Student Photography Awards Do Not Cater for All Photography Students

The Sony World Photography Awards, a recognized platform for emerging talents, has come under scrutiny for its age limit policies within its Student award category. There's a growing concern about the fairness of age limits that exclude mature students, with questions raised about imposing an upper age limit of 30 years for participants in the student category.

The Sony World Photography Awards Student competition, themed "Home," encourages participants to explore and express their interpretations through a photographic series. Education institutions across the world are encouraging and supporting their students to submit their entries in order to be in the running for early-career recognition of talent, which would certainly stand students in good stead for their ongoing career trajectories. When reading the terms and conditions of the student category, rule number one states: “The Competition is open to all students of photography from World Photography Organization’s selected Universities. All Entrants must be aged between 18 and 30 years of age at the time of Competition’s deadline.” The latter contradicts the former, as not all students pursuing photography qualifications are 30 years old or younger.

The crux of the issue is that not all students are recent high school graduates or young adults starting their academic journeys. It is common for creatives of all types to change careers and pursue their passions after trying to fit into working in a more traditional career. The argument for removing age limits gains strength when considering the motivations behind taking up photography later in life. Unlike younger people, mature students often come with some extra life experience, each bringing a distinctive narrative to their photographic endeavors. For some, photography might be a second career or a means of self-expression after years spent in a different field. Others might use it as a therapeutic outlet, a creative escape that adds depth to their personal and professional lives, or something to keep them occupied upon retirement.

The term "student" encompasses a diverse range of individuals, including those pursuing higher education later in life. Imposing an upper age limit overlooks the broader reality of a typical higher education classroom. Mature students, often juggling work, family, and education, might discover their passion for photography later in life, but their contributions to the student population should not be dismissed. This policy inadvertently penalizes those who bring life experiences and unique perspectives to the art form.

A student competition should extend beyond age brackets and celebrate diverse experiences, perspectives, and creative journeys. By imposing an age limit, the competition inadvertently perpetuates a narrow definition of what it means to be a student photographer. Photography is not confined to a specific age group, and the restrictive policies risk sidelining the rich contributions that mature students can bring to the table.

As someone who enrolled in formal photographic study in my late twenties when I was already working in the field of photography, I can remember aging out of student photography competitions. The exclusionary nature of these competitions not only affects individuals who, like me, ventured into photography later in life, but also undermines the diversity of perspectives that could contribute to the richness of the artistic discourse within the student community. The only option that mature students have within the confines of the Sony World Photography Awards would be the Open category, amongst a myriad of professionals and enthusiasts, which accepts single image entries only. This category also offers a different prize at $5,000 cash rather than $20,000 of Sony imaging equipment for the student and their institution. The existence of a separate Youth category for those under 18 implies an acknowledgment of the unique needs and perspectives of younger photographers. Placing an age ceiling on the student category seems contradictory, as it fails to recognize the equally diverse experiences of those over 30 pursuing photography as students.

To even the playing field, student photography competitions should consider adopting more flexible age policies. Eliminating the upper age limit would acknowledge the varied life trajectories of students. As the deadline for the Sony World Photography Awards approaches, it is an opportune moment for organizers to re-evaluate their age restrictions and pave the way for a more equitable experience for all student photographers.

Kim Simpson's picture

Kim Simpson is a photographer based in the West of Scotland. Her photographic practice is an exploration of the human experience, with a particular emphasis on themes of identity and belonging.

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Funny to read this. I'm a 36-year-old meteorology student participating in a forecasting challenge for students. I agree that a student is a student no matter the age.

Wholeheartedly agree

The competition is organised by Sony, a non-public company under private law. Sony may set the conditions of participation as it sees fit. Nobody is forced to take part in this competition. So what's the problem?

It is completely irrelevant why someone over 30 is still a student. Sony has defined this age restriction as one of several conditions of participation. Now the next person comes along and says: why are only pictures from 2023 allowed to take part, that's unfair? Either you accept the conditions of participation or you don't take part, it's as simple as that.

In contrast to the judging of (photo) competitions, the conditions of participation are transparent and defined in a way that everyone can understand at all times.

Did you read the article?

But of course, every word. What have I overlooked?

Imagine the outcry if it was limited to participants over 30

That's also random, but I think it could be limited to "adults" only like over 18/21yo.

Making a 2023 time frame affects everyone equally and is easy to "enforce", saying a student over 30 is not eligible is sort of random...IF they said a student is someone enrolled in an accredited program without an age limit, that to me would make more sense. There are mature students in most classes I have been in and now I am that student lol.

It's not about whether someone who is older than 30 can't also be a student. Or whether only images from 2023 are permitted. It's simply about the fact that a company under private law can set the conditions of participation for a competition that it organises as it sees fit. This means that the company (in this case Sony) has not defined that people older than 30 cannot be students. It has merely stipulated that there is a certain age limit for participating students. Participants may or may not agree with this. Incidentally, this is also known worldwide as the so-called terms and conditions

Maybe you could list a few websites or forums that show this "scrutiny" you speak of. I tried searching and could find no articles at all that had any issues with the Sony World Photography Awards.

This has long been discussed in academic circles. As education institutions strive to remove historic barriers to learning its disheartening that some students still face barriers elsewhere.

"Long been discussed" but no articles to reference your statement. Got it.


I disagree 100 percent. While a student is a student, there is a world of different in the maturity and experiences of an 18 year old and a 30 year old. I feel I didn't really become a responsible adult until I was in my late 20s.

Someone who has reached their 30s should already have the skills to go out and find a career. They should know people who know people and shouldn't have any problems finding someone to assist if they need it.

Let's not deny those that truly need assistance just on the basis of of some vague age fairness ideal. And greedy people who want their piece of the pie.

Because that's just not fair ..

Photography contests are not a measure of ones career path, academic success or maturity levels, they are a measure of photographic skill... or should be anyway. To 100% disagree is quite a strong opinion. Do you feel it is unfair to let mature students learn with younger students as they have an advantage in the classroom? It may have been decades since they wrote essays vs school leavers who are used to the required format.