Photo Contests: Your key to success?

Have you ever looked at results from Photo Contests? Have you ever thought about entering photo contests? If you are an aspiring photographer, this is a good thing to try. Why? Because you have to really concentrate on the “perfect Photo” to win. Can you win if you don’t know the rules of composition, and is that important? Yes, and Yes!

Photo winner of the Life Framer contest, – animal division. Photo by Charles Chojnaki.

My friend and I was asked to judge photographs for a state fair once. That was a real experience. About 100 or so photos were entered, and we had to pick 1st place, 2nd, 3rd, and 2 honorable mentions. My friend and I talked about what to look for before we even saw the photos. And our number one thing we were looking for was good composition. Also, would there be a photo that the rules of composition just would not apply, and pick that photo. I can tell you right off, even if we didn’t know the rules of composition, it wouldn’t matter. The winning photos were those photographers who used the rules of composition correctly, and did it really well.

From the largest photo contest in the world, over 200,000 entries, this contest’s theme was “Monuments”. This photo took 5th place in the whole competition. Photographer had to wait for just the right time to get the moon in the background. Photo by: Donatas Dabravolskas.

Knowing what you need to get a winning photo, here are some key ideas to help you win:

  • Know what the topic is and don’t deviate from it. If the contest is on stray cats, then take photos of stray cats only. Don’t take pictures of your cat in the alley.
  • Know the deadline for entries. If you know the deadline, you have time to figure out how to do the best photo of the main subject
  • Make sure you totally understand the rules of composition. 95% of the time, a well composed photo will be the winner.
  • Read through the rules of the contest. Many times, these sponsors use your photo for advertising, or some other thing to benefit their cause. Are you willing to not be the owner of your photo anymore?
  • If you do custom service, such as Photoshop, lightroom, etc. make sure that will be accepted. Many of these contests want only natural looking photos.
  • Does your photo tell a story. I have found that winning photos tell a story, or bring out emotion to the viewer.
  • Can you accept defeat? The thing to realize you are going up against hundreds, maybe thousands of other contestants. Your chance of winning is 1 in 1000 (if there are 1000 entries).
  • If you don’t win at this contest, try again. There are hundreds of photo contests every year.
  • Some contests may require you to pay a fee to enter. That is done so that they don’t pay for shipping, and they may actually pay a staff to take care of this job.
International Photo winner in Architecture. Photo by Franklin Neto – Jewels of the Republic.

Photo contests are very rewarding. Not only for your ego, but, for your photographic career. Your name will be published worldwide, if it is that type of contest. If you are nervous about going for the big ones, then start with your local county fairs. I was surprised to find so much great quality photos in the local fair this last year (2019 – The year before Covid.

Another way to practice taking award winning photos is to join a Facebook group, that specializes in quality photo entries. I have seen all kinds of Facebook Groups, and have even started one group of my own. If you are interested in sharing your photos, and having other photographers comment on them, then go to:

This is simply photographers that are by invitation only, who want a place to practice displaying their photos.

May be an image of nature, sky and tree
Photo by Ron DePayola and this is just one of many great photos displayed in 123PhotoGo Group.

Other contest winning photos:

2nd Place winner from Life Framer in the category: Animals. Photo taken by: Alice Zilberberg
Winner of the IPA award (International Photographers Association). Photo by Takahiro Yoshizaki – In the category: Beauty, Advertising – Non professional division. This photo won an Honorable mention.
Grand Prize Winner of the Nature Conservancy for 2019 – Winner: Tyler Schiffman – United States

Photo Contests: Is your photography good enough?

There are actually quite a few photo contests around the world today. Have you ever thought of entering a photo contest? If your photography seems to be on par with winning photos, here are some tips for entering a photo contest:

2020 Sony World Photo Contest winner. © Gil Kreslavsky, Israel, Shortlist, Open, Culture, 2020 Sony World Photography Awards.

Below are some standard rules that you can tweak as needed depending on your unique photo contest: 

All photos must be original work, taken by the entrants. No third party may own or control any materials the photo contains, and the photo must not infringe upon the trademark, copyright, moral rights, intellectual rights, or rights of privacy of any entity or person. In other words, the photo you enter better be your own, or you could run into some serious problems, legally.

Winner – Culture
Title: Mark 5:28
Photographer: Antoine Veling, Australia
‘When audience members were invited on stage to dance at an Iggy Pop concert in Sydney Opera House, Australia, on 17 April 2019, it showed the warm welcome Aussies extend to overseas artists who travel long distances to reach them.       
‘A woman’s outstretched arm lunges to touch Iggy. He seems unaware of her approach as the crowd presses around him. One of Iggy’s assistants, Jos (in the grey checked shirt) tries to make some space around Iggy. The scene is reminiscent of a passage from the Bible: ‘Because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”’ (Mark 5:25-34, line 28). The image has been likened to religious paintings by Caravaggio, and his chiaroscuro technique. It went crazy on social media, making 40,000 people, including Iggy Pop, very happy.’

