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


What does it really take to be a good photographer?

So you want to pursue a career in photography? What will it really take to be a good photographer? Can I ever sell photos? Are they good enough to sell? What is the real key to becoming a good photographer?

woman leaning back on tree trunk using black dslr camera during day
Photo by David Bartus on

So many questions to think about if you want to become a good photographer. Let me go over some things that happen to people that want to get started in photography, and what to avoid:

You took, what you thought, was a good photo. Is it good”?

The biggest trap you will run into is getting advice from someone who is not a good photographer. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings in this tutorial, but, when someone says “that photo is amazing! You should be a photographer”. Really? How do they know anything about photography? That person may not know anything about photography. Are they an expert? Bag that idea that your “good photo” is a “good photo”.

Learn to study photographer’s photos.
Find a place that has incredible photos, and learn from the phogographer.

First, before you get all excited, and call yourself a professional photographer, you need to really study what makes a great photo, a really great photo. Where is the best place to see amazing photos? INSTAGRAM ! This is where great photographers post their photos, in hopes to get their name out there. But, if just anyone posts their everyday photos, you won’t get noticed on Instagram until you have perfected your skills.

Where is the best place to learn photography?

As long as I have been a photographer, here are the places I like to go, to see “good” photos, and to study them. And along with this list, here are places to go to get the “Proper” instruction on photography:

  • A website that you can go to that provides FREE instruction on photography. Who would do that? That’s crazy that photographers are willing to give of their talents to help people become good photographer!
  • INSTAGRAM. Because professional photographers post their photos on Instagram, that is one place to see good photos. I think you may run into people trying to sell their “photo courses” and make some money that way, but, really, you can do this by studying these photos you find on INSTAGRAM.
  • This website has over 1500 articles on photography, ranging all the way from basic instructions on how to work your camera, to posing techniques, rules of composition, etc.
  • This is another website that has been around a long time and publishes some training on photography every day. All the way from beginning photographer to the advanced photographer. A great website.
  • Another place to learn photography. They have a bunch of good photographers that have become the tutors of photography courses. A great place to learn, with amazing photos.
  • Of course there are websites that you can go to, that will charge you money to learn photography. They are all good. The choice is yours if you want to spend some money. I went on google and typed in “free Photo courses”, and it still brought up places that want you to buy their courses.

There are probably several other websites that are good, and dedicated to the person learning photography, but, these I know to be good.

close up of canon camera
Photo by Pixabay on
Next step: be willing to have your photos criticized by a photographer, not your friend.

I recently saw some photos from someone who is attempting to teach photography, but, doesn’t really take good photos himself. And his skills don’t prove he should be doing this. Can you take honest criticism? If you can do that, you are going to make great strides in your success.

Find the type of photography you like and seem to succeed in.

Are you good with landscapes?

time lapse photography of waterfalls during sunset
Photo by Pixabay on

I love a photographer who makes ordinary landscapes gorgeous. How do they do it? First of all, just so you know, there are more photographers taking landscape photos than any other type of photography. So, you really have to learn from the pros to be good.

Are you good with portraits?

woman wearing sunhat
Photo by Tuấn Kiệt Jr. on

Portraits is where good photographers make money. They bring out the best in people by the way they take a person’s photo. That is an art, and needs to be studied well.

Close-up photography?

Photo by Lanny Cottrell Photography

Good close-up photography, or macro photography is more than just snapping photos of bugs and flowers. Study that one through so you can have amazing photos.

Sports Photography?

motorcycle rider doing stunts in midair
Photo by Web Donut on

Good sports photography is tougher than you think. Have you ever noticed the photographers down on the football field with their cameras? Any idea of how much those lenses cost?

Photo by Digital Trends

There are many other types of photography. These seem to be the more popular. Once you find the niche you want to go after, then learn it well. You will most likely pick up skills along the way that will help you in other types of photography.

Learn how to “see” a photo:

If you were to just walk down the street, how many things could you see to take pictures of?

Photo by Lanny Cottrell – Photo taken at night time, just going for a walk. My instincts of the rules of photography were right in front of me.

Once you know and learn the basic rules of photography, you can walk down your own street and really “see” a photo. But, if you don’t know the rules of photography, you will miss it.


It’s ok to ask for criticism about your photos. How will you learn? And also, practice, practice and learn the rules of photography. I have heard it said that you won’t be good at photography until you shoot 10,000 photos.

Good luck!

