  • Emotion, response, action/reaction – “The Butcher’s Lover”
  • What the viewer doesn’t see when looking at the photo “Naptime in Riomaggiore”
  • Juxtaposition – writing on the building “Bienvenidos!”
  • If all else fails, I return to the all-telling question – “What made me take this photo? What was I thinking? What did I see?”


“The Sleeping Dog Dreams in Color”

The answer actually existed before I shot the image as shown in this photo of a dog under a tree in Kauai aka “The Sleeping Dog Dreams in Color” which looked to me like an old masters painting with bright colors.

“The Apprentice”

At a Dia de los Muertos festival, a newspaper photographer saw a family in their elaborate costumes and asked them to stop so he could take a photo. What caught my eye was the drape in the pants worn by the young boy and how he represented a junior version of his elders. I titled the photo, “The Apprentice.”

My advice to those of you who become anxious over naming photos is this:

  1. Select a photo
  2. Look at the photo and think about the triggers I’ve suggested
  3. Put it away and forget about it
  4. When it needs a name, look at it again
  5. If the name doesn’t instantly come to you and you’re running out of time (like down to five minutes), look at the triggers again and just pick one – you can always change it later
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About Critiques: Using Critique Techniques to Select Photos for Contest Entries (3 of 3)

Here at number 3 of 3.  After we’ve talked about listening and learning in #1, and editing, cropping and revisiting in #2, we come to #3 which all about critiquing your own work when it comes to selecting images to enter into contests.

Let’s imagine you’ve decided to enter a photography contest and you found one with the theme of ‘People.’ You have lots of photos of relatives, kids, holiday gatherings, and vacations. The entry instructions say that with one entry fee, you can submit up to five photographs.

Do you submit the four you think are really good or dig around to find another image that also meets the criteria? There are two schools of thought here. If the four share a common bond of style, that indicates to the judge that you are working with intention.

If the four you selected are diverse in style, adding another diverse photo gives you the extra opportunity to throw your hat into the ring. There are endless reasons why a judge selects one photo over another and you simply can’t successfully second guess their reasons. What you can do is scrutinize your photos as if you were a judge and look for reasons they might not be selected.

As in the rules of the critique group, we’re not talking about complicated camera settings, fancy lenses, and archival printing; we’re looking at the captured image and the intention of the photographer.

Why are we overlooking all of those important technical issues that professional photographers love to chatter about… because sometimes, not always, but sometimes, a photographer captures an image that is so memorable that minor technical flaws are excused for the overall power of the image.

Five easy-to-spot problems with a photo

1) Is there a dominant horizontal or vertical line in the image? Is it square with the frame of the photo?

2) Look all the way around the edge of the photo. See anything odd like a cut off hand or a light or dark area that wasn’t obvious before you cropped the photo? Is the oddity a problem or intentional?

3) Red eyes should go without saying, but how about reflections? Do they add or detract from the image?

4) Is part of the image in too much light or shadow? Can you crop it out without losing the impact of the image?

5) Is there something distracting in the image? Examples: A garbage container in the family reunion picnic photo, a bottle of beer at the children’s table, one leg hidden behind the other, palm trees growing out of heads or floating heads (people dressed in black standing against a black backdrop).

Once you remove yourself from being the photographer and start looking through the eyes of a judge, you’ll begin to recognize obvious flaws in your photos. The more you notice, the better you’ll get at weeding out the less desirable shots (including your favorite) and honing in on your best images.

Now, forge ahead with determination!

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About Critiques: Edit, Crop, Revisit (2 of 3)

Moving on – in the last post we talked about listening and learning. Distancing yourself from your work and actually listening to the critique commentary can truly be enlightening. It’s like getting an education without going to school and you can apply any or all of the information to make your own images better.

Recently I was preparing a handout for a class I’m teaching at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. No matter what the topic of my classes, workshop or presentations – they all have cross-over information that involves both words and pictures.


ORIGINAL IMAGE  (notice the man’s head)

This particular handout was about fine-tuning. For the purpose of illustration, I made-up a story about why the fire department was called to a Hawaiian music festival. I used a Bing free creative commons image (credit to the photographer whose name I could not find) to illustrate the story. If the story were true, the author/photographer might have intended to send it to the local newspaper or hula dance group for their newsletter or website.

