Key Tips to Winning a Photography Contest

Key Tips to Winning a Photography Contest


A Guest post by Nicholas Moeggenberg from

Many photographers attempt to sell their photos on stock sites or at galleries to make some money off of their work. However, photography contests are a great way to earn some easy cash from photos you’ve taken and you can do it with a few simple clicks. This guide will take you through some simple steps that will greatly enhance your chances at winning an online photography contest.


Step 1: Find the right contest(s) for you


There are hundreds of photography contests out there, but instead of entering them all, find a few contests that you are particularly interested in. There are many sites that are easy and free to enter, such as the online photography contest May the Best Photo Win. If you feel that your strength is in portraiture, then do a Google search for “portrait photography contests”. Whatever your strength is, find a handful of contests with that theme or subject type and bookmark them. Try to vary the contests based on how they are setup. Don’t only have contests based on visitor votes, or solely on a panel of judges.

Step 2: Do Your Homework

Now that you’ve found a handful of contests you’d like to enter, study them. Many contests will have a gallery of previous winners or previous contests still posted. Take a look through these and see what quality the previous winning photos contain. Whether the contest is judged by a panel or by the visitors to the site, they will typically have a slight bias towards certain types of photos. You may find that the judges tend to prefer crisp, clean looking photos opposed to something more experimental and artsy. If a site is based on visitor votes, they may collectively enjoy landscapes opposed to portraits. Whatever it may be, you will find some sort of connection between the winning photos.

Step 3: Organize Your Collection


You should now have a list of contests you’re going to enter as well as an idea of what types of photos typically do well in them. Now it’s time to go through your collection of photos to determine which photo to enter into each contest. Find photos that you feel are strong in your collection and collect them into a folder. Now try to match those photos with the contest that you feel they would do best in based on what you know of the past winners. More than likely, you will have to touch up or do some reedits on some of those photos to match the theme or feel you’d like.

Step 4: Enter the contest(s)

You’re now ready to enter the contests that you’ve chosen! Contests will typically have a set start and end date for submissions, but submit your photo as soon as possible. This will allow your photo to get seen early on by the visitors and judges. It is scientifically proven that people can recall images that they see at the beginning or the end of a series of images much better than those in the middle; so make a point to get yours in the beginning. If the contest is based on visitor votes, this will allow you a longer time to promote your photo and acquire votes. This brings us to our next and final step…

Step 5: Promote


Promote your photo! The best way to do this is on social networking sites. Copy and paste the link to the contest on your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blog etc… and tell people to vote for your photo. Let them know what the prize is as well because they’ll be more inclined to help you if they know what they’re helping you win. Many people who enter these contests just submit their photo and check back at the end of the contest to see if they’ve won. If you are actively trying to get votes by friends, family and fans or your work, you have a much greater chance at taking home the prize.
If you find the right contest to enter, know the qualities of a winning photo, submit a photo with those qualities and promote it, you should have a great chance at winning. Remember these contests are for fun too. Even if you don’t take home the prize you will at least get great exposure to your work. Good luck and keep shooting!
Nicholas Moeggenberg is a web designer and photographer from Cincinnati, OH. Check out his work at

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Some Older Comments

  • Kat April 1, 2012 10:33 pm

    I have a feeling that if you want to win (some proper photography contest) you need to have at least your own website with your photos, so the judge can have a look on your work, not only for the photo (s) you've entered. I believe that they won't choose somebody from nowhere even if photo submitted is really good. How do you think?

  • Paul March 9, 2012 04:39 am

    When you do start winning, keep a record for your CV!

  • wedding photography February 1, 2012 07:50 am

    I'll right away snatch your rss feed as I can not in finding your e-mail subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service. Do you've any? Please let me understand in order that I could subscribe. Thanks.

  • Peter Allchin October 9, 2011 11:48 pm

    I'd like to respond to the comments made by Gary Blackman. I admire his stand on what he considers to be a 'proper' photograph. However, soon after photography was invented, many enthusiasts went to great lengths in their darkrooms, experimenting with tints, colours, different chemicals and lots more besides. Bearing in mind that colour photography hadn't been invented, these people were no different than those of today using software to enhance or to completely change what was the original image. Just like the English language, photography evolves.

