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For over a decade, photographers from around the world have participated in PFRE’s monthly photography contests, culminating in the year-end crowning of PFRE’s Photographer of the Year. With a new theme each month and commentary offered by some of the finest real estate & interior photographers anywhere, these contests offer a fun, competitive environment with rich learning opportunities. 

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How do You Think the PFRE Contests Can Be Improved?

Over the last few months, I've gotten a variety of feedback on issues people have with the PFRE photographer of the month contest (still contest).

Here are the major areas of feedback that I've gotten:

  1. It would be better if the entrants were anonymous. Yes absolutely, I agree. I used to do this but it is a lot of work to do this manually. Also, it is not likely that the video contestants will ever be anonymous. In the future, I hope to make still entrants anonymous again by running the contest here on the blog rather than Flickr using some photo contest software.
  2. I need to get more exposure in the media for those that win both the monthly contests and the yearly contest. This is true. I hope to a better job of this in the future.
  3. It would be ideal if all of the jurors that voted also commented on each entry that they voted for. Yes, I agree. The problem the jurors are volunteers and frequently pressed for time. I may have to move to paid jurors for this. The video jurors that vote leave comments on all the entries but there are always far fewer entries to comment on than the still contest.
  4. We need 2 contest levels for the still contest. The top level would be only for those that won at least once at the lower level. The lower level would be for those that have never won a contest.


I would like to hear feedback or suggestions that anyone has for either the still or video contests.

I intend to keep evolving the PFRE contests as resources for learning about what others are doing in real estate photography and video.

28 comments on “How do You Think the PFRE Contests Can Be Improved?”

  1. Could you remove the "exterior" requirement on the October elevated contest? I've found using my pole inside can lead to some unique compositions. I could post one in November's contest, but it would fit the elevated theme better.

  2. @Ken - Hmm, Interesting request. I'll have to think about that. Elevated exterior shots are kind of a real estate classic. My first reaction is an elevated (pole or drone) interior shot is radically different, and not very comparable to an exterior shot.

  3. I think you should have a category for a full set of photos of the entire shoot. Maybe have it so you could enter a video slide show or virtual tour like tourbuzz. It is one thing to have a single great photo of a kitchen or bedroom... but how a photographer puts together a whole set for their client is something I would like to see!

  4. It would nice to see more people posting "actual" real estate photos. It seems like there's folks out there posting photos that are being shot for cabinet makers, interior designers, architects, etc. I know of one such instance where a winning photo was shot (and actually re-shot several times over several hours) using a hired prop stylist... This is clearly stacking the deck! If people need an ego boost by posting non-real estate photos in this contest that's fine, but I personally find it offside.

  5. I think the solution to anonymity is fairly simple. Contest entry opens on a certain date and closes on a certain date and time with no exceptions or late entries. Each entrant can send you their image via email, then you post them all at once on your Flikr page, on the day the contest goes live. No commenting should be allowed until after the voting is complete and the winner is announced which will avoid peoples opinions from being swayed. Let's see how the judges all do on their own as it should be. With the video contest, it's very simple to output a second version of the video, send it to you via dropbox or instruct you where to download it, then upload to your own YouTube channel or whatever you like best and again launch anonymously. Does all of this take a bit of work? Yes of course but you shouldn't expect to launch something once and then have a closed door policy when things change or followers of your site request improvements to these things. This has been my experience in the past and the sole reason I no longer enter either contest. You have created a site which is attracting a world audience and with that comes responsibility and change and you should embrace that and grow with it. People do take this seriously as a way to get feedback and learn, plus gain recognition for their work in a small but growing field of professionals. I really like the two levels idea for photos and videos and Barry's comments are SPOT on.

  6. Please have the judges comment on the entries. Even simple comments like "too flat, poor composition, needs more contrast" etc. I'd find such comments very helpful. Thank you to those judges who make detailed comments.

