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Photo competitions are useful for any photographer looking to increase their reach and gain recognition for their work. Winning a prestigious competition can result in valuable media coverage and give the photographer added credibility in their field. This added credibility is particularly valuable if the photographer is aiming to sell expertise to others in the form of workshops and photo tours.

Achieving a high standing in a photo competition is clearly not an easy feat. Working out what the judges are looking for is difficult because it ultimately comes down to personal taste, which is subjective.

I have entered many contests over the years and have experienced my fair share of disappointment and success. However, I also have a great deal of experiences from the other side of the fence, as a judge. On my website, I used to run a competition series that would attract over 25,000 submissions per year. I also run EarthShots.org, a photo of the day contest, which receives hundreds of submissions per month.

While judging these contests, I often see photographers making the same mistakes over and over again. I have therefore compiled some hints and tips that should help you achieve more success with your entries.

  1. Be different. In order to standout from the crowd, try to submit an image that is unusual and striking. Judges will view thousands of photos, so it is important that you capture their attention with something fresh and original.
  2. Learn from previous years. Look at past competition winners to get a feel for the type of images that have been successful in previous years. This will give you a sense of what the judges are looking for. Do they tend to go for abstract, arty images? Do they like images that tell a story?
  3. Enter less-popular categories. Most large competitions will have several categories and some will be more popular than others. Try to work out which categories will be less competitive and enter those for a better chance of being a category winner.
  4. Know the rules. Make sure you carefully read the rules and comply with them. In the early stages, the judges will be looking for any opportunity to whittle down the entries so don’t give them an excuse to axe yours! In particular, understand the competition’s policy on the digital manipulation of images.
  5. Get the basics right. Don’t give the judges the opportunity to discard your entry because you haven’t paid attention to the basics. Your image needs to be sharp (unless blur is a deliberate artistic decision), well processed and high-enough quality to be blown up for a print exhibition if necessary.
  6. Pay attention to your caption. The caption isn’t always considered when judging but sometimes it is, particularly in the later rounds when the judges will be looking for any reason to select one image ahead of another. If your image shows something unusual or interesting then mention it. If you had to go to extreme lengths to get the photo then tell that story. A caption that tells a story is often more effective but it needs to be concise as the judges’ time is scarce.
  7. Enter well in advance of the closing date. Some websites can get slow and unresponsive as the deadline approaches.
  8. Be persistent! Treat failure as a learning-experience and move on. Most importantly, don’t take rejection personally or let it dent your confidence. As I said before, judging is a very subjective process. Keep on entering competitions and eventually you will find success!

How can you find good competitions to enter? PhotoCompetitons.com is another website that I run. On it we list the best photo competitions around the world for both amateurs and professional photographers. We only list reputable contests with decent prizes and reasonable entry fees. If you are interested in receiving the latest competitions in your inbox then you can subscribe to the Photo Competitions Newsletter (you can select the categories that interest you, for example, Nature, Travel, Fine Art, etc…).

For your convenience, we have compiled a document profiling the Top 10 Photo Competitions to enter in terms of potential exposure. You can download this document for free by clicking here.

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