Tips on Organizing and Running a Successful Photo Contest

By Shani Calvo

What better way to pro-mote your port than to encourage people to send you beautiful photos of your port in action and its surroundings? That’s exactly what these ports were able to do when they came up with the idea of a photo contest. These ports encouraged photographers and creative types to capture images of their port at its best – and share those awe-inspiring images with them – while at the same time opening up a channel of positive engagement with the community and the local media. And COVID-19-related restrictions haven’t impeded them, thanks to some creative ingenuity and social media!

If this piques your interest, here is some insight from ports with experience in this area – such as the Port of Long Beach and Port of Los Angeles – and Port of Monroe’s port director, Paul LaMarre, who is an award-winning photographer.

Getting Started

For Mario Gonzalez and Jen Choi at the Port of Long Beach, a photo contest seemed like a solution to a variety of challenges they were facing and “it all started with Jen and I over coffee” eight years ago said Mario. They wanted to engage a new audience and were also trying to connect better with the artists in the community. At the same time, “Jen was getting flooded with requests to get access to the port.” The contest would provide access to the port, in a safe and controlled way, while also educating the photographers and increasing the port’s reach in the community. At the Port of Los Angeles, the photo contest has been going on for 37 years and Sheila Gonzales has been at the helm for the last 20. Until 2017, it was a contest limited to port staff, “offering a visual platform to showcase employee pride in their port,” said Sheila. Winners received recognition at the Board of Commissioners meeting, a framed copy of their winning photo, a monetary prize and their photos were used in the port calendar. Now, the port encourages submissions from community members and social media followers, as well as port staff, and offers exclusive boat tours for photographers to gain access to areas normally restricted to the public.

Capturing Visual Masterpieces

“It gets right down to a picture is worth a thousand words,” said Paul. “So much of what we do at the port is behind a restricted area.” Sharing photos allows the port to “take the dramatic and impactful nature of what we do and share it with those we serve,” he explained. “It is hard for people to realize the gravity and magnitude of what the port industry brings to the sustainability of our nation.”

“The photo contest is helping us capture the beauty, the textures, the wildlife, the people and the colors of the port, and helping the community see the port in a very different light,” said Jen. “We are able to take what is going on in the port and project it out to the community.” A lot of community members have no idea what it is like to be inside of the terminals, she added.

The reach is not just local, either. Sheila said they get requests from all over the world for the port’s calendars. “If we are brightening someone’s day with beautiful pictures of the Port of Los Angeles, that’s mission accomplished,” she said.

Paul said posting the photos online on social media is a great way to connect with the community and promote the port. “Posting photos on our Facebook page and other places create an excitement and a sense of activity. We say here that cargo breeds cargo!”

The Benefits

For both ports, the benefits of the contest are numerous – from a marketing and com-munity outreach perspective to the joys of running a contest of this sort.

“It is fun putting it all together and seeing the different perspectives of how people see the port,” said Sheila. The photos allow people to see the port through others’ eyes. “Each year, the calendar has a personality, look and feel that’s all its own, and that is why the calendar contest is so special.”

At Long Beach, they’ve secured a lot of positive media directly as a result of their photo contest, as well. They are part of the Long Beach Arts Month celebration in October, which provides quite a bit of local media coverage, said Mario. “Because of this program, we have been labeled as the ‘port of the arts.’ It has given a positive limelight on the port, specifically within the arts community.” The port also invites the media out for all of the photo contest gallery showings. “The feedback we get from the media is that they had never seen the port in that kind of light before,” said Jen. And the feedback is always positive, never negative, she added. Kerry Gerot, director of communications and community relations at the Port of Long Beach, added: “It is a super successful program; one of our best.”

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