Originally published on August 3, 2018 Updated on July 25, 2023
You have invested a lot of time (and money) into your photography and there is nothing like having your work displayed up on a wall for everyone to see.
Artists have been exhibiting their work for centuries and the reasons artists exhibit their work vary from artist to artist, but if your goal is to put your work up on a wall to show other people what you are capable of, then exhibiting your work can be very rewarding.
While your ultimate goal may be to exhibit your work in a gallery (where it can be sold), starting off on a smaller scale may be a more realistic approach. A good place to start is your state's fair.
The state fair is a quintessential part of many Americans' summers, and all fifty states have a state fair. Many offer a photography category and award ribbons.
While being honored with a ribbon is certainly rewarding, keep in mind that simply having your photograph hanging on a wall at your state fair for all to see is certainly very rewarding, too. 441,327 fairgoers attended the Kentucky State Fair in 2021 and the photography display is always crowded with fairgoers walking through the display taking in all the photographs. I know many accomplished photographers who have never won a ribbon. And most of the photographs that I have entered into my state fair have never won a ribbon (there have even been times that I have entered a photograph one year, when it didn't receive a ribbon, but the photograph received a ribbon a few years later when I re-entered the exact same entry).
For this discussion I will explore the process of entering a photograph into the Kentucky State Fair. The process should be similar in other states. This information is current for 2023.
You can download the 2023 Kentucky State Fair Premium Book by clicking here.
Prepare and Register
First, find out when your state fair will be held and your fair's registration deadline.
The Kentucky State Fair, one of the oldest state fairs in the country, is typically held during the second half of August. For additional information search for "Kentucky State Fair Premium Book" for fair dates, registration deadlines, and the rules for submitting your entries.
For 2023, the Kentucky State Fair is held August 17 through 27 at the State Fairgrounds in Louisville. All entries must be submitted through their online entry system located on their website at www.kystatefair.org. Complete information must be provided. All photography entries must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. EDT on July 11.
Select which division you want to compete in. Photography is divided into three divisions within the Fine Arts and Crafts department:
Division 4004 is the Aspiring Division for intermediate and novice photographers.
The Kentucky State Fair defines aspiring as photographers who do not make photos and sell them, are not a teacher of photography, and who do not operate a commercial studio.
Division 4005 is the Accomplished Division for photographers who make photos and sell them, or for those who are a teacher of photography or those who operate a commercial studio. Exhibitors who are eligible to enter the accomplished division may not enter the aspiring division.
Division 4006 is the Student Photography Division for middle and high school students in grades 6 through 12 as of the school year which just ended in June.
For the aspiring and accomplished divisions all photography must be the original work of the artist with the exception of the printing. Each entrant is permitted one entry only in each class. Photographs may not duplicate an entry in another class (in other words, you can't submit the same photo for more than one class, including one color and one monochrome of the same photo). For the student photography division the conceptualization, set up, and taking of the photograph should originate with the student.
If one of your entries won a blue ribbon in a previous Kentucky state fair, that photograph cannot be entered again.
Select which classes you are going to enter for your division. Remember that you can only enter one photograph per class (and cannot enter the same photograph in more than one class). The classes tend to change each year so read the descriptions for the class and select your best photograph that fits the description for that class.
Register as an exhibitor following the instructions in the Premium Book. You register on-line through the Kentucky State Fair's Online Entry System at https://kystatefair.org/participate/compete. Fee payments for online entries must be made by credit card. There is a deadline for entries.
For 2023 the entry fee is $15.00 per exhibitor for all entries made in any East Hall, South Wing, and/or West Hall departments (except Homebrew Beer and Livestock). For example: An exhibitor can enter multiple photos and items in Fine Arts and Crafts and also items in Textiles and it will cost $15 total. An additional fee of $1.00 per entry will be charged for all entries submitted in the digital submission classes in the Photography divisions. Entries must be completed by 11:59 p.m. EDT on July 11. There are no refunds of entry fees.
Prepare your entries.
All photographs entered into the Kentucky State Fair must first be submitted electronically through the fair's online entry system, ShoWorks. All photos that are entered will be displayed on monitors at the Kentucky State Fair.
Once an exhibitor completes the application transaction, ShoWorks will show a box at the bottom of the screen where entrants may upload their digital pictures. If your photo is not ready at the time of application, you may log back into the system later and upload your entries. Just look under Account Summary. The deadline to upload entries is 11:59 p.m. EDT on July 11. Click on “Upload files,” and it will direct you to a page to upload your photos. Each photograph must be a JPEG file, no smaller than 5 megabytes, and must be submitted as a digital photo. Exhibitors may include a caption.
Classes in the Photography Division will be prejudged to determine finalists in each class. Finalists will be notified and asked to present printed versions of their photographs on the Saturday or Sunday of the weekend before the Fair starts. Starting in 2023, Entry Tags and Admission Tickets will NOT be mailed to the exhibitor for your finalist entries prior to the Fair. Entry Tags/Admission Tickets will be picked up during the entry drop off times OR an appointment can be made to pick up from the Entry Department.
For 2023, entries in the Kentucky Tourism class will only be displayed digitally during the fair so there is no pre-judging process for these classes. However, photos entered into these classes are still eligible for ribbons and prizes. And all entries from the Student Photography Division, Division 4006, were accepted during the pre-judging process but no electronic mail notification was sent. Everyone entering a photograph in the Student Division will need to submit their prints for display. This was not explained in the Premium Book and has caused some confusion.
