How to Win a Photography Competition

How to Win a Photography Competition


Photography Competitions are a wonderful way to improve your photography. While photography just for the sake of photography is a lot of fun sometimes a competition can help you raise the bar as a photographer as you know your image will be seen by a discerning group of judges and possibly even displayed along with other winners.

how to win a photography competition.jpg

Photography competitions come in all shapes and sizes and range from online friendly competitions or assignments (like the ones we have in our forums each week) through to local competitions in photography clubs through to international photography competitions entered by pro photographers.

Having judged and entered my share of Photography Competitions I thought I’d write up a few tips for aspiring photographers wanting to have a go in competitions:

1. Know and Follow the Competition Rules

Rules.jpgimage by hmmlargeart

While they might be a little boring to read – the terms and conditions of entry to the competition that you’re entering are the place that you really need to start when considering if and how to enter.

There are two main reasons for this:

  • How will the images be used? – Each competition will use the images submitted differently and it worth considering the implications of this. The first competition that I entered made one of it’s conditions of entry that they could use the images in pretty much any way that they wanted after the competition. This left a lot of photographers angry when their images started appearing all over the place.
  • It can mean the difference between winning and losing – one of the heartbreaking things about being involved in the running of a competition is seeing the many wonderful entries that are submitted incorrectly and as a result are not able to be considered for a prize. Read the rules of the photography competition to see how many shots you can submit, when they need to be in, what format they should be in etc – and stick to these guidelines or you could well be wasting your time!

2. Stick to the Theme of the Competition

This leads us to our next tip – an obvious but important one – stick to the theme! I am always amazed when judging competitions just how many of the images leave A LOT to the imagination of judges in terms of how they relate to the theme.

While there is generally room for creativity and interpretation of themes, there’s only so far that a group of judges will allow an image to stray from the nominated theme of the competition.

While it’s always possible to find an image in your archive of shots that fits the ‘theme’ of a competition – I find I have more luck when I shoot something new with the competition in mind. I not only get better results this way but more importantly – it means I’m taking new images and learning more about photography in doing so.

3. Do Some Research

Research.jpgimage by !borghetti

It is amazing what you can do to improve your chances of winning a photography competition if you just do a little logical thinking and research before you start shooting.

If the competition is annual, look at the winners from last year – while you don’t want to copy them, they could give you some hints as to the type of images that do well. If the competition is run by an organization or has a major sponsor – this can also be worth keeping in mind as it could tell you about the type of image they are looking for. Lastly – if the judges names are published take a little time to familiarize yourself with their work. What style of work do they do, what type of image might they appreciate?

4. Avoid Cliches and Stand Out

If the competition has a theme it can be a fine line between a great shot and one that is a predictable cliche. Keep in mind that judges will potentially be viewing thousands of images in their task of choosing winners so if your image is just like everyone else’s it’s not likely to even get on their radar.

A tip I was given by a mentor years back for interpreting themes was to identify the type of shot that you expect everyone else will be submitting in response to the theme and then to set out to do everything you can to set yourself apart from it. This is a skill that comes with experience – but it’s worth learning.

Stand out from the crowd by choosing compelling subjects, striking colors, unusual but strong composition etc. Display your knowledge of rules of composition but don’t be afraid to break them if necessary.

5. Aim for Technical Brilliance

This should go without saying but from my experience as a judge I can only say that many photographers seem to settle for less than their best.

If an image isn’t perfectly focused, exposed brilliantly or composed strongly – take another one.

Don’t settle for mediocre results – the judges won’t!

6. Avoid Distracting Elements

One of the big mistakes that I see in judging of photography competitions is images where the photographer simply has not paid attention to every part of the frame. Distracting elements pop up in backgrounds, foregrounds, color etc and they can mean the difference between a good shot and a fantastic one.