  7. Yes to more exposure for contests, yes to more comments from judges. The latter is particularly important and is the bedrock of why PFRE is so fantastic for improving your photography and video skills. It's nice to get some points but it's the feedback I really appreciate.

    Re anonymity, I'm not too fussed. I'd like to think the judges can see beyond a name to allocate their points on the merits of the image / video alone. I know I certainly try to. And if the same old people keep on winning? Maybe that's because they are pretty good at their craft...

    Also, from a learning point of view and from a judging / comments point of view, I like to know who has made a still or video. I like to follow someone's body of work and see how they are developing their style / technique.

  8. I think also judges cannot be entrants in the interests of preserving the integrity of the competition, especially more so noticeable in the video contest. To me, this seems like a major clash of interest and also a deterrent to enter the competition when judges put up their media for judging in the contest, judges are already proven winners and exceptional in their craft.

  9. Anonymity would be great. And I echo what Barry said completely. Many of the winning entries would be shots that were practice in some relative's house so they had 2 hours to do one shot, etc, etc. Maybe as part of the requiring info a contestant has to provide the listing agent's name or something. Either that or change the name of the contest to "Residential Interior Photography Contest".

  10. Yes, I agree that the entrant's name for the video contest should be suppressed until after judging. It's easy to render an extra version of the video without any branding or address or agent names put it into a PFRE drop box or Google drive folder. Larry, you can upload it to a YouTube channel for everyone to view. You could even ask the entrant to provide a suitable poster-frame from the video to place into the PFRE FlickR contest group as a place holder and then insert the link to the video, and take comments from the members there.

    After judging, reveal the names and criteria, comments and scores so that everyone can learn and continuously improve.

  11. Re the judge / entrant thing Allan, I agree it's a tricky one.

    As it stands, my understanding is that if a judge is also in a competition then they do not vote that month. Fair enough I agree.

    Should they not comment too? Maybe. But certainly in the video competition, there are typically only a few judges commenting regularly and I think it would be a shame if they were reduced further by not allowing competing judges to comment. My impression is that comments are overwhelmingly positive and helpful in their intentions and all feedback I have seen suggests comments are valued by entrants.

    The bigger question is whether judges should be allowed to enter competitions at all. If you say no, then given that you automatically become a judge by winning a monthly stills or video competition, then logically once you've won, you cannot enter ever again.

    I guess this would give more people a chance to be winners but my fear is that it would devalue the competition. You could have Larry's two-tier contest instead but surely the value of PFRE photographer of the month is that everyone is in it together and your work is being compared to the best in the business.

    Another consideration re banning winners / judges is that entrant numbers are likely to drop significantly. That might be OK in the stills competition but the video competition has trouble getting enough people to enter each month as it is.

  12. Yes this is true regards the video competition has trouble getting enough people to enter each month as it stands. However, this is why it extends the contest for another month and you usually do pick up extra contestants as a result of this practice. The judges roll is to lift the standards by providing constructive feedback to the contestants, a contestant can always visit or be refereed to your website portfolio for inspiration. Let me put it another way you never see the judges/referees entering a competition in an Olympic sport, tennis match, game of cricket etc. If judges wish to play the game or be a contestant they usually resign their position of judge/referee first and become a contestant or punter.

  13. Agree with Barry Mac - real estate shots only. I'm also a little uncomfortable with when some of the entries were taken - maybe only allow shots taken in the last 3/6/12 months, although I've been guilty myself of submitting an image taken a year prior to the competition.

  14. If it were my contest it would be real estate listing photos only.
    Only judges can comment after the winner is announced.
    Coaches and the "pros" who have seminars cannot enter either.

  15. I have never entered one, but I think it would make sense if there was no HDR or compositing, stacking, enfusing ect allowed. A single shot, if you want to light paint or use strobes or GND filters great do it in 1 exposure, a photo competition should be a photograph. I get a little confused when I see ultra rendered composite looking images next to HDR images. Just have a simple rule of 1 shot, remove all of the excess Post production tricks and see how photographers can use light and technique to make photographs.