Cropped image (head removed)

This critique lesson is two-fold:  1) Make it easy for the reader or viewer – ‘edit’ out all unnecessary words and ‘crop’ distracting information from the photo.

2) If you are including a color photo that will likely be reproduced in black and white (i.e. a press release for a print newspaper or newsletter), avoid referencing a color (by name) in the text.  Example: “An older gentleman in the back of the audience saw the bright orange hula skirts swishing in the air and thought the dancers costumes had caught on fire.”

If the story and image were destined to be reproduced in black and white, you could deliver a similar message by rewording the text to read, “An older gentleman in the back of the audience saw the hula skirts swishing in the air which reminded him of flames, and he thought the dancers costumes had caught on fire.”

The story is more colorful using the words ‘bright orange’ (and it might make people laugh), but eliminating those words still delivers the message.

A good story is better with a visual, but both should be able to stand alone. Edit, crop, let it rest, then revisit with fresh eyes.

Next month is Part 3 “Using Critique Techniques to Select Photos for Contest Entries” of the three part series “About Critiques.”

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About Critiques: Listen and Learn (1 of 3)

I love photo critiques offered by galleries, museums and organized groups. I learn equally as much from the discussion of images created by other photographers as from the group comments about my photos.

Viewpoint Photographic Art Center in Sacramento offers two free member critique nights every month and they each attract a slightly different group of photographers. One is called ‘Portfolio Night.’ As the title implies, the mission of the evening is to review a group of images (no more than six) on a topic of the photographer’s choice.

The other critique night is called ‘Print Night.’ Here you can show six related or unrelated images. This evening seems to attract a broader range of photographers in experience, age, and interest.

There are three primary rules on Print Night: the moderator curtails technical discussion, there is no absolute right or wrong, and be nice. The session lasts about two hours and it’s your choice whether you participate by talking or listening.

Three at a time, the photographers clip their photos to the top edge of sheets of foamcore which lean upright from the back edge of folding tables to rest against a wall. The audience files by the images, inspects them, and sits down. Regardless of the perceived quality of the image, camera techniques, or printing – we are looking at the captured image and the intention of the photographer.

There are usually about 15 presenters and each is given the floor for five minutes during which time he/she explains the images and/or poses an open-ended question to the audience and receives responses. Example questions: “What do you think about the angle I shot from?” “Which are more engaging, the close-up portraits or the environmental portraits?” and “I don’t normally shoot landscapes –  which one do you like and why?”

The topics of leading lines, camera angles, composition, balance, vanishing points and lighting seem to take on a new flavor every month. The responses typically offer a rationale for the reply and/or suggestions for improvement that are beneficial to everyone present.

Critique discussions allow me to broaden both my vocabulary and my understanding of the photographic thought process. The bonus is that it makes me a better critic of my own work.

If you haven’t participated in a critique group, I strongly suggest you give it try. By applying some of the knowledge you absorb from being in this type of collective discussion – you’ll photographic talents will flourish while you make new friends of people with a like interest.

Next month, check out Part 2 “Edit, Crop, Revisit” of the three part series ‘About Critiques.’

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Content in Context

“The Morning After”

In an article for event producers about planning a conference and selecting the right speakers to match their audience, the focus was ‘content’ vs ‘context.’  Content is what is said or presented (the information), and context  is the surroundings or circumstances in which the content is delivered.


A good example of content and context is water in a vessel. Water in a glass is the content and the glass holding the water is the context. A cup of water in a drinking glass may fill it to the brim, but the same amount of water in a bathtub won’t even cover the surface of the tub. You must consider the content in the context of the situation.

Street shooters apply this to the imagery they capture both consciously and subconsciously. They may frame a photo that includes many visual elements and crop out what they deem unnecessary in post-processing. They may also crop in the camera (on-the-spot while shooting) by focusing on a specific portion of what caught their attention.