Do you personally have a question about photography? I have a “Question” E-mail to help photographers. If I don’t know the answer, I will find it for you. If you have a question about photography, go to:

More amazing photos:

green grass field and green tress during day time
Photo by André Cook on
vibrant fireworks reflecting from surface of lake
Photo by Sami Anas on
stormy sea and cloudy sky at sunset
Photo by Kammeran Gonzalez-Keola on
man standing in front of woman in white wedding dress
Photo by Jonathan Borba on


I have heard it said, “if you want to become a good photographer, you have to take 10,000 pictures”. And may I add, if you want to become a good photographer, while you are taking those 10,000 photos, make sure you are practicing and learning how to take pictures, not just snapshots.

branches cold conifers environment
Photo by Pixabay on

If you go out for a walk in your neighborhood, could you find any photos to take? When I go for a walk, I am looking for photo opportunities everywhere. I don’t think my family likes walking with me, because I am always stopping to take a picture of something.

In order to FIND a photo to take, I think the most important thing to learn is:

Know the rules to composition.
Photo by Lanny Cottrell – You have to see the leading lines in a photo.

Memorize the rules of composition. Every time I go out for a walk, I see the rules of composition right in front of me. Can you see the leading lines? How about the rule of thirds? Can you take a photo and put it in the “thirds” format? Do you know the rule of space? Rule of odds? And also, do not put your horizon down the middle of your photo. And finally, can you see patterns?

Let’s go through these rules one by one, and give you an example. Then if you want to master this process of “seeing a photo”, it will be because you have memorized composition rules, and now you recognize them when you see it.

Leading lines:
Photo by Lanny Cottrell – See the “leading lines” in this photo? There are several leading lines in this

In this night photo above, you can see the lines from the fence, the sidewalk, the road, the line down the roads. This one is easy to see. Look for those lines. One thing in general with this, is you don’t want the lines to be straight down the middle or go from side to side. They most generally need to go diagonally.

Photo by Lanny Cottrell – These leading lines go right down the middle.

Can leading lines go down the middle, or from side to side? Hey! Some rules are meant to be broken. As in the photo above, how often do you have a clear shot of a very straight highway as far as the eye can see? So take it, if it tells a good story.

Rule of thirds:
Photo by Lanny Cottrell – The idea of “put the subject in the third part of your frame” is so spot on.

I could have put that sign and seagull right in the middle, but, this looks so much better. This one takes practice. But, once you take some photos, and notice your subject is right in the middle, you will recognize that it doesn’t look right.

Rule of Space:
sea dawn nature sky
Photo by Nuno Obey on

If this boat was moving, you need to give it somewhere to move into. So leave some space in front of the boat. If this boat was more to the left, it would actually look awkward. This is just a function of the brain.

light landscape sky sunset
Photo by Pixabay on

This photo of the cat, is another great example of giving “space”. The cat is looking into an area that might have something. Our brain would feel the photo to be really awkward if the cat was on the other side of the photo. Is this photo also a “rule of thirds”? Yes, I believe so, as long as you put it in the correct quadrant of the photo.

Rule of odds:
Photo by Lanny Cottrell – Rule of “odds”

This particular rule is sometimes impossible to get, but the idea is that put your subjects in odd numbers. Like 3 flowers, instead of 2 flowers. Or 5 buffalo, instead of 4. As you take pictures of multiple subjects, now you know the rule, you will look for that.

alphabet blur board game business
Photo by Pixabay on

Rule of odds worked on this one: there is 5 subjects.

pattern formation wild animals south africa
Photo by Pixabay on

Rule of “Odds”. Here is a great example: in your mind, take out of the giraffes. Then put it back in. See how much nicer 3 look than 2. Hard to do all the time, but, you will have more people like your photos if you can do odd numbers.

Look for patterns:
Photo by Lanny Cottrell

Is this a photo of patterns? Well yes, a forest is a pattern of trees. They look good like a forest, which falls under the “pattern” rule.

sliced orange fruits
Photo by on

In “patterns”, you look for a type of photo that most likely takes up the whole picture with a large quantity of the same thing, like above.

So a forest is a good pattern, and a cluster of fruit slices falls under this category.

Here is one more example of “Pattern” in a photo. Can you see it if you were walking around your neighborhood?

Put your Horizon in the third part of your photo.
Photo by Lanny Cottrell – Rule of horizon in the right place.

The “horizon” is basically where the ground meets the sky. Look at this photo above, and even though the photo seems to be about boats in storage, notice that the ground and the sky meet at about the lower 1/3 of the photo.

Photo by Lanny Cottrell

This photo is the most spectacular with lots of sky. So, in this case the horizon is in the lower third. If you put the horizon in the top third, you would get more water, but, isn’t the sky more spectacular?


You have to memorize these basic rules of composition, or you will never see the photo opportunities around you. Practice walking around the neighborhood and see if you can see any of these rules of composition to take pictures. Once you memorize these rules, and take more pictures, the closer you get to the 10,000 photos you need to take before you are good.

Here’s just a few more photos, using the rules of composition:

Leading lines
Horizon in lower third
Rule of odds (3 buffalo, not 2)