  16. Their has to be something common for real estate around the world as a quick check. Even if it is the address so the winning photo's can be verified as photography for real estate which is the what this contest is for.

  17. @Hamish, I think you're misunderstanding re: judges. What Allan and myself are saying is that anyone can comment, just not until AFTER the winner has been announced or all judging is complete. This way the entrants still get feedback but that feedback does not sway other judges opinion and change their own judging outcome. As far as entering the contest it's totally fine for a judge to enter, just don't comment until after the winner is announced and don't judge if you're entered.

    As far as the photo contest with two tiers it makes sense to me, otherwise it's the same people winning time and time again all stroking each others egos month after month. It's obvious there are the Real Estate Photographers out there making a living shooting real estate and then there are bigger city or specialists that shoot much fewer shoots and charge much more to spend all day shooting a house. How can you put them all under the same umbrella? I like the idea that once you've won either contest, you enter the top tier and if you haven't won you enter the bottom tier. Why not give it a try?

    By the way I've always entered my website on this blog but for some reason it doesn't see it as a domain so I have to enter my FB page. My website is

  18. I can’t speak for everybody, but as cool as it would be to win this contest, the larger goal is about improvement. To that end, I hope that all decisions be made with the goal of getting more constructive criticism from good photographers. Anything that would encourage more comments from the judges or anyone else should be looked at, and anything that would tend to stifle comments should be discarded. And of course, Larry must have time to live a life outside of PFRE.

  19. @ Matthew Ross - that wouldn't work for me as the best properties I shoot are often listed for sale "off market", which means the listing never appears on the internet - usually due to discretion required from the vendor.

  20. I understand that it could be too time consuming for the judges to comment on each photo, but it would be nice if they make a comment on the photo they thought was the best. Or, does that give too much away on who voted for which image? Barring that, a comment on a runner up where it was down to one or two things in the image that weren't quite there. I know that on some months it's just a matter of angstroms between the top photos.

    Having a policy of zero editing/SOOC images wouldn't work. There are so many different techniques to arrive at a deliverable image and it's the final image that counts.

    Other than detail shots, judging criteria should be based on an image that shows an area of a residential property and is not "focused" on furnishings or interior decoration. I am not to bothered about what the purpose of the photo is whether it's to sell the home or a trade. It could even be an expose on celebrity's home. As long as the photo's composition makes it useful for marketing a home, that's good with me. Entries made by photographers working with lots of time to make each image have the edge, but restricting the entries to a time limit/photo isn't workable. There are certainly some "run and gun" photographers that post excellent images.

  21. One thing regarding commenting. If I remember correctly, Larry tried restricting commenting until after the contest closed a while back. There was far less commenting!

    I don't have a problem with people entering photos that were taken for purposes other than real estate as long as they fit the theme of that month. People who have made it to the point were they are being paid more to spend more time in a room, regardless of weather its a real estate shoot or a shoot for an interior designer, worked hard to get to there and deserve to win. There are high end real estate photographers who spend hours in one room with an assistant and a stager. If we want the contest to get better, I think we want to include the highest quality photos possible and learn from them, not ban them. For this reason, maybe a 2 tiered contest would be a good thing. And maybe the winning entries should give credit to the people that assisted with the shoot.

    Larry - There is always room fro improvement, but this site and the contests in their current structure have helped me an so many others improve immensely. If you didn't change a thing, I would still visit the site and follow the contests regularly! There is no way to make everybody happy, but I commend you for trying to improve! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

  22. I personally agree with a lot of the comments on this topic and of course value and appreciate what Larry does with both Flickr groups. They help tremendously with advancing our craft. I think that having the entries be anonomous seems like a good idea, but not necessary for a "fair" contest. It seems that all of the judges have a pretty good idea of what makes a successful image and I do t know how much that has to do with the person who shot it.
    I think having a two tiered contest or something of the like defeats the purpose of the contest. I would rather put my work against the best in the business every month, fail miserably, but learn something from it and hopefully have the motivation to make my images kick more ass next time. It's not like winning this contest will advance your career by leaps and bounds anyways. Most realtors think if they have a "nice" camera that they can do what we spend 90% of our time learning to perfect. They don't care if you won a contest that they never knew existed. I think personal growth is why we all enter and I feel like the more people that comment without restriction, like it happens now, makes everyone advance their skills. That is just my two cents. I'm sure that the contest can and will be improved, but I definitely benefit from it as is.