The benefit to taking an image with many visual elements is that in looking at the images later, you may discover an element that is more interesting than what caused you to take the photo in the first place.  In the photo “The Morning After,” I was intrigued by the casual stance of the mannequins in the window, who seemed to be observing the world around them. Coincidently, a pile of empty merchandise boxes lay just outside their reach which struck me as a great example of a visual oxymoron – a combination of contradictory images of the nicely dressed mannequins against the discarded empty boxes.

Another reason I considered this a good example is that the imagery creates at least three unique, stand-alone photographs: 1) the mannequins looking to the world beyond their display window; 2) the neatly stacked pile of empty boxes; 3) three haphazardly tossed boxes.

Someone else’s art

Cropping down to just the mannequins framed in the window is changing the context of the image. In the original image, the street is the context and the boxes, sidewalk, building, window, mannequins are the content. As a street photographer, I made the decision to merge unrelated imagery into a single frame to create a new reality.


In isolating the window, the display becomes the content of the window (context). As a stand-alone unit, the display window is someone else’s art and by shooting it, I become a documentary photographer or a photojournalist.

Street photography

As a photojournalist, I’m shooting the moment in time and the story it tells. As a documentary photographer, I may be looking for a deeper or broader story about the current fashion trends and shooting display windows around the world to grasp the impact of their design presentation in influencing their audience.

The original photo “The Morning After” could be classified as street photography (quick unstaged glimpse); photojournalism (today in the city); or documentary (garbage crisis downtown).

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The Viewfinder of Your Eyes

Rhino in SF zoo

Just as golfers remember every club and stroke used on every hole of their games, photographers recall images and use their own brand of cataloging to keep track of those special shots. Management software like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Photos enable photo files to be quickly tagged, bundled and sorted into categories (aka themes) from which they are easily found.

As much as I appreciate the speed with which technology enables tasks to be accomplished, I have an old school attitude about sorting and processing photos; I’m not in a hurry. I enjoy taking time to consider why I shot the images, then selecting a very few to process, title and catalog.

This slow-and-steady method probably came from my father. He nourished me with the gift of seeing. Pop was an observer of life and trained me to be one as well – to look through the viewfinder of my eyes and focus on what attracted me. He explained how light makes objects change their appearance throughout the day and how looking at objects from different locations alters their shape. Most importantly, he taught me that everyone sees differently and that ability sets us apart and makes each of us a special.

My individuality shows in the naming of my categories and images. There are 20 or so folders with common names of Flowers, Chairs, and Animals. They contain my eyes’ viewfinder images including: “The Sleeping Dog Dreams in Color,” “Cats on a Hot Tin Roof,” and “The Pet Guardian.” On the more esoteric side are my folders called “With Orange,” “The Many Colors of Golf Course Grass,” and “Holiday Photos Taken by Strangers” which contains images of families on vacation (intended for holiday cards) that are taken by strangers (actually me) and are unusable for their lack of heads and often torsos.

Like the images you capture, naming your categories and photos reflects the wonders as seen through the special viewfinder of your eyes.

“Rhino Butt as Still Life” from the category Animals by Ingrid Lundquist

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Being There and Being Present

Lady Liberty balloon in staging area of Rancho Cucamonga Founder’s Day Parade

When I look back at images, I often think, “You had to be there.” It’s true.

Unlike studio photography in which you plan and stage a scene indoors, street photography is typically outside and the opportunities are unexpected… unless you’re going to a special event, like a 5k run where you expect to see people running and walking. The joy of street photography is that it lures you out into a world and forces you to pay attention. You can’t take the image unless you’re there with camera in hand.

You had to be there just before the parade started to see Lady Liberty’s torch deflated on float balloon.

You had to be there to catch the Taiko Drummers on the steps of the Duomo in Florence.

Lady crossing street wearing an American flag – New Orleans

You had to be there to snap the girl in the crosswalk in New Orleans wearing a dress resembling the American flag.

Interesting sights take place all around us every day… but you have to be present in the moment and paying attention to recognize the oddity of what may pass in a split second

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New Year in the Hood

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

“In every hood there is a kaleidoscope of sights that need to be saved and savored. Come along on this visual journey of street photography and then you decide, is it mundane or is it magic. You’ll never see your hood in the same way again.”