7. Go for a Reaction

reaction.jpgimage by carf

As I think back on winning images in the last few competitions that I’ve participated in as a judge and participant – they all do a great job of ‘connecting’ with those that are viewing the image. Tell a story, hit people with emotion, do something with a shot that connects and evokes some sort of a reaction in those looking at the image.

Technically great shots without a ‘soul’ will leave judges wanting something a little more. I know when I’m faced with the choice between the ‘technically perfect’ and a shot that is slightly less technically brilliant but which connects with me that it’s the later that usually gets my vote.

8. Enter Another Competition

Did you win? Yes? Build upon your success and enter another one. No? Do try again! The glory of winning a photography competition fades in time – but the lessons that you learn in competing will stick with you forever.

What Would You Add?

Have you entered photography competitions? How did you go? What tips would you add to the above ones for others wanting to improve their chances of winning photography competitions?

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Mike Connors November 28, 2012 07:31 am

    Check out it is a place where you can enter contests and create photo contests all on one site. Have not won one yet but that is another story.

  • mitiku September 28, 2012 10:43 pm

    I have one photograph that i want to send to the National geography but don't really know if its a good idea.

  • Mckayla Herandien July 28, 2012 11:54 pm

    Can you guys please like this picture its for a fb bbf picture comp :) we almost in the lead and will be much appreciated check out our good shots :)

  • Wedding Photographer Braintree March 2, 2012 09:51 am

    Very useful advice I think sticking to the theme is one of the most important point so many people stray from this.

  • edward olive March 19, 2011 09:46 pm

    I would add in serious international competitions its what you say.

    In public voting online one its who canvasses the most votes from friends

    In Spain its often who the mayor of the local vilage likes best based on personal reasons, the same as their granting of land development contracts

  • Togger October 12, 2010 09:00 pm

    There are some great tips here and I also use to find free contests to enter.

  • PhotoshopPrincess October 8, 2010 11:25 pm

    i cant wait to try thes out...
    ive been surfing through a lot of competition possibilities... though im only going for the free ones :P
    heres a link if anyones interested.

  • Sakti Prasasnna Mohanty,Orissa April 2, 2010 10:11 pm

    Excellent photos and good selection. Thanks a lot.

  • ian oliver March 15, 2010 03:48 am

    these are a great tips. tnx!!!

  • Ashley December 13, 2009 06:45 am

    omg this is so cool! I just got instant $45 from!

  • Philip Beech August 20, 2009 07:50 pm

    We are holding a photography competition to celebrate Ramadhan. Entrance is free, and the best photos will be published in a national newspaper. Prizes include a A Crumpler Million Dollar Photography Bag with Accessories and the book The Moment It Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world's top shooters (Voices That Matter). Visit for details. The contest is open until the 30th September 2009.

  • aparna July 21, 2009 09:21 pm

    The tips were really pleasing and worth reading.! :)
    and plz send in a mail to me regarding latest photography competitions.

  • Taghrid Belqaizi July 5, 2009 10:32 pm

    Great article :D

    I won 3rd place in a competition themed, "Dubai in your Eyes".

    Please critique it, I'd like to know what I could have done to have won 2nd or 1st place.
    I'll start by critiquing myself... I think I should have never had the guy in the background...

  • Kat April 9, 2009 04:00 pm

    Another great way to find out whether your photo connects with people is to have your non-photography friends to look through your photos. It's surprising how often a photo you've overlooked is the one that people like the most!

  • Br00ke April 1, 2009 08:29 pm

    Really great tips!!! Thanks :)

  • Rebecca December 20, 2008 01:18 am

    Thanks for the advice on how to win a competition. I don't think any of my photos from previous visits to the UK would win. We used disposable cameras. Time to get a digital camera. I do like Panasonic and Nikon. Time to start researching...

  • Iveta October 7, 2008 07:06 pm

    I am realy want Sony Alpha 200 camera and I can get it if you help me.
    If you like my photo, just vote for it.