  23. It's great to see all the input here!

    I like the idea of anonymous entries until the winner is announced. Logistically, how that gets done without Larry (or anyone else) pulling their hair out every month is beyond me. But it simply eliminates any bias (conscious or otherwise) that a judge may have when they see a name attached to an image. Plus, it would be fun to try and guess whose image it is by the style of the shot.

    For me, the comments are the most valuable part of the contest. I think it's fine if they are "hidden" until the winner is announced, but I feel eliminating them would be a mistake. Positive, and even more so, critical comments are what push me to do better next time. I've learned so much from just reading the insightful input on my own as well as other people's work. Maybe judges are required to leave a comment on any image they give points to? And something a little deeper than "Good one", "Looks nice" or "This sucks Mike". I know it's a lot to ask of unpaid volunteers each month, but it seems to be the consensus that the comments are the real gold here and anything to encourage more of them is a step in the right direction. One of the biggest strengths of our community is the calibre of photographers involved, and sharing their wisdom only makes us all better.

    I think Aaron is right about a proposed two tier setup defeating the purpose of the contest. That's like telling the New England Patriots they can't compete in the regular NFL anymore because they're too good and it's not fair to the other teams ( everyone outside of New England rolls their eyes). Each month, simply let the best image win. Maybe if a photographer wins "Photographer of the Year", that's the highest achievement and they kind of go into the PFRE Hall of Fame and are exempt from entering any future contests?

    I'm not exactly sure how it works now, but I'm assuming judges that enter a contest can NOT vote for their own photo. That seems like a no-brainer.

    Maybe mix up the fringe categories slightly from year to year? Obviously the "Kitchen", "Master Bath", "Exterior Daylight", etc... will be there each year, but shuffle around a few of the more wildcard categories for a little variety.

    I think you used to list how many points the top entries got? I liked that breakdown and transparency. And maybe an explanation of exactly how judges are allowed to award points? (Maybe that's detailed somewhere, but I can't find it).

    Oh, and offer a ridiculously huge cash prize to the winner each month. 😉

  24. I'm writing this in a respectful manner. I think the graphic you receive to place on your website for winning has ran its course. It needs to be updated in the worst way. The clip art thing it has going for it would never make it on my site. Actually, for years I've been meaning to redesign and send it your way for review. Larry, do you mind if I revisit this idea?

  25. Great ideas here and like the idea in general of revisiting the contest.

    Anonymity is nice but I don't believe it affects things too much, we're a cordial group here, doesn't seem to me that there's much to influence a judge, and there seem to be a handful of standout images each month that seperate themselves, so I don't think it's moving the needle.

    I like Barry's bit about Real Estate images only. This is PFRE after all. Again, we don't need to create a ton of rules. Use the honor system, post only RE shots. If someone games they system... oh well (and a good public shaming should do the trick.)

    Regarding time limits, with rotating categories I think it has to be 12 months. Even so, it sucks when you get a killer shot for last month's contest and you need to remember it in 10 months for entry.

    To that point, how about a different format? Instead of a "category" make it your BEST shot from the previous month. Any type of RE shot form a typical listing may be entered, EXIF must be attached and it has to have been created in the previous month or 30 days or whatever applies. It'd be easy enough to audit the entries at the close of them. That way you're looking at great, current work.

    Lastly, Larry if you're bored... I'd love to see a "Top Photographer" contest. Have to submit large bodies of work, whole houses, etc. to be judged. Rather than a single image that benefits from staging etc. you're looking more at the photographer's total work.

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