How the SLPOTY competition was put to work to promote photography

How SLPOTY was put to work

It’s been 6 months since the winners of the inaugural Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year competition were announced and I’m delighted to say that the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Photography competitions are great vehicles for raising awareness and raising profiles and I’d like to show you how all the money was used to promote the competition, raise those photographers profiles and promote Scotland.

From running my own groups and teaching photography, I learned how difficult it is for talented photographers to get noticed. When I launched the SLPOTY competition last year, I set out with the aim of raising the profiles of these talented photographers, whilst promoting Scotland to the world as a top destination for landscape photography. My aim was also to run a “true” photographer of the year competition (rather than a photograph of the year competition) where the overall winner would be chosen based on a portfolio of images. But, I also wanted to include categories for the single best in class image and this was the case for the landscape, seascape and urban categories. This allowed photographers from all genres of landscape photography to enter and provided the vehicle for raising awareness of less common views of Scotland to the world.

SLPOTY Graph July 2015

The competition was around 2 years in the planning but proved extremely difficult to get off the ground.  With nothing more than an idea on paper, obtaining sponsorship from companies was proving impossible, so I decided the only way forward was to fund what I could out of my own pocket. This was a scary decision for me, but turned out to be a positive move. It showed I was serious and as a result, I was able to secure the sponsorship of Academy Class and Formatt HiTech, who genorously put up the fantastic prizes for each of the categories. I also managed to secure valuable support from VisitScotland who helped me launch the competion. My immense thanks goes to all the sponsors for their support, and for believing in me.

At this point I should mention that the set up costs for the competition were considerable with the majority taken up with the website and competition software (see image chart above).  Competition judging software is very expensive, requires intergration and is subject to commission and transaction fees. (My time and expenses such as fuel costs, materials etc are not shown in the chart because I haven’t been paid back for those.)

With sponsorship secured I was able to proceed with the planned launch for the autumn of 2014. However, launching the competition during this particular time was not the best. The Scottish referendum was taking place and and it was virtually impossible to get any mainstream media exposure at all. As a result, the competition launch was postponed till 25th September and I was able to get coverage in Amateur Photographer and some of the Scottish local newspapers.

Because the media exposure was not what I had hoped for and the referendum analysis was still ongoing, it meant I had to invest time and money on social media in order to get the word out. As limited as the budget was, it proved effective and when the competition closed on 25th November, I was genuinely delighted by the number of entrants that took part.

The next phase was the judging, and at this point, I’d like to once again thank all the judges; Joel Tjintjelaar, Mark Young and Sathpal Singh. Please note that each of them gave their time for free. After the lengthy period of judging, the winners were announced on 16th January 2015 with Craig Aitchison taking the overall prize.

Once judging was complete and before the announcement, the winners had to be informed and confirmed they accepted before the book could be designed. The fees from entries were used to purchase the competition book. Producing a book itself is very expensive unless it is outsourced to overseas and a very large quanity is ordered. This was not possible and the aim was to keep the book printing within the UK to support UK businesses. The book also had to be produced to be under 1kg to allow for Royal mail postage fees. A short order run was placed for the competition books and produced in hardback format. Book design was carried out free of charge keeping costs down.

Book sales have been good (almost sold out).  50% of the photographers showcased bought the book and the rest being bought by members of the public. Thanks go to all those who supported the competition by purchasing the book. Proceeds from the book will be put towards prize money and new awards for SLPOTY 2015 which reopens on 25th September. An eBook has been produced which not only showcases the winners and the commended images but also includes an extra 200 images from those photographers who were shortlisted. It was not possible to include the shortlist in the printed book but I wanted the shortlisted photographers to gain exposure from the eBook.

Since the announcement of the winners, it was left to organise exhibitions. A total of 6 exhibitions have been secured and two are currently running at the RSGS in Perth and Castle Stalker View in Appin.The purpose of the exhibitions is to raise the profiles of the photographers further, as well as that of the competition. The benefits of the exhibition are many and for a small entry fee to the competition, photographers are benefitting from their work being shown to a very wide audience across Scotland. (Currently, the feedback from tourists is genuinely fantastic.) It also shows future entrants that the competition is being put to work for the photographers and this is something for future entrants to aspire to.

One of the best things about the exhibition is how it raises the awareness of unknown locations to tourists. I have personally spent time speaking with many tourists at the current exhibitions and they have been keen to visit these locations for themselves. Indeed, one tourist came over from Holland especially to buy 3 copies of the book and others have contacted me with selfies taken at the locations in the book.

At the time of writing, the exhibitions have been running for a few weeks but the feedback from the general public is  overwhelmingly positive. There have been  great deal of enquiries to purchase the work of photographers on display and these have been passed to the photographers. As the tourist season comes in to peak season during July to October, it is hoped that there will be many more enquiries and this will boost the profiles of the photographers. Credit for the feedback must (obviously) go to the photographers but credit is also due for the quality of the printing. I took the decision to have all the images printed on the highest quality fine art papers and this proved to be a good decision. Because the printing was so expensive from the online retailers, I took the decision to do the printing myself. The printing took around 3 weeks to complete and mount to exhibition standard which was a task in itself. The feedback from the general public has been particularly positive in this regard and the quality of the print and the paper has resulted in many enquiries.

The costs of producing prints for any exhibition (let alone 6) are extremely expensive and I cannot stress this enough. All 140 images had to be printed and mounted at minimum A3 to A1 size, plus panoramic images. The average cost of an A2 print on fine art paper is around £70 from the online retailers so it gives an idea of the costs involved. In addition to this, some prints may be damaged at exhibitions and will have to be replaced, again adding to the costs.

Photographers were offered the opportunity to sell their prints at the exhibitions via subsidised printing costs offered by the competition. A small number of photographers took the opportunity to sell their images. Profits from sales go direct to the photographers.  To make up the shortfall, I offered some of my prints for sale at the exhibitions with profits from their sale going back to the competition prize fund.

Whilst I initially had to fund the cost of the exhibitions, the excellent news is that Fotospeed have genorously sponsored the fine art papers for the remainder of the exhibitions. This is truly fantastic news and had it not been for their support, it would not have been possible to hold the 6 exhibitions that are planned. I would like to express my sincere thanks to Fotospeed for their support. The remaning exhibitions will now be printed on Fotospeed’s Platinum Etching Signature paper, which is the gold standard for exhibition prints.

As I’ve already mentioned above, the time and money involved in putting together the competition has been considerable and without the support of sponsors, it would not have been possible. Please, if you can, take a moment to visit their respective websites or social media pages and give a like. I’ve attached a simplified graph (above) of the costs involved and these have been independently verified. As you will see, the competition spent a great deal more than it received but this included investment for the future. Investment is neccessary in any startup and I fully intend to grow it into something bigger and better in 2015. There are new sponsors and exciting new awards to be announced for the competition in 2015 so watch out for any announcements over the coming months.

Finally, whilst the competition has been immensely challenging for me to put together, it has been a privilige and I’d like to thank everyone who took part. I look forward to seeing more stunning images for 2015 and I wish everyone the very best of luck.



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