Why Enter WPPI’s Photo Competitions? Susan Stripling Explains

September 16, 2020

By Arlene Evans

© Susan Stripling

First Place Grand Award Winner, Wedding Couple Together: Wedding Day.

When asked by a photographer, as I often am, why they should enter their images in WPPI’s photo competitions, I have more than one answer: you can learn from and be inspired by other photographers, you will receive invaluable feedback from respected photography judges from all over the world, and you can earn Honors of Excellence (HOE) points and gain recognition among your peers and the WPPI community.  
Currently, the First Half Competition results are published online, and the Second Half Competition is in full swing (the deadline for submitting is September 30). Photographers enter images that they hope will score well enough to help them accumulate the points they’ll need to achieve the next level in the Honors of Excellence designation. It all culminates with winners being honored at a grand awards ceremony at WPPI in Las Vegas. 

This is where some of you may be scratching your heads and asking, “What is the Honors of Excellence program?” 

Good question! The WPPI photo competition program was created to encourage photographers to commit to their craft and motivate them to challenge themselves creatively every year. 

[Read: WPPI’s Second Half Competition—How 3 Judges Approach Submissions]

Once WPPI’s First and Second Half online photo competitions are judged and closed, the third competition—the Print, Album and Filmmaking competition (The Annual) is judged onsite at WPPI. All three competitions comprise one cycle awards cycle, and an entrant’s four top scoring entries will contribute to their Honors of Excellence designation. Points are awarded based on the scores below: 

79 or lower, no points  

80 to 84, 1 point  

85 to 89, 1.5 points

90 to 94, 2 points

95-99, 2.5 points

100, 3 points

If an image receives a Grand Award at The Annual, then the entry will receive 5 points. (You can find all of the scoring information here on the WPPI Awards website.)

A portrait of Susan Stripling, photographer and WPPI Grand Master, who is interviewed about the benefits of entering WPPI photo competitions.
Photographer and WPPI Grand Master Susan Stripling has worked for 13 years to accumulate her Honors of Excellence Points. Photo courtesy of Susan Stripling

Wedding photographer and entrepreneur Susan Stripling, a Canon Explorer of Light, a well-known educator (including at WPPI) and a Grand Master of WPPI, was kind enough to share her thoughts with me about the reasons she enters WPPI’s photo competitions and has worked so hard at accumulating enough points in order to reach that coveted designation. 

How long have you been working on accumulating your HOE points? 
Susan Stripling: I think I started entering back in 2007, so about 13 years!   

An image by Susan Stripling that won Third Place in the Photojournalism category of WPPI's photo competitions and earned her Honors of Excellence points.
Third Place Winner in the Photojournalism category of WPPI’s photo competitions. © Susan Stripling

Why was it so important to you to get to the Grand Master level? 
SS: Anyone who knows me knows that I’m incredibly competitive. If there is a top level to anything or something to win, I’m aiming straight for it! To me, reaching that level meant that I’d continued to push myself for years.  It’s not an easy level to reach. It represented growth in my artistic abilities and technical abilities, and I set my sights on it very early in the process.  It was a constant in the back of my head that helped me (along with other things) me stay motivated and creative.  

A Boudoir portrait that won third place for Susan Stripling in of WPPI's photo competitions and earned her Honors of Excellence points..
Third Place, Boudoir. © Susan Stripling

Did you ever feel discouraged during the process? 
SS: Only every single year! The discouragement is actually the best part. It’s great to hear that judges love your work, but when you enter an image that you thought was a 90 and it gets a 75—AND DESERVES IT—that’s where I grow.  It’s easy to get blinded to your own work; having intelligent artists show you where you’re falling short is massively helpful on all levels.  
How do you feel your progress through the various levels helped you in your work? 
SS: I have said this before and I’ll say it again—I truly credit the Honors of Excellence system as the single strongest driving force in making me the photographer that I am today. First, it forced me to sit down every winter and evaluate all of the work I’d made that year. This became a time of reflection and growth that I started looking forward to as every wedding season drew to a close. It also provided feedback on the work that I felt the strongest about and sitting in on the live judging was HUGELY invaluable. 

An image by Susan Stripling of a wedding dress hanging by a stained glass window won First place in the Wedding Details category of WPPI's photo competitions.
First Place, Wedding Details. © Susan Stripling

What would you tell photographers who haven’t been entering competitions? 
SS: DO IT.  Just do it.  It’s easy to think you’re not ready, it’s easy to think, “I don’t need this, I have happy clients!” I said all those things to myself, too. I honestly cannot emphasize enough what growth entering yearly competitions has brought to myself and my business, resulting in even HAPPIER clients! 
How has the pandemic affected your business and what have you been doing to stay creative? 
SS: This year has been an almost hilarious nightmare. I know a lot of photographers who are cheerfully saying “I’m fine, it will be fine!” But I have not been fine. I went from 37 weddings to maybe 5 by the end of the year, and my revenue is down 90 percent. I’m so grateful and thankful that I’ve been saving money for years and will be fine financially but going from massive work weeks to empty days has been a huge life change.  At first, I wasn’t creative at all. The idea of creating made me anxious and depressed. After about six weeks I picked up some art supplies and started learning to draw. Now I draw and paint and write and am working on fine-art photography. It’s been an unexpected creative growth that I didn’t see coming! 

It can be intimidating to think about competing with photographers from around the world but they are all feeling the same way! It’s all about pushing yourself creatively to be the best photographer you can be. The WPPI Second Half Competition is accepting submissions through September 30, so you still have plenty of time to enter your images. Good luck!
Arlene Evans is the Content Director for the Emerald Expositions Photo Group, which includes Rangefinder, WPPI and PhotoPlus.