Contests can be a great way to further your profile and get your name out there.
Apart from the great feeling it gives you from having one of your 'babies' acknowledged as being a nice photo, it can mean exposure to a lot of people who might like to see more of your work.
This photograph won me an award in 2004. It was the 2003 Australian Society of Travel Writers' Travel Photograph of the Year. A long name to be sure but it meant a lot of exposure and lead directly to a very lucrative photo assignment spanning over a couple of months.
But when entering photo contests you need to be sure of what you're signing away. At the end of the day all a photo contest organiser really needs is the right to use the winning photos to help promote their photo competition over the coming years and to show who won. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less. But many photo contest organisers use contests to build themselves a nice stock library of images so they will never have to pay for a professional photographer again - never.
Think about it. You organise a photo contest, throw in some nice prizes (which may or may not be donated) and then in the terms and conditions you throw in a clause which states that the copyright of every single photograph entered becomes yours. Kind of like entering your house in a beautiful homes competition and then handing over your house just by entering.
Why would you bother? Well the lure of having your photographs recognised is quite strong for many people but I would urge you to ignore photo contests that have these horrible clauses in them. Or better yet, write to the organisers to express your dismay. I know I do! Carolyn Wright is an attorney who often highlights bad photography competitions on her website.
So before you have dreams of hitting the big time by entering a photo contest, read the fine print and just make sure exactly what it is you're giving the organisers by entering.