How to Improve Your Chances of Winning a Photography Contest


My name is Andrew Suryono and I’m an amateur travel photographer. When you read the title, you may feel funny that an amateur photographer like me is writing this article. “Shouldn’t winning a photography contest be reserved only for the professionals?” you may ask.

Well, speaking from my experience, the answer is no. I’m one of many amateur photographers in the world that have won photography contests. This year is special for me because I won first place in the world’s largest photography competition, the Sony World Photography Award (Indonesia National Category).

Image 1 andrew suryono trophy

I’m writing this article to share my experience and give my personal tips to you on how to increase your chance in winning a photography competition. Yes, YOU can win in a photography contest!

Why enter photo contests?

Before we start though, let’s look at some of the benefits of joining a photo contest.

Get exposure

The first benefit of joining a photography competition is you can get exposure for your work quickly. The bigger the photography competition, the quicker and the more exposure you’ll get. By submitting your photos to a contest, you give easy access to people all over the world to view your work. If you’re struggling to get people to look at your photography website or portfolio, try joining a photography competition.


This image appeared in Bryan Peterson’s newsletter

Market your work

By giving yourself lots of exposure, you also increase your chance to market your work. If people are interested in your work, they might contact you to buy some prints or strike licensing deals. After joining several photo competitions, I got contacted by many people who wanted to do licensing deals for books, magazines, greeting cards and many other things. To my surprise, my work not only attracted small publishers, but also big ones like National Geographic.

You really never know who is looking at and interested in your work!

Measure your work against others

A photo competition is a good way to measure your work against other photographers’ work. You’ll have a chance to look at other their images and see how your works compares. It’s important that you don’t judge your work too harshly when you do this. See what you
find interesting from other people’s work, like how they use of composition or color, and learn from it.

Image 2 andrew suryono orangutan in the rain

Winning image!

Make new friends

Finally, a photo competition is a good way to make new friends and connections. Through photo competitions, I’ve gotten many like-minded friends who I enjoy speaking to, and sharing my work with regularly. We even went on to create a private Facebook group where we share our work to get each other’s feedback, helpful online tips that we find, and many more.

Are you already feeling excited? Great!

How to increase your chances of winning

Now that you know all the benefits of joining a photo competition, let’s look at some ways to increase your chance of winning one.

The first and the most important thing that you should do before joining a photo contest is spend some time to know the rules inside out. Here are some things that you should pay attention to:

Copyright ownership

I decide whether I enter a photo contest or not based on this information alone. Make sure you retain full rights and ownership of your photos before joining in any contests. Personally, I would avoid any photo contests that want me to give any rights to them. I want to keep all rights to myself and they must ask me for permission if they want to use my photos for anything.

Appeared in Bryan Peterson's newsletter

Appeared in Bryan Peterson’s newsletter

Image dimensions

Pay attention to the image dimension that they require you to submit. Typically, a lot of photo contests are bombarded with image submissions
from all over the world, so they only require you to submit a small resolution version of your image. Make sure to resize your image according to their specification. Some photo contests are so strict that they’ll immediately disqualify your image if it’s not submitted according to their specifications.

Submission deadline

This is pretty explanatory, but still worth mentioning. Make sure you pay attention to the submission deadline. Photo contests won’t let you
submit images once the deadline has passed. Mark your calendar and set reminders!


After you’re done going through all the contests’ rules and regulations, it’s time to do some research. You’ll need to research and study previous winners’ work, and the judges’ work if you want to increase your chance of winning in the competition.

Image 3 study judges work

By looking through the previous winners’ work, you’ll get a sense of how they won the contest. Pay attention to the composition, color and most importantly the message that they’re conveying through their photos. Pay close attention to their post-processing work, and look at how it strengthen their images.

Photography contests are judged by humans. It’s subjective by nature. By looking at the judges’ work, you’ll get a sense of their style and what kind of works they like to see. For example, if you find that most judges in the contest love strong black and white images, you’d better think twice about sending images with bright, saturated, and punchy colors.

Image selection

After you’re done with your research on the previous winners and the judges’ work, you’ll need to select images for submission based on your findings.

Go through your portfolio of images and see which images stand a chance of winning the competition. Be very selective with your own work. I know it’s hard criticizing and selecting your own work, but doing this will dramatically increase your chance of winning a photo contest.

Pick photos that you personally think are better than the previous winners’ photos, match with the judges’ style, and strongly show
your unique photography style. Then, submit your images, cross your fingers, and wait for good things to happen!

Image 4 andrew suryono pictures trophy

Remember that I can’t guarantee you win will any photo competition, but at the very least, I have given you some tips that you can use to increase your chances.

Don’t get discouraged if you submit an image and it doesn’t win. Remember that a photography competition is always subjective by nature. If one image doesn’t win in one competition, it doesn’t mean it won’t win in another. Also, there are also plenty of benefits that you can get by joining a photo contest, even though you didn’t win it.

Follow the guidelines above, enter as many photography contests as you possibly can, and hopefully you get to win in some of them. It’s a number’s game!

Keep shooting and don’t forget to have fun!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Andrew Suryono accidentally fell in love with photography after shooting photos for his eBay auctions. His love for photography led him to become an amateur travel photographer who went on to win several international awards. You can find more about him on his personal website, and on his photo gallery. Apart from continuously learning photography, he is also keen on sharing his knowledge and helping other photographers.

  • Mary Hulett

    This is a well written article. You give some good advice. I really like your photo that won. It is unique and perfect. Way to go.

  • Thank you, your advice is short and to the point, very useful without being too wordy.

