UPDATE: Beginning with the January 2008 clips, all clip entries and judging is online. So, read this post as "how difficult it was before."
Last time, we understood the odds of winning an NPPA monthly clip contests (quarterly for students) are much better than most other head-to-head pro PJ competitions.
NPPA may move to digital submissions by the end of next month, so this entry might be a reminder of how backwards things were "back in the day" (ie. "now"). Until the new system is implemented, let's better understand how to enter clip competitions and possibly win.
While it's nice to win clip contests, NPPA awards two regional points each month a member submits anything. Although a member must be somewhat lucky and a bad ass to win several clip contests and stay in the running, it's often the 2-point monthly submission awards that separate highly-competitive regions.
Consequently, it's advantageous for all regional members to keep clip contests competitive. The regional POY is the most consistent bad-ass shooter. S/he was in the right place at the right time and made the best images the most times, but also submitted images each month.
Competitors must be NPPA members. If they aren't, they're potentially killing awards. When winning clips are returned to the regional clip chair, s/he checks the NPPA membership of all award winners. If a winner isn't a member, the non-member won't be awarded. However, a NPPA member, who should have won, won't be awarded either because the judges don't pick 4th place. The award is wasted.
Read the rules
Read the NPPA clip contest rules. It should answer most questions. The rules also include a list of regions (including other nationalities) as well as a list of regional clip contest chairs.
The rules are specific and clear. So, I'll go over some clarity issues.
Must be "published"
The idea of "publication" has changed much since I started. Traditionally, this meant a clipping from a newspaper, magazine or similar printed publication or a wire transmission. Now, it means clips, transmissions and the Internet. The clip chair has discretion about what's acceptable.
Generally speaking, these are acceptable: newspaper and magazine clips, wire transmissions, editorial (multi-contributor) Web sites and personal blogs.
What about ads? Yup, they're OK too. I've seen a PJ win with an image that didn't run as an editorial image, instead it was used in an ad promoting the newspaper. Since it was finally "published," he attached a cutline, submitted and won. It was shot as an editorial image. How it eventually got published wasn't his fault.
Books? If PJs have tear sheets from published books (or cuts pages from books - sacrilege), they can submit those images for the month the book was published.
With the current changes pending, the "publication" rule may get tossed altogether.
Consequently, I think photo stories of editorial significance published on personal Web sites might also be acceptable since the BOP annual contest includes this as a category now.
Until there's firm clarification, it needs to be separated from the portfolio area of a PJ's site. Typically, these are listed as "projects." To establish publication date on non-date-stamped pages, print the "proof" pages (see Alt submissions below) on the date the story is added.
The rules specifically state "Simple database postings are not eligible." This means extra images published for sale (like these) aren't sufficient. However, images in a "Photos of the Day/Week/Month" editorial slideshow are.
The entire front page is not a CLIP. In the old days, this was an image eliminator. Now, it still reduces an image's chance of winning. If two images are equally good, the PJ who followed the rules should win.
The judges only want to see images and cutlines. Headlines and other clarifying text can be included for context, but only if it relates directly to the submitted image.
A scissors is all that's needed. However, most papers still have a paste-up table in the composing department with tools to make the submission unnecessarily neat.
Again, failure to do this formerly killed submissions. No names or publication credits should appear on the front of the submission. The contest is about the images and the cutlines. Judges don't want to be influenced by who made the images or which publications printed them.
Simply take a dark black marker and mark through the credit line. The affiliation should've been cut away during clip preparation. Magazine covers are trickier because of the text, but it isn't a common problem, and judges generally understand.
Each submitted image must have a caption. It can be the original cutline or one can be added. If there's some cutline problem (typo or otherwise), type a correct cutline, print it, and tape it to the image where the previous cutline was. If the image ran without a cutline, add one before submitting. This is still an entry killer.
Tape stories together
This isn't a specific "rule" as much as it's understood by experienced PJs. When submitting a multiple-photo entry, tape the pieces together to make the judges' lives easier. It shows a PJ's professionalism and is often rewarded.
Ideally, a submission moves from the PJ's submission envelop to the clip chair, to the judges, back to the regional chair, to the national chair, to the national judges and back to the national chair. This creates many opportunities for loose images to get lost or separated (and possibly judged as singles - then eliminated for missing contact info) if they aren't taped together.
For multi-page entries, tape them together side-by-side. For multi-photo entries scattered around by layout, cut out the images and cutlines and tape them together in a semi-logical order.
When submitting multi-photo stories with plain-paper prints, tape as many as four images side by side (from left to right). For stories with more than four images, divide them equally into rows to make one solid block of images with cutlines (9 = 3 rows, 3 columns). They're read from left to right by row from top to bottom.
Once the entry is taped together, fold it in the most logical manner to fit inside a standard 8.5 x 11 envelope. The entry will be shoved into one eventually. It's better for the PJ to determine the fold locations rather than a clip chair or judge.
The contest requires specific contact and identification information to be placed on the back of each submission. Either make prints of the official entry form or include a smaller label with the same information.
Having judged clip contests, I can't overemphasize the importance of this freaking form. After the contest, a judge physically types and submits a spreadsheet of winners to the regional chair. This is used to accumulate regional points.
It's not the judge's job to search the Web to find out what paper employs "Bob" in "Anytown." Even if the judge does, is Bob certain he's the only "Bob" in every "Anytown" on the planet? The wrong person could be named as the winner (and get the points). This isn't the judge's fault - it's the PJ's.
Additionally, complete information keeps the image(s) competing. A clip chair can eliminate any entry s/he deems "invalid" - even after it has an award. Additionally, other problems may cause the clip chair to need a second submission.
Recently, there was a problem with Region 8's winning clips. The national chair had to request resubmission by regional winners because something happened to the submissions. The chair could only contact winners from the info on the spreadsheet. If info was missing, those winners wouldn't have resubmitted by deadline and couldn't compete at national. Luckily, everything got resolved, but it could've been a problem.
If using the official form, make a print, neatly fill out the standard contact information and make copies of this form. Then, only the image-specific sections need to be filled out before affixing and entering each month.
I prefer to use a Word template. The label is smaller (for one column images), and I keep a record of each month's submissions for end-of-year contests. With the template, I keep the same standard information and only need to update the category and publication date. I also add a title to make it easier for myself during submission and for judges after-the-fact. The title also lets me know which images I submitted at the end of the year.
For Web entries, here's the unambiguous submission guideline again:
"For electronically published photos, entries must be in the form of a hard copy print (traditional or electronically-generated) no larger than 8X10, with a screen shot of the picture's online publication on the back showing its commercial enterprise context."
Only plain paper prints (B&W or color) are needed. The judges are supposed to ignore reproduction quality and judge the image by itself. While an image may look better on high-gloss paper, there's no wiggle room. Judges can easily spot errors on an F-surface print and may give the benefit of the doubt to the printed-on-pulp images.
The deadline is the 7th of the month following publication. While this is fairly absolute for U.S. entries, it has much flexibility for international entries. The rule states, "Because of the inconsistencies of international mail, international members' entries will be included in the next available contest following their reception."
I'm guessing this is interpreted to mean as long as it's received during the following month, it still gets to play.
Good luck to all. :-)
Enough for now,