Ingrid Lundquist from 2016 photo storybook  In the Hood: Focus on the Details.

In 2015 when I moved to what I lovingly refer to as the “loose fringe” of Sacramento, I didn’t leave the house without a camera in hand. I still am not comfortable with the weight and size of cell phones, so prefer an image-capturer with a bit more heft. I noticed recently that I hadn’t been hauling a camera for several months and gasped at the thought that I may have become immune to my colorful neighborhood.

I was also aware that I had begun to drive pathways as if wearing blinders. The roads heading north/south/east/west, which in 2015 were unfamiliar, had now become my normal routes. I knew where my favorite holiday lights were installed and which houses donned décor for every holiday. I had become jaded.

So today, the first day of the New Year, I set out with an almost empty tank of gas to get a fill and make some pictures. My mission was to get to the gas station via unfamiliar roads and let the winding narrow streets of the loose fringe reveal their post-holiday secrets.

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Album Covers Born in Brooklyn

BROOKLYN, NY…  Viewable on weekends through Saturday, October 28th, the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC) celebrates music-driven art with “In the Groove: International Exhibition of Original Album Cover Artwork.” The juried show features 41 groovy artists hailing from 13 states and 4 countries and spanning the age range from hip-and-cool-20-somethings to silver-haired-and-limited-hair seniors.

Staged in the trendy art-fueled Red Hook District, the show celebrates the fourth year of sharing the magic that happens when multi-dimensional music meets its two-dimensional graphic counterpart via watercolor, paint, pen, charcoal, pencil, pastel, block print, and photography. Unlike the horizontal shape which teases your eye to wander from side-to-side, or the vertical shape which insists you must search for a head and a toe, there is no escape from the square shape as it holds you captive, forcing your eyes to bounce from one edge to another in search of meaning. From bold and in-your-face to softly tapping on your shoulder, the imagery of the 12” square artworks hung on the white walls in a brick warehouse call up a symphony of visual sound humming “In the Groove.”

Many of the artists are musicians themselves as is the juror, Sal Cataldi. Cataldi is a NYC-based musician (leader of the critically acclaimed band Spaghetti Eastern Music) and publicist/Founder & Creative Director of Cataldi Public Relations, which is known for its imaginative and sometimes downright offbeat conceptual approaches to garnering attention for its clients.

Curated by Wendi Gueorguiev, a NYC-based artist, designer, BWAC Performance Series Coordinator, the show is thoughtfully hung like a patchwork of sounds forming giant album covers. Some artists colorfully wrap the tunes of established or up-and-coming musicians, some reflect the artists’ favorite musical talent, and others play make-believe with scores from the cover artist’s imagination. The images reflect a variety of interpretations of the music from rock-n-roll and folk to classical and new age. Representing tunes like Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Bruce Springsteen’s American Land, and Los Mambises’ Viva La Revolucion, the display of album covers vibrates like the percussion section of a symphony orchestra on steroids.

It is both fitting and pays homage that this multi-12”x12” show be found in Brooklyn, the birthplace of Alex Steinweiss (1917-2011). History books tell that Steinweiss was the first art director for Columbia Records and the father of the protective cover for the 12-inch vinyl 33 1/3rpm long-playing (LP) records we have come to recognize to as album covers. Between 1938 and 1973, Steinweiss applied his knowledge of poster art to create between 850 – 2,500 album covers (numbers vary depending on which articles you read).

Album cover art first caught my attention four years ago in an art history class at a local junior college. I was so fascinated with studying album covers that I started creating some of my own. Three of my album covers were selected for the show. I’m proud to be among a group of artists which include professional graphic designers, art instructors, a biomedical engineer, poets, a retiree from the Aerospace industry, and many artists who are themselves musicians, singers and songwriters. They hail from Alaska, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, California, Virginia, Rhode Island, Washington, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Australia, Canada, Spain and Taiwan.

Stop by. Take a look. Feel the magic. Sway to the beat.    bwac.org

Open weekends 1-6pm. 481 Van Brunt Street, Door 7, Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY 11231

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