  • T.Alan Kirk October 8, 2011 10:00 pm

    A few years ago I won an online photo contest - 2nd prize, but had to beg to actually get it sent to me. I felt so burned that I never even went back to the site afterward to view any other contests. But the trade off is that I got input from a larger audience than my local community, and bragging rights for that piece (although I haven't been able to sell the actual piece in our local gallery.) And maybe you have to give up the rights to a few photos to get a broader range of input and experience. Is that so bad? Be aware of the risks as well as the gains when entering contests or even posting your photos online. I have one image online that I constantly Google search and fine on other people's sites. While I feel ripped off sometimes by unscrupulous people, I also have the satisfaction of knowing I created a "winner." I trust in a Higher Power to take care of those who abuse me.

  • Madhawa Habarakada October 8, 2011 02:14 pm

    thanks for the article. was very interesting. and learnt much more by reading the comments. thanks for the commenters too. :)
    I'm an amateur photographer and was thinking of making some money out of that. wasn't success in stock photography, and this seams like a great deal.

  • Richard's Photo Concepts October 8, 2011 11:03 am

    Ok so I have not entered any contests yet let alone won any. So after reading all these posts... Is it really a good idea to enter these contests at all other than to be able to say you do "award winning" Photography?

    You all make me wonder about this.

  • Robin Öberg October 7, 2011 10:17 pm

    Most FaceBook friends win... :(

  • wedding photographer cyprus October 7, 2011 04:43 pm

    Thanks for sharing this looks precious... :)
    wedding photographer cyprus

  • Zero-Equals-Infinity October 7, 2011 02:50 pm

    Use peer review to help cull the not so good from the possibly great, (because we are not always the best judges of our own work.) I belong to an online and a physical photo club, as well as Flickr. I use the feedback and scores I receive to help see where a given shot works for a particular set of viewers.

  • Jim October 7, 2011 12:54 pm

    I have often felt that the winners of photography contests were known before the contest was announced. Especially those contests with a fee for submissions.

  • Norm Levin October 7, 2011 11:13 am

    Should have written Nikon, not Nike. Big difference!

  • Tony October 7, 2011 10:01 am

    Yes, it's an unfortunate reality that the people who run these contests can be looking for photos to use in their promotional material. Why do you think they're giving away prizes; because they're nice?
    Many of these competitions are free to enter, and the use of your photo is the 'cost of entry'
    If you're not comfortable with this, you should read the entry conditions to find out what you're signing up for by entering.

  • Gary Blackman October 7, 2011 09:20 am

    Yes! this is sad .....facebook and twitter and social networking to the max means that you can win a photography contest?.... oh yes it is photography ..isn't it? Oh of course you must photo shop the original image through 8 layers... exposure fusion, hdr blending ....and or blemish removal..

    No thank you..

    I still like a true composition - my choice of ND filters and or Cokin graduate - matched to the time of day..

    Just my view...

    Gary B

  • Barry Doig October 7, 2011 08:28 am

    But beware of being ripped off by some contests. There are contests that offer generous prizes to the first, second and third winners. They then use any of the other entries to sell to advertisers without your permission and offer no royalties. You are effectively ripped off. Read the fine print before entering any contest and make sure you are not giving away your copyright.
    Barry Doig

  • Norm Levin October 7, 2011 04:53 am

    First of all, I was a winner in a big photo contest sponsored by Nike. Won a new DSLR, so I'm not complaining. This was one of those where you have to hound your friends to vote for you, something that takes a bit of time to say the least. Having said that, I also agree with Andy and others who know the importance of reading the rules regarding copyrights. Unless you know the sponsor and their own marketing objectives, be very wary of entering an online contest. You could just be providing free content to someone else. With the Internet these days, "Buyer Beware" is the best advice.

  • K. Constantine October 7, 2011 04:42 am

    I love travel photography and have taken some really good shots of local customs/people. How do you handle "model releases" when it comes to this type of photography? Do you really need a model release when it comes to out of the country people shots? When traveling overseas I always ask for permission to photography someone or their child. A nod of their head and posing shows they have consented. But, I don't have a signature. How do you handle this?