    I am highly thank!
    and big hug for you :)))

  • Jovita September 8, 2008 03:26 pm

    Great tips! This tips can help me to win a Photography competition

  • Silverf0x September 1, 2008 07:52 am

    nice tips...maybe it can help me to win a contest (never won yet :( )

  • Tozé August 28, 2008 02:12 am

    Beware of contests promoted by private companies like new Hotels or resorts.

    If you look at the submission guidelines you'll find that you'll be handing them full rights to the photos regardless of whether you win or not.

    This is often a way for companies to get hordes of free photos often offering relatively cheap prizes to the top 3 individuals.

  • Will August 27, 2008 09:29 pm

    Great post. Make sure you visit to find some contests to enter!

  • Anna aivzdog August 27, 2008 12:36 pm

    I won a photo contest with this photo
    They likes the face expression and motion.

  • Krista Neher August 26, 2008 01:07 am

    Try your new "Contest Winning) skills.... if you are looking for contests to enter check out There are 5 contests up right now with lots of prizes, ranging from camera cases to over $100K in prizes in the Aperture Nature Photography Workshops... you can also create your own contest.

  • Matt August 25, 2008 11:17 pm

    If it's a contest that is voted on by the public, be sure to ask all of your friends to vote, and if you belong to any message boards that allow it, make a post asking for votes.

    That being said, please vote for my photo at

  • Peter Phun August 25, 2008 09:30 am

    I understand the enthusiasm here about photography contests but I would remind everyone to read the fine print.

    The more reputable ones don't take all copyright of your work. What's the point of producing a wonderful image which you forfeit all claims to by not reading the fine print.

    Think of how cheap this is if say a particular camera manufacturer wanted to have a great image for one of its ads.

    Have a contest, in the fine print say that by entering, all contestants are giving (insert name of camera manufacturer here) hereby forfeiting all rights and the image belongs to them to do as they please in perpetuity.

    Don't be duped. Read this post. There are other articles if you just search online about these scams.

  • Amber August 23, 2008 12:01 pm

    Another piece of advice:

    Enter the SMALL contests. I got second place in a local competition for pictures of the George Washington Day parade. It was $50 bucks I didn't have before. And if the judges had been swayed a little more, I would have ended up with $500 at Ritz Camera.
    It was this one, if you're curious:

  • Chelsea August 22, 2008 10:34 pm

    Does anyone know any competitions for ages 13? that is for Australia and includes Perth

  • Jenny Love August 22, 2008 09:27 pm

    Fascinating. Well written and some very good advise.


  • Klaidas August 22, 2008 08:38 pm

    1. Take a good picture
    2. ???
    3. Profit!

  • August 22, 2008 07:59 pm

    Great tips! Will test them ;-), can imagine some photographers are not happy with u giving this information.

  • Bob Bevan Smith August 22, 2008 06:22 pm

    After entering a lot of competitions you learn what the judges like. But don't forget what is most important - you take the pictures you like! If some of them coincide with judges' likes, then enter them - but don't stop taking your own photos.

  • August 22, 2008 05:45 pm

    Wow Great tips you have there i wish to participate in any photography competition...Hmm...but to date..i still don't have lots of time to do so..

  • tyler August 22, 2008 03:20 pm

    #9 set a limit on how many you enter, entry fees ad up, and in the end, you can enter 10 @ $25 a pop and not get into any of them....

  • Daniel August 22, 2008 03:08 pm

    Only thing that really needs to be said is:


    Can't win it if your not in it... With a lot of photo competitions theres usually atleast 1 in the top 3 that I don't think deserves to be in it. Unless you know what the judges like you simply don't know.

    I've seen some people enter the same photo in multiple competitions (of the same theme) and won some but lost others. Not because of the level of competition but simply because the judges saw different things.

  • Jae August 22, 2008 02:57 pm

    I entered a contest at our local fair just out of curiosity. I was certain I was going to just enjoy the feeling of competing and be satisfied with that. In the end I came away with 3 firsts and 1 third place finish along with overall best entry. I am so excited and can't wait for next year! Oh ya and that was before I knew there were "rules" LOL

    The type of presentation was given to us and it was a rule to follow as well, for that contest anyway. I think that's only fair.