Here is a list of rules that usually required:

  • The photo must be in its original state and cannot be altered in any way, including but not limited to removing, adding, reversing, or distorting subjects within the frame.
  • Violators will be removed from the contest, stripped of any prize(s), and banned from entering future contests.
  • Entries will not be accepted unless submitted via the official contest channel. Entries not submitted through the proper channel will be deleted.
  • Entries will be judged by the [Company]. All decisions are final. The Company reserves the right to disqualify any entry that is deemed inappropriate or does not conform to stated contest rules.
  • By entering the contest, entrants agree that photos submitted can be used by the [Company] for advertising purposes.
  • Submissions will not be accepted once the deadline lapses.
  • The prize must be collected by the winner and is nontransferable.
  • The winner will be contacted via the email address provided during entry. If no response is received after [three] business days, a new winner will be selected and the previous winner will forfeit all rights to the prize.
  • The contest is void where prohibited or restricted by law.
  • If you’re using entry forms like those offered by Submittable, you can include language at end of the form asking entrants to confirm that they have read the rules and regulations by clicking the submit button.
© Guofei Li, China, Winner, Open, Natural World & Wildlife, 2020 Sony World Photography Awards
Winner – Natural World & Wildlife
Title: Tai Chi Diagram
Photographer: Guofei Li, China
‘These cheetahs had just eaten an antelope, and were licking the bloodstains off each other’s faces. It’s a very rare posture, and one that reminded me of the traditional Chinese Tai Chi diagram. The picture was taken in Botswana in January 2019.’

Have I ever entered and won a photo contest? Why, yes I have. I have entered the local county fair one year, and was already working for a photo store and had pretty good knowledge of what they might be looking for, and took 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place.

Then, at some point, I was asked to be a judge for a photo contest. The rules were already laid out, so, I, along with another photographer, judged the contest. Now, that was tougher than I thought, because they had professionals enter the contest as well, and when we did not vote on a particular persons photo, he registered a complaint with the people who sponsored the photo contest, saying we did not know what we were doing, because, it was obvious to him, he should have won.

So, the point to this is that there will be people, always, thinking they should have won the prize, when in reality, they are no where close to winning.

© Manfred Voss, Germany, Shortlist, Open, Travel, 2020 Sony World Photography Awards
Shortlisted – Travel
Title: Graceful
Photographer: Manfred Voss
‘The small fishing village of Reine in Norway delivers one of the most beautiful views in the Lofoten archipelago. The balance between the cool light of blue hour and the warmth of the well-lit houses was perfect on this particular morning. It was almost windless, resulting in a beautiful reflection of the mountain in the water. I opted for an exposure that balanced the blue hour with the slightly illuminated mountains and the nice light from the houses.’

I entered an international contest as well, going against all the people in the world, with close to 10,000 entrants, and I ended up in third place. I won (now this goes back a long time ago) a Vivitar darkroom projector. I did not have a dark room, so, I sold the prize. But, the recognition was cool, because I saw them using my photo in some of their advertising.

I would love it, if my readers entered contests, and shared their results with us.

Here is a list of 20 photo contests for the year 2021:

Note: You can click on the one that interests you, and it will take you to their page. Try it.

© Muriel Vekemans, Belgium, Shortlist, Open, Motion, 2020 Sony World Photography Awards
Shortlisted – Motion
Title: End of the Race
Photographer: Muriel Vekemans, Belgium
‘This greyhound was training for a race. As it headed to the finish, I was waiting for it with my face in the sand.’

Photography contests are a great way to find out if your images are up to scratch. By taking part in these competitions, you can win big. Either cash prizes, camera equipment, or having your work exhibited.

Even if you gain no financial benefit, having your images posted on the competition’s website has incredible benefits.

Here are some more winning photos:

Max Foster from Plymouth, Minn.
Yosemite National Park – Glowing Half Dome behind Yosemite Falls

Manoj Shah
Nairobi, Kenya

You can almost feel the earth tremble with the massive footsteps of an African elephant as it returns home with its herd after drinking at a marsh in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve. Photographer Manoj Shah placed his remote camera on the ground where he thought the elephants would pass, then tripped the shutter while staying a safe distance away. “If I tried to take the picture lying down, most likely I would not be able to get up again,” he quips. A lifelong photographer, Shah speaks almost mystically about his quest to document this majestic species in decline. “My daughter worries that the elephant will be just a memory, a dream where they will walk on Earth at peace, as they were born to do, but kept alive only in our minds.” Moved by the animal’s power and frailty, he warns, “Their future is in our hands.”

One of the contest enties: Vadim Trunov, won this photo of the curious birds.