How to Increase Your Chances of Winning a Photography Competition

How to Increase Your Chances of Winning a Photography Competition

There's a huge variety of photography competitions, from your local camera club, to huge global awards and some big prizes if you win. So, how do you win a photography competition, and is there a special formula you can use to reap the rewards?

I've been fortunate enough to be on both sides of the podium, both as a winner on several occasions and as a judge for NPhoto magazine's Photographer of the Year awards. In fact, it was winning a competition about a decade ago that got me seriously interested in following photography as a career, so I know just how impactful they can be for all of us.

So, I've decided to put together a short checklist that you can do each time you enter a competition, whether you're interested in landscapes, portraits, street photography, or anything else. If you have any particularly useful tips you've picked up along the way, feel free to add them down in the comments below to help out others who want to win.

Research Previous Winners

Nikon Photo Contest screenshot

Check previous winners galleries to see what tone of photography each competition tends to lean towards.

It's important to see what kind of imagery specific photography contests are going for. Fashion photographer of the year probably isn't going to appoint a winner whose subject hasn't thought about the clothes they're wearing. Nor is landscape photographer of the year going to award someone whose horizon is wonky. Look through past winners galleries, and try to find a theme.

Are they all bright, colorful, and full of portraits? Perhaps the judges are looking for gritty street photos that reflect the context of the location. Whatever it is, most competitions have a rough pigeonhole that they aim for when appointing winners.

Gather Opinions

When I looked at entering the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19, I very nearly didn't bother. It was only due to my partner encouraging me to enter and telling me she thought my image was good that I even sent in the application. I had no idea that a few months later, I'd be traveling to Japan to pick up a gold award. That little seed of doubt could've cost me the whole thing before it even began, so I encourage all photographers to get opinions from others.

Look for Free Entry

Sony world photography awards screenshot

The Sony World Photography Awards are free to enter, and there are many other free-entry, high-profile competitions to enter, as well as lesser-known contests.

There's nothing wrong with paying to enter a competition, especially if there's a good prize at the end of it or a load of cash. But, if you're working on a budget, then there are plenty of free competitions that you can enter and still have a lot of prestige clout behind them. Some great examples of free-entry, prestigious competitions are the Nikon Photo Contest, Sony World Photography Awards, and National Geographic Traveller Photography Competition.

Check These Basic Technical Requirements

National Geographic Traveller Competition screenshot

Hitting the basic technical requirements such as focus and exposure is critical for advancing to later stages in competitions.

First off, you've got to make sure your image is sharp and in focus. Shots that are blurry will often be cast out in the first round of culling. That said, if the purpose behind your photograph is that it's intentionally blurred and it's obvious in the photo, then this is permissible. Next, the shot has to be properly exposed. It must be bright enough to see your subject, and intentional overexposure or underexposure is fine so long as the image is strong enough or requires this adjustment.

Finally, read the entry terms. Normally, competitions ask for relatively low-resolution images in the first instance, so check the resolution, pixel density, file size limit, and file type before entering, and if your image doesn't match up, then convert it in editing software before entering. The same is true for any metadata that's required or whether you're required to shoot on a certain piece of kit or brand of gear. Generally, you're encouraged not to submit watermarked images.

Summary

It's a good idea to seek out the opinions of others before ruling out an image, to check your photos meet the eligibility requirements before entering, and to do a little research into the type of competition and its previous winners. This will put you in a good position to win a competition, so long as your image is technically proficient as well as unique or important in its own category.

Main image trophy illustration by Wikirishiaacharya used under Creative Commons.

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23 Comments

Les Sucettes's picture

The only reason you may want to win is so your bio can read « award winning » and that’s it.

Most of the time, it’s a waste of time.

Dan Seefeldt's picture

Unless the winner gets $$$ or free gear then it's great to enter.

Les Sucettes's picture

$ per chance of winning, you may as well enter the lottery

Simon Anderson's picture

Ive won 7 cameras, a few tripods amongst loads of other things, so lots of money to be had, to be honest I couldn't afford a lot of my gear so winning it was a way of getting a decent set up.
P.s I'm an amateur not a professional so everyone has a chance, also none of my descriptions or bio's say award winning.

Cool Cat's picture

That's funny. Because if your description or bio said "Award Winning" you wouldn't be an amateur any more. And lastly, your photographs are great.

Simon Anderson's picture

Thank you, may you win the lottery 3 times 😁

Dan Seefeldt's picture

Depends on who is running the contest. National Photographer of the year? Odds a probably low.

Your local camera store? Better odds and you can have fun taking the photo too.

I'm talking free entry here.

Simon Anderson's picture

Yep agree, I mostly enter free ones but thats because im a miser lol

Allan Pakett's picture

Did I miss something? The only advice mentioned was that the image must be properly exposed and sharp.

Billy Paul's picture

My top tip for portraits is make sure your subject looks at least 80 years old or is unable to afford shoes and preferably both.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Damn you! You made me spill my coffee. :D

jim hughes's picture

Just be sure it has some sort of a social justice message.

I'm not disparaging these issues. But some recent big-name competitions have been totally swamped with such shots, many of which seemed contrived and over-the-top.

David Love's picture

Long as you're not talking about on this site where trolls just low vote every entry.

Charles J's picture

According to Lee, votes don't matter... where the highest voted photographs are considered for awards.
(Quarantine CTC)

Peter Mueller's picture

For some of us shutterbugs (not all), the transfer of image rights issue should be an important consideration. Always read the terms (especially true of free contests). If the photo is good enough to be in the running, then it should have marketable value, and you might be giving that up for an "award."

Timothy Gasper's picture

My GOD!!! If you're doing photography to 'win prizes', you are TRULY missing the point.
You're NOT really a photographer. And that's a big PERIOD.

g coll's picture

You can be a photographer for the love of photography as an art form and also decide sometimes to enter your images into a competition. If not for the fun of it. Why not? On submission of an image do you then cease to be a real photographer?

Timothy Gasper's picture

Anyone with a camera is therefor a photographer

Timothy Gasper's picture

Well i should rephrase my original comment. Anyone who is doing photography for the sole purpose of winning contests.....should that person be viewed as a photographer? Aside from having a camera in his/her hand. Don't get me wrong. I am perfectly fine with submitting photos occassionally to competitions, but when it is the mainstay of ones' purpose, then their focus and energy and intent is based on winning. Yeah, there are many computer tech wizzes out there who can manipulate an image to look - divine. But what is their attention focused on? Winning, not for the sake of beauty or art...which is the final result. I have known several photo competitors and they were only always interested in showing me what they 'created'. Not the original image they captured. I know this by how they talked to me when showing me their work and in answering my question. All this leads to, perhaps, another topic....how far is too far before it's not 'photography' anymore?

Elliot Sander's picture

Just curious - a lot of these competitions require that the submitted photo must have been taken within a given date (usually the year before). What's the point of this if the date taken can easily be changed in most post-processing software?

Les Sucettes's picture

And also: what’s the point actually. Is it a great photo that suits the theme or not?

Billy Paul's picture

The point is likely to stop the same photographs winning competitions year after year and for that purpose the date the photograph is tagged with is pretty much irrelevant.