Many pro PJs only enter the big annual contests. They face crushing competition and almost certain defeat. Consequently, they may be in the biz more than 10 years and only have some state, circulation-specific competition awards to show for their effort.
In the 2007 World Press Photo (WPP) competition, a total of 78,083 images were entered by 4,460 pro photographers from 124 countries. There were 63 winning entries. Need I say more?
Regional NPPA contests are also very difficult to win, but the odds of winning are much better for solid, disciplined shooters. First, the numbers are better. Each region is required to present all awards if there are enough entries. This means each NPPA region should present 192 individual awards each year (15 each month plus three illustrations per quarter).
Additionally, regional contests only include a few states and a few countries. Again, this is a more level playing field than competing internationally against thousands of other pros.
I live in Region 8. Competition is difficult here. Our region includes all of Mexico, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas. Think about how many major cities, how much geographic turf, how many residents and how many pro shooters (mags and papers) are in this region and y'all can understand why it's a bit difficult to win here. It's still much better odds than WPP.
It looks like Region 2 is potentially the most difficult. It includes New York and most other countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Region 7 looks sweet because it only has Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Another limitation is competitors must be NPPA members. Once upon a time, newspapers paid for staff memberships. Now, it's rare. So, again, there are less people competing. The best shooter in a region may not be an NPPA member for whatever reason. Good. More awards for you.
Even if the greatest shooter in the history of photography is working on the most compelling photo story ever told, s/he may be too busy to enter the monthly clip contest. Or, s/he may not have squat in the Sports, Illustration or General News categories.
Even if s/he does have every category covered each month, what happens when s/he is overseas collecting images for the next great story? S/he must still return to the paper, clip entries, and submit them to the clip chair by the 7th of the month. Sometimes, this isn't possible or s/he's too tired to do it. After all "it's just a monthly clip contest."
Additionally, some of the real greats have so many awards that they don't compete anymore. Unless they're testing an image for international competition (for prize money), they don't submit.
Finally, there's an entry limitation. Shooters can enter a maximum of nine entries per month. Even if a shooter is the living personification of a perfect PJ, this means there's still six or nine awards available each month for the rest of us humans.
Consequently, as mentioned above, the odds of winning are much better in regional NPPA clip contests than almost any other significant pro competition.
In a worst-case scenario, it also means an out-of-focus, improperly exposed, poorly reproduced image of a tree root could win 3rd place in Spot News if nobody else enters. But we won't let this happen will we?
Next time, we'll discuss the ins-and-outs of how to enter NPPA clip contests to keep the bar high while possibly clearing it a few times.
UPDATE: Beginning with the January 2008 clips, all clip entries and judging is online. So, read the referenced post above as "how difficult it was before."
Enough for now,