The Digital Photo Contest Challenge

Last week, we at Arizona Wildlife Views launched our annual wildlife photo contest. Once again, we’re partnering with Arizona Highways magazine, which sponsors the contest on its digital platform. Their support helps keep the contest free to enter and ensures wide publicity. Last year, more than 2,000 entries were received. This year, we hope for fewer. That may sound odd, but there’s a reason: Not every photo merits a spot in our wildlife calendar.

We’re looking for great images. Each winner is printed full-size on a page all its own. We use high-quality paper, and all photos are printed at 300 dots to the inch. You can’t see the dots, but you can see the detail: the edge of a feather, the bright spot in an eye, the details of fur … it all shows, or is supposed to. Dots on the page equate to pixels in a digital camera. And here’s where we got into trouble in the last contest.

Some people, not knowing better, entered photos that couldn’t be printed at that resolution. They were “good” photos: well composed, engagingly colorful, containing a compelling subject caught at an interesting moment. But when we opened the files on a computer and looked at the pixel count, we realized they were too small to print full-page at 300 dpi, which is how we do it.

We tried. We contacted photographers and asked for original files, to see if maybe the contest software had cut down the file size. Many finalists were happy to work with us on this. They dealt with a complicated FTP site to deliver big files. A few asked me what an “original file” was. I tried to help. It took a lot of my time. In the end, we were happy with our winners but not happy with the complicated process of getting them.

People who enter again this year may notice some changes to the contest rules because of these challenges. We emphasize that the photos entered must be of a quality suitable for publication. We provide detailed directions for keeping an original file on hand while entering an exact copy into the contest. Behind the scenes, we have a new process for checking the size of each entry before judging. We don’t want to waste time judging photos that can’t be printed.

These “new” rules may scare off some people, and reduce the number of photos entered. As long as what we judge can be printed, and we find 13 worthy of showcasing in our wildlife calendar, I’m fine with that.




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