    Here was my fav photo of the ones I submitted:

  • JP August 22, 2008 12:55 pm

    Hi guys, I think these are great tips. I've just started getting into photography and this really helps. I also write a food blog and we are always looking for people to submit pics, if anyone is interested. We might run a comp soon if we can get enough submissions. Anyway, check out the blog and if you're keen to take shots of swish bars or lounges, desserts, wineries, restaurants etc...please send through some pics or post a personal link on our site in the "share dessert" area. Cheers! JP

  • Mary Jo August 22, 2008 09:40 am

    Go to photography contest exhibits (whether in person or online). Better yet, share it with a friend and discuss what won, what didn't and your impressions of the exhibit.

    I did that with a friend and then we each wrote about our impressions of what we saw:

    Really helps me look at things differently.

  • G. Chai August 22, 2008 09:30 am

    Did you win? Yes? Build upon your success and enter another one. No? Do try again! The glory of winning a photography competition fades in time - but the lessons that you learn in competing will stick with you forever.

    I like that piece of advice.
    I've never entered a contest before. After reading your post, I feel like doing least for the lessons that I am sure it will help me learn.

  • Andre August 22, 2008 06:48 am

    Rule number 9. Don't steal someone else's images and enter them as your own.

    Microsoft had a photo contest as part of the Windows Vista launch. I was browsing the photos, and came across two of mine that someone had entered. He was immediately disqualified when I complained to Microsoft.

  • Rory August 22, 2008 05:35 am

    What about presentation for printed images? How much weight do you feel it holds with the judges? Obviously a printed photograph should be decently presented, but do you think it's worth going the extra mile to help your image stand out more from the others?

    Any advice or thoughts?

  • Deirdre August 22, 2008 04:41 am

    My daughter (11) and I just sent in our entries for our county fair's photography contest. I followed the rules and also tried to keep a local and agricultural feel in my photos, because I am hoping those would fit the county fair well. We'll see what the judges think. The photos will be displayed at the fair whether or not they win, and I think that's half the fun.

    We also entered a contest to have photos in our local calender. She actually got two photos in. I got one. What's fun is most people around here have that calender. We keep seeing our photos up on the walls.

    Local contests are a nice way to enter contests without a lot of pressure. Depending on where you live, there may not even be a lot of competition -- at least that's what I'm counting on!

  • Mario August 22, 2008 01:57 am

    And, as I already heard somewhere else: The statistics say that a 100% of winners have started by submitting something... ;)

  • Mellr7127 August 22, 2008 01:45 am

    This is great and what perfect timing. I am participating in a photowalk this weekend and it's great to know this ahead of time in hopes to know what judges are looking for.

  • DianeM August 22, 2008 01:42 am

    Two of my photos that won and why:
    A very pretty but typical sunrise. What made this phot different was the wild cloud effect.
    And this photo won. I try to understand what made this photo a winner. It is a very "feel good" photo but the missing eyes on the dog should have tossed it out--unless that is an interest point. One rule of art never changes--generate a reaction: positive or negative, but generate a reaction.

  • Pete Langlois August 22, 2008 01:24 am

    Another tip is just enter! You can't win if you don't enter.

    Sounds basic but how many people never enter a contest because they don't think they will win?


  • MrYu August 22, 2008 01:01 am

    The way to win really depends a lot on what type of a contest you are participating in and, most importantly, who the judges are.

    It sounds like you are describing a professionally judged competition, and most of your points are valid. If you were, however, to enter a contest that is also judged by the participants or by general public, the approach is pretty much the opposite.

    In that case, you need to shoot cliches and mass-appeal kind of topics, period. Don't try to stand out, nobody is going to get your bright ideas, just try to deliver quality, even if boring, work, although there is no need for "brilliance" -- again, nobody is going to understand it.

