Are Photography Competitions Worth it ?

Ah the narcissistic world of the photography competition, is it something you the photographer should dive into. You have the camera, the shots what’s to lose here ?

Well there are some things to think about before entering a photography competition, as a topic covered in a recent podcast I will expand on some of my comments made from “that” episode of Not The Gear.

How To Win A Photography Competition

Picture This

Contemplating a photography competition is a difficult thing, but it can be made slightly easier with a bit of research and some “internetting” that can uncover some hidden truths. To put that into context let me explain. Now I happen to live in a rather small community here in New York and there is a local annual photo competition run by the local newspaper. The last few years have seen some “noteworthy” entries added to walls and beach fronts for everyone to gasp at.

All well and good I hear you say, well yes maybe, however those images were on average a bit guff, and by that I mean rubbish. Not wanting to poo-poo anybodies work and that’s not what I’m trying to do at all. However it makes you wonder who is judging the competitions in the first place, and here is the issue I have with some of the smaller locally run photography competitions.

The motive to run them is not always to find the best image or one that tells a story and this is almost always true of smaller run competitions that have prize money of say $500. In many cases these are run to help keep the lights on at the “Daily Rag” that enables them to print more pages to sell adverts to “Mrs Miggin’s Pie Shoppe” underneath someones god awful image of a Labrador holding a babies arm.  Of course they can print this on any given slow news day, which is kinda daily.

Is that a competition you would like to enter ? Well no, you just spent $50 to enter and the exposure, if there is such a thing these days would be worth squat assuming you won. Then there is the perception.

Assuming you lose here the effect can be quite irritating to a photographers narcissistic soul. Let me explain that. Say you lost out to said Labrador holding a babies arm image and your classy photography was shown as a runner up or worse, a great effort (yikes) the damage you could do to your brand is quite high. Take out the damage to your brand and you’re left with a WTF moment and there are times a professional will scratch their head and find that hard to move on from.

While I’m using the local competition to make my point the same can apply to the 100’s if not 1,000’s of annual competitions run by various publications on a regional and national level.


There is a silver lining to all this doom and gloom; you can actually enjoy and may be win a photography competition IF you find one that reflects your brand and genre of photography.

I would always recommend you do research on every competition you want to enter, look at the entries that won last year and the year before that, what’s the prize money ?. It’s rare for the same style image to win each year so if you have something that could plug that gap and ticks all the boxes then go for it.

Photo competitions are highly rewarding when you enter the right one, they can inspire you and others to find something new to create and that’s a wonderful thing for everyone.

1 Comment

  • Patty Holdstappple
    Posted July 20, 2020

    I would have loved this information on how to win a photo competition. Started to enter a few and felt a bit cheated. Did some research on the competitions and chose the photo competition that I felt I could win. I came runner up which is almost a win

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