Originally published on August 3, 2018 Updated on August 2, 2022
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. 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 2022.
You can download the 2022 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. Photography is included in the Fine Arts and Crafts department.
For 2022, the Kentucky State is held August 18 through 28 at the State Fairgrounds in Louisville. The deadline for entering the photography divisions is July 1 (July 10 with a late entry fee).
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 2019 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 July 1 or a late fee will be charged. An entry fee of $20.00 per exhibitor will be charged for all entries after July 1 and no entries will be accepted after July 10. There are no refunds of entry fees.
Prepare your entries.
Starting in 2022, 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. on July 10. 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. Tags with strings will be mailed to you for your finalist entries.
In 2022, photographers who were chosen to advance during the pre-judging process were notified by electronic mail the morning of July 26. 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. 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.
Photographs must be submitted on an exactly 16 inch by 20 inch mat board or foam core board. Any print larger than 7-½ x 9-½ inches up to 16 inches by 20 inches is permitted and the print must be mounted proportionally and securely to the mat board or foam core board (glass coverings, frames, wires, clips, strings, thin poster board, or any sticky substances that can be felt on the front or back of the entry are prohibited). The thickness of an entry cannot be greater than one-half inch.
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.
You should receive your entry tags from the fair one-to-two weeks before your entry is due. 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). 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). You should also make and attach a tag with your name to the back of your entry (just in case something happens to your entry tag).
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 and author 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.