    If you really are interested in contests and such, I agree, the best way to improve is to practice. My advice would be to sign up for one of the online contest sites that has a different topic every week or so and practice. My favorite is and no, I'm not affiliated in any way. I hear contests at are pretty decent, too, although smaller and slower-paced.

    If you have to do a contest every week, you will learn very quickly how to produce work that appeals to the particular set of judges under the specific circumstances of the contest.

    Oh, and look at the previous winners, that will give you an idea of what is expected and what has a chance and what doesn't.

  • The Wallbanger August 22, 2008 12:47 am

    This article forgets a major point. Be sure to add an interesting or provacative title to your photo. A good title or description can completely change the impression of the image on the viewer. Add context if needed for the win.

  • James August 22, 2008 12:34 am

    Does anyone know of a comprehensive list of photography competitions online? I'm particularly interested in UK based competitions.

  • --Deb August 22, 2008 12:33 am

    Point number 4? A friend of recently told my mother that she'd won a paiting contest at the Martha's Vineyard Ag Fair one year because she submitted a painting of skiing or dog-sledding (or some other wintry scene, I'm foggy on the details). One of the judges told her that it was so refreshing to see a painting that WAS NOT a beach/summer scene, and that's why she won.

  • Adam August 21, 2008 11:56 pm

    I don't totally agree with your ABC's of contests are: Animals, Babies, Chicks. Though you are probably on the right track when it comes to a mass-audience based vote, but if depending on the competition you'll find following the lessons rules are more helpful then just shooting a really cute puppy.

    What if the competition was to photograph the best animal picture? Do you have a better chance if you put the dog beside a chick and a baby? ;)

  • Gary Anthes August 21, 2008 11:54 pm

    My advice if your contest is being judged by an avant garde photographer, a museum curator for example:
    1. Throw away all your nature photos.
    2. Throw away most of your color photos as well as anything that looks like it might have been taken on a vacation.
    3. Forget everything you know about keeping your camera straight, keeping things in focus and proper exposure.
    4. Go out and photograph some old people, the more wrinkled the better. Extra credit for tattoos and missing teeth.
    5. Or, photograph people who are obviously poor or homeless. Extra credit for tattoos or any evidence of substance abuse.
    6. Failing 4. and 5., find anything that most people would consider ugly. Could be trash in an alley, road signs and telephone poles, graffiti, etc. Black and white only, please.
    7. Don't worry that many of the other winners will have similar stuff. You are now a winner, and part of the avant-garde!

  • Gunjan Karun August 21, 2008 11:41 pm

    Excellent points mentioned here.
    I agree with all of them.

    The most important thing that people should think of is how to make your photos different i.e. avoid cliches.

    I tried to be unique with my photos and was duly rewarded.

    I won a few ones :) run by Better Photography Magazine, India.

    The winning entries are

    Reflections in a coffee cup
    This photo won the first prize in the theme titled reflections

    This photo won an award in the theme titled
    Fire Water Air Earth

    And this photo won an award in the theme titled

    Digital Photography School had a big role to play in my success :)

    Best of luck to everybody.


  • Nick August 21, 2008 11:38 pm

    The ABC of contest are: Animals, Babies, Chicks.
    Never seen a contest (even landscape-themed) with less than 6 ABC photos in the top ten.


  • keith August 21, 2008 10:23 pm

    One important thing to keep in mind about contests: you'll never know unless you give it a try.

    Popular photography magazine runs a monthly contest,, the rules are quite simple (image has to be a certain size when you email it in) & its an open theme.

  • Sven August 21, 2008 10:11 pm

    I ones won with this one:

    Was a Rotterdam Photo Contest btw...

  • Jarrod August 21, 2008 10:05 pm

    Great tips! I would also suggest paying close attention to the submission guidelines. I have recently entered a few competitions and found that each has its own requirements regarding image size, resolution, color space, etc.