In 2022, photographers who were chosen to advance during the pre-judging process were notified by electronic mail the morning of July 26. In 2023, notification by electronic mail went out the afternoon of July 25. This notification included the division and class for each entry chosen to advance but not a visual of the photograph entered, so you need to keep good notes if you are entering more than one photo.
In 2022, there were only 19 days between being notified that your photo has advanced during the pre-judging process and when your photo was due to be physically submitted at the fair. In 2023 there were only 18 days. Those who order prints of their photos or who will need foam core or adhesive will need to plan accordingly. I order my foam core and adhesive from Amazon and, while I don't typically receive these items in two days, I usually receive them in less than a week. I ordered my photos on July 26, 2022, from Costco and they estimated I would receive my prints between August 2 and 10, giving me enough time to prepare my entries. On the morning of July 28 I received a tracking number from Costco for my shipment and my prints were delivered on August 2, giving me 12 days to prepare and submit my entries.
In 2023, to avoid any delays, I ordered prints for all of my entries on June 3 from White House Custom Color. These prints were delivered on June 7, giving me time to replace any prints that did not meet my expectations.
When you drop off your entries, officials will inspect your photographs to make sure that they follow the rules, which are:
Photographs must be matted or printed to exactly 16 by 20 inches. (This means, the photo must be on a 16 by 20 inch mat or foam core and the photo cannot be larger that 16 by 20 inches.)
The minimum size for the actual photo (not including the backing) is 71 square inches.
No frames, glass, plastic, wood or Formica are allowed.
No watermarks or time stamps are allowed on your photographs.
Photo must be mounted on a firm, flat backing such as mat board or foam core and firmly adhered to that backing so that the photograph is secure (cardboard or poster board is not acceptable).
Items must be flush mounted (edge to edge).
No mounting material should show behind the photograph.
Mounting cannot exceed 1/4 inch thick.
Please be aware that your photo will hang from a binder clip attached to a hook on pegboard for two weeks.
I print my entries as 11 x 14 inch prints. Many framing shops can trim and dry mount these prints to mat board or foam core board, but it is usually cheaper to do this yourself.
Because one of my photos typically is not the same proportion as an 11 x 14 inch print, I have to create an extra white border along the two longest sides. To do this, I create a white 11 x 14 inch 300 dpi image in Photoshop and then place my photo onto this image. When I add my photo it won't fully cover the file I have created, leaving a white border on two sides. I flatten the image and then submit the file for printing as an 11 x 14 inch print.
Then I need to trim the print before I mount it to 16 x 20 inch foam core.
To trim the photo you will need a straight ruler, a knife, and a cutting board (all of which you can find at an art supply store, such as Hobby Lobby).
Please be careful with the cutting knife, and the blade should be very sharp so that you can make a clean cut. Push away with the knife (rather than pulling towards you) as you make the cut.
Place your photograph on the cutting board,
line your ruler where you wish to trim, and carefully pull your knife along the edge of your ruler making a clean cut along the length of the photograph.
Check your photograph to make sure you have a clean cut (and correct if necessary).
Once your photograph is trimmed, mark your foam core board so that you know where to place your photo after the adhesive has been applied. One of the easiest ways to do this (in my opinion) is to use Post-It notes as a guide. Post-It notes can be easily removed without leaving any marks on your foam core board.
I use two Post-It notes to mark both ends of the longest edge (so that my photograph is straight) and one Post-It note to mark where one of the short edges needs to be placed.
While working in a well-ventilated area, place your photograph face-down on a clean surface and apply the adhesive. Applying an adhesive to a photograph is not considered archival (but, in this case for me, this isn't going to be an archival print that I am ever going to sell). Mount your print to the foam core and allow it to dry.
Before taking your entry to the Kentucky State Fair on drop-off day, you should make and attach a tag with your name and the photo's class to the back of your entry (just in case something happens to your entry tag).
You should receive your entry tags while you are dropping off your entry at the State Fair the weekend before the Fair begins. You can pick up entry tags and tickets in the North Wing Lobby prior to heading to the East Hall to drop off your entries. Exhibitors will sign for their tickets and head over to the entry tag installation tables to put on their tags before entering East Hall. Any photography exhibitors who do not have other entries in the fair and who have no entries that pass the photography prejudging process will be mailed their tickets.
The fair is very particular about how this entry tag has to be attached to your entry (if it is not attached properly, your entry will not be accepted but they will allow you to correct your mistake on-site). Feel free to ask for assistance. Loop the included string through your tag and, with your entry face-down, securely tape the string to the top right hand corner (so that when your photo is hung for display, the entry tag will hang over the top of the left corner). Make sure you attach the correct entry tag to the correct photo (match the entry tag class up to the class you printed on the tag you attached to the back of your photo).
Your entry is now ready to submit to the fair.
When your entry is placed in an upright position, the entry tag should hang over the top left corner. Be sure to detach your claim check from the entry tag and save in a safe place (you will need this claim check on the Monday after the fair ends to pick up your entry, and any ribbon).
Fold the bottom of the tag to cover your name for the judging process and slip the edge under the tab.
Be sure to attend the fair and spend some time viewing all of the other photography entries. Studying those entries which received ribbons is a wonderful way to learn! And roaming around the fair is a great photo opportunity.
I am a fine art and conservation photographer, author, and educator from Louisville, Kentucky, who uses photography to advocate for conservation outcomes, protecting nature and improving the natural environment. Conservation photography furthers environmental conservation, wildlife conservation, habitat conservation and cultural conservation by expanding public awareness of issues and stimulating remedial action. You can see more of my work at www.hultgren.org.