  • Tony Thundal October 7, 2011 03:49 am

    What Post Production Software/Tool Do You Use Most?

    I use mostly ACDSee Pro 5. And before that Pro 3 and Pro 4.
    The Adobe programs i.e. PS CS and Elements, are too cumbersome to use, and demands constant use to remember alle the angles.
    The ACDSee programs are easy to use in an intuitive way which comes naturally.

  • Everett K. Tipton October 7, 2011 12:16 am

    Is this the way Digital Photography School judges their photo contest? And here I thought you just choose the winners from people you knew. When I first started submitting photos in the “Assignment of the Week” I thought it was for amateur photographers only. Then I found out that “Professional Photographers” were also entering the contest.

  • Brian Fuller October 6, 2011 11:46 pm

    I have a hard time touting my own pics. I'm working on it. Maybe soon I will enter a contest.


  • David October 6, 2011 07:09 pm

    I agree spamming people vote requests can be annoying. I had one guy send me one and I voted but after it became a weekly thing I started to ignore them. I guess you need to pick the contest you think you need the help on or not hit up the same people for votes constantly. I think it works best when it is reciprical. If you make friends with other photographers and you vote on eachothers work.

    It is a bit of a cheat and submitting the best possible picture can to win on Merit should be the first aim, however, you'd be naive to think other contestants are not getting all their mates to vote so I guess you are evening the playing field a bit.

    A warning about sone contests. They may not charge you a fee for entering but they may charge fees for voting. One friend got all her friends to vote multiple times at their expense and won only to be told that she didn't get the prize she just qualified for the next round. The whole thing was a money making con.

  • Rachael Talibart October 6, 2011 05:18 pm

    All helpful pointers, but am I the only person who dislikes emails/posts requesting me to vote for someone's image? The winning image should be the best photo not the one by the photog with the most friends.

  • ccting October 6, 2011 03:30 pm

    Hmm, I hope I will win every contest after reading this article LOL

  • Erik Kerstenbeck October 6, 2011 12:33 pm


    Totally agree about reading the Rules and being aware of Fees. I wanted to enter an iconic Yosemite shot of Bridalveil Falls to a certain Outdoor Photography Contest but upon looking at the fine print decided not to due to complications and compromise! Just be careful!

    Here is the shot BTW

    I have also pulled many images from "Photo Sharing Blogs"... they are just looking for fresh free content to attract people, sell add space....a bit sad

  • CW October 6, 2011 12:06 pm

    And use a fish eye lens too! Judges love fish-eye shots.

  • Martin October 6, 2011 11:53 am

    I have to agree with Andy's comment - read the terms and conditions to see exactly what the competition organisers want to do with your photo(s)! Often, competitions are a way for companies to get access to free/cheap photos for them to use in their own marketing.

  • Becky S. October 6, 2011 10:30 am

    I agree with Andy- I'm not sure how the copyright issue didn't make it into this article- i think that's the most important part of entering & researching contests!!

  • Andy Mills October 6, 2011 10:07 am

    You forgot the "read the rules" bit. Seems obvious, but it's worth scanning them for things like minimum size and format of digital entries, whether there are restrictions on location (many competitions are only valid within the country its run from). There's no point in entering if you submit a photo that doesn't meet a requirement - they might just discard it without telling you and and you'd be none the wiser.

    Make a note of which competitions you have entered. Many competitions may only allow one entry per person and if you accidentally enter twice, both entries can be invalidated. Make sure you enter a valid e-mail address and/or phone number, otherwise they won't be able to tell you that you've won.

    And most importantly - check for what they do with the copyrights. Many competition promoters have a clause saying that by entering you grant them full copyright (or close to), and that they can use your photos as they wish. This means that they can make money from it if they wish, and not give you a penny. Not so bad if you win a prize (which would kind of be your payment), but not so good if you don't win anything.

    And remember - luck won't hit you if you don't put yourself in its path! (In other words, if you don't enter, you definitely won't win)