6 Ways to Make Money or Improve Your Business Through Photography Contests

6 Ways to Make Money or Improve Your Business Through Photography Contests

Want to make money with your photography? Why not take advantage of the myriad photography competitions to win cash, kit, or even more?

Making money through photography has never been harder. With many people around the world now shooting with incredibly smart photography equipment, smartphones giving constant access to a camera, and digital image editing software now including artificial intelligence, there's lots of competition out there.

With an overabundance of photographers, it can be hard to find paid gigs, especially in the current climate with the issues facing us thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are plenty of opportunities to make money by entering photography contests. You just need to know how to play the game and what other avenues there are available to you once you've set your sights on a competition. So, follow along as I outline six sure-fire ways to make money through entering photography competitions, all without little effort on your part.

Look for Contests That Offer Cash Prizes

Nikon photo contest screenshot

Aim to enter photography competitions that offer cash as the prize. That way, you're guaranteed money in your pocket. Nikon Photo Contest offers cash and kit prizes for their competition each year.

The best way to make actual money through entering photography competitions is to aim for contests that offer real money as a cash prize. Of course, the big names offer the biggest of cash prizes, namely the Sony World Photography Awards (which has offered up to $25,000 to the overall winner in the past) among others. However, it's worth noting that even advertising campaigns led by national and state-wide (or county-wide) companies do offer cash prizes as a way to get their name out there. The smaller the competition, generally, the lower the cash prize, but ultimately, if you're good at your craft, you're more likely to win it, as there's less competition (pardon the pun) from others.

Contests With Kit Prizes

Kit prizes to be sold

Instead of money, you could always win kit prizes. Photography kit will save you having to shell out, but if the equipment isn't something you're interested in, you can always sell it to someone else and pocket the cash. Online auction sites such as eBay will take a cut, though.

If you can't find any contests that offer cash prizes, then aim for those that give away kits. It doesn't matter if it's photography equipment, vacuum cleaners, hiking gear, or anything else, because you're in it for the money. As soon as you get the prize, and assuming you're not interested in keeping it, then sell it on eBay or similar. Better yet, you might find someone local that wants to buy them from you. Alternatively, you may want to pass the gift along, which technically would save you money in the long-term because you wouldn't have to buy the gift, but whether you'd feel comfortable doing that is a matter of taste.

Instead of selling the kit outright, you might want to consider swapping it for something more useful. For example, there are plenty of companies out there (such as MPB) that offer to buy your gear off you, and others such as B+H, which also offer money off via trade-in and offer checks for kits sold to them. This is especially handy for those wanting to get a new kit that aren't satisfied with the prize on offer.

Gain Prestige

While prestige doesn't directly make you money, if you win a competition with no cash prize or otherwise, the prestige may bump your photography resume enough to allow you to land a freelance gig, persuade someone to take you on a job over another photographer, or even help bolster your job application for work. The weight and gravitas behind certain competition wins can curry your favor when it comes to landing paid work. With this, though, there's an opportunity to be taken advantage of regarding your intellectual property (the photograph) and your copyright. So, have a good read through the terms and conditions for the competition before entering.

Build Relationships

The people you get in contact with regarding the contest may actually be good contacts to make in order to provide services to in the future. Interviews will also push your visibility up online and make it more likely for others to see you and your work, thereby increasing the opportunity for bookings. Not only that, many of the contacts you make (if you maintain the working relationship) will follow on to other jobs in the future, and that may expand your working repertoire as they put you forward for more work. This isn't as solid as the previous methods in that there's no direct monetary exchange, but it certainly helps as you move forward in your career.

Free Experiences

Services prize for competition win

Experiences, workshops, and other services are also valuable in a monetary sense provided that the service is something you're either interested in or would've bought anyway. This photography competition was run on Photo Contest Inside and offered a free photography workshop as the prize.

The competitions you enter may not outright hand over cash or free stuff, but they may offer services for free, such as workshops, trips, or other services that you would otherwise have to pay for. It's not money in your pocket, I know, but it saves you opening your wallet to pay for those things individually, that is, only if you're interested in those services in the first place.

The Exposure

There's a lot of negativity surrounding the term "doing it for the exposure" because it addresses certain groups that take advantage of new photographers by taking their work and images for free for a chance for the photographer to be published or promoted in some way. However, just as the prestige method above highlights, sometimes, it's about who you know and who knows you. It may take some time before you see any help from exposure, but if you're out there on the web more, especially with backlinks to your site or credits in the work, it's fair to expect web crawlers and search engines to index your site and rank it higher in search results, thereby increasing the likelihood of new clients.

As long as you're willing to put up with a few emails back and forth and are able to work to a brief (most photography competitions require certain criteria to be fulfilled, such as a shooting date range or theme), then you're more than capable of generating some income from entering photo contests. Now, more often than not, you're not going to get anywhere with the contests, and yes, that will drag your overall time-to-money ratio down a fair bit, but if you keep it up and hone your skills, then you might find a nice tidy bit of pocket money gathering up on the side. If you have any tips or tricks for making money in photography contests, share them with us below in the comments.

Log in or register to post comments

8 Comments

Mike Ditz's picture

I have never known of a person in real life winning anything in a photo contest, but I do know people who make a tidy bit of pocket money playing the scratchers. Better odds!

C Fisher's picture

Lol nice, I've been entering a local charity 50/50 draw for firefighters. 1/300K~ chance, a lot better odds than the lottery, someone gets about 150K a week.

Mike Ditz's picture

Wow, are you sure it isn't $150k total, cuz 150k per week is $7.8million for a year?!? I hope you win!! ! But that's not a "photo contest" :) I won a popcorn popper when I was 7.
Some contests are copyright grabs for photos and many have fees for submitting...As Elmer Fudd says "Be veewy, veewy careful.

Marcel Lecours's picture

I’ve actually won a few contests in my 7 years as a photographer. There was one contest that Sigma held during the first few months of the pandemic that I won best photo of the week, then the month then the grand prize out of all the entries. In total I won $1500 and a brand new Sigma FP with 24mm lens. I also won a Peak Design photo contest with that same photo. I’ve won a few others at the local level. So don’t give up. Now you know someone who has won, and believe me, I’m no master photographer. You just never know what photo people will respond to. Switch things up and try other genres that you maybe wouldn’t normally try. My most winning photo is a self portrait; and I am not a portrait photographer, nor am I particularly good looking. You just never know!

Mike Ditz's picture

Good to meet a contest winner! Congrats! :)

Catherine Bowlene's picture

I absolutely agree about how important making new contacts is. It may not bring you money in a long perspective but it will bring you opportunities that can be used to get both money and experience. I'd also add small favors for the clients to this list. It costs literally nothing to make a nice smartshow 3d video with some of their best pictures from the photo shoot, but the positive impression it leaves will get you positive reviews, recommendations and thus new contacts.

C Fisher's picture

https://www.photocontestinsider.com/ lists contests with brief summaries of rules and copyright.

Tom Reichner's picture

C Fisher,

Thank you for doing the author's work for him.

I read this article, fully expecting that Jason would have a paragraph explaining how to find photo contests to enter, followed up with a list of contests that are open to the general public. But he never gave us this much-needed info. Totally left it out of the article. Expecting the readership to "just Google it" is not really very helpful.