  • Thanks Marianne. Yes, I didn’t plan on writing a long article for this one. I want people to take pictures and join photo competition.

  • Hi, Mary. Glad to know you’ve enjoyed my article and photo. Cheers.

  • Hi Andrew, nice read. I’ve thought about submitting work to competitions before but haven’t found it easy to find competitions whether they are local, national, or global. Do you have any resources or avenues to pursue that us amateurs can use to find photo competitions?

    Thanks much!

  • Hi Josh,

    I do plan on writing a resource page for photo competition on my site. Will keep you updated on this.

  • Thank you very much, Andrew! I look forward to hearing from you.

  • This was a fascinating article, Andrew. Thanks for sharing! I never thought about looking at previous winners’ work before, or that of the judges. These are good practical tips.

  • Evelyn Dean

    Thanks for this … always been too shy with competitions, but maybe I shall give it a go!

  • Marc Thibault

    thanks for your point de vue,,bravo…

  • Melanie

    This was my question as well. I’d like to see the resource page when you publish it on your site. Thanks.

  • Joanie Christian

    Thank you for the advice. I am just starting to enter photo contests. I have found that there is a lot information about photo contests out there, and am wondering if there is a good source you recommend that is pretty inclusive of all photo contests? I would be very interested to hear when you have a resource page available!

  • Ron Carver

    Great article, and for those that want to find a place to compete, juts search for camera clubs in the area. For example here in CT we have a dozen clubs. At those clubs you get all that is mentioned in the article. Happy competing Ron.
    Again, thanks for such good article.

  • Great article and great images!!

  • Cassandra

    Hi Andrew, thanks for the nice article. How about some basic thoughts on print contests. Size, type of paper, finish, and even subject. Garden Clubs are doing a lot of these and I have to submit a shot this Monday and wonder what you think of some of the real basics. The class is a B & W, natural setting dealing with light. Size can be 36″ up to 50″ overall dimension, any paper. borderles mounted on black foam core. Viewed at eye level. Couple of design things not important to mention here. So, what are your preferences? Thanks!

  • Manohar Vaikar

    Andrew Suryono , Your Article on ” How to increase the chances of winning a Photography contest “is very useful for the amature photographer like me. Your advise increased my interest in photo contest. Thanks. — Manohar, ( India.)

  • Cheers, Manohar. Glad to know that you got something out of my article.

  • Hi Cassandra, to be honest I’ve never joined print photo contests before. Most photo contests that I entered only require me to submit the digital image and they take care of the printing. You’ll have to do your research on what paper and finish makes your image stands out. Histogram is your greatest ally when it comes to printing in Black and White. Make sure you have enough contrast to make your image “pop.” That’s all the advice that I can give. Good luck with the contest!

  • Thank you!

  • Thanks. Good advice on finding camera clubs to find photo contest. You can utilize Google’s local search feature and Meetup as well.

  • Hi Joanie, this question was previously asked and I am still finding time to create a resource page on my site. It’ll be tough to create an all inclusive list of all photo contests since they will all have different requirements and they will not apply to all photographers. If you want to start your search, I recommend going to Google to find local or international photo contests. Make sure you read the fine prints on the rules.

  • Thanks, Marc.

  • You should!

  • Thanks, Simon. Yes, I wrote that tips based on my experience from participating in different photo contests. Glad you got something out of my article.

  • Nirvan Maharjan

    Thank you for your article, its a great inspiration for amateur photographers. I would also like to ask you about post processing? How much does that come into play? Or is it just crop and you have your photo ready. Or you try out different tools in lightroom and photoshop.

  • Manohar Vaikar

    What is the procedure of Copy Right Ownership for our photos to be sent for photo contest ?

  • Hey Nirvan, I got that question a lot too. I don’t do much post processing. I will use food as an analogy here. The meat is your photo and the seasoning is post processing. When you have delicious, juicy meat, you only need to use seasoning sparingly to get a delicious meal. You don’t add too much seasoning in order to make the meat tasty. Same thing with your photograph. If you have a good photograph, you only need a bit of post processing work to make it look great. Bottom line is, don’t rely on post processing to make a bad image looks OK. Use post processing to make an already good image to great. For me personally, I only play around with basic slider like exposure, white balance or crop. I managed to do this because I get a lot of things right when I shoot in the field.

  • Every photo contest is different. Do your due diligence when it comes to copyright. Read the fine prints on every photo contest that you want to enter. No shortcut here.

  • Joyce Rivera

    Thank you for your insight! Your article was well written and to the point and I enjoyed reading it. Love your winning photo too.

  • Thank you Joyce!

  • Gregory Murray

    Do you have a list of photography contests that may be good for folks to enter? I find the trouble is in actually locating reputable contests. I’ve looked at one National Geographic contest but did not like the copyright statements involved, I’ve entered one put on by Leica (way out of my league mind you) a number of years ago, and won a small $100 one from Studio414 in the states, but those are are the only ones I even know of.

  • Hey Gregory, this question has been asked multiple times. All I can say is that I plan to write about this on my site when I can squeeze the time. Meanwhile, you can do a Google search on “photo contest” to get started. It should give you plenty of results to look at. Each competition is different so take the time to read and understand each rules and regulations.

  • Some good advice from someone who clearly knows how to make some award winning images. Great work. Thanks for sharing.


  • German Trujillo

    Hi, thanks for share your knowledge. I’m working in my projet about travel photographie wich will start mid of the year. You give yo me some interesting tips. I wondering if i go in contact with you to ask about it. Thanks and regards!

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