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10 tips for winning photo competitions

Are you thinking about entering a photographic competition? You can win some big, big prizes – I’ve won enough in some competitions to buy a new camera.

Could this image win a photographic competition?

Is this a winning image?

Why not give them a go? What have you got to lose, especially as many are free to enter. So … first tip of all …

1. Enter!

Some people won’t enter photographic competitions because they don’t think they’re good enough. However, taking on a challenge, such as entering a competition, is a good way to improve your standard. And bear in mind that judges don’t always pick the most technically perfect entry. You could win because your idea is unique or unusual. Always remember, “You’ve gotta to be in it to win it”.

2. Read the rules

And read them carefully. If they say a maximum of 3 photos per entrant, don’t submit 5 and hope they’ll look at the 3 best. If they say photographs of a certain size, stick to that size. If they say JPEG files, don’t send in TIFFs. Don’t get disqualified for missing out on some simple requirement.

3. Read the small print too

Be careful! Some competitions try to steal your copyright. They usually have a paragraph in the Terms and Conditions that says something like, “Company X shall own the entire copyright and all other rights in and to all of the Entries to the Competition …” and so on, with a lot of other legalese. A surprising number of reputable companies do this. Beware! They are stealing your copyright, banking on the fact that you won’t read the small print. Stay well away. (I give more information about  these ‘Rights-grabbing’ competitions, and how to spot them, here.)

4. Look at the previous winners

If the organisers publish the results of previous years’ competitions, browse through them to see what judges go for. For example, if a lot of the previous winners show photographs of people, you’re less likely to with an empty landscape. But don’t copy the previous winners. Be original.

5. Take photos specifically for the competition

You can browse through your collection of old photographs to find something suitable. But you are more likely to be successful if you think about what’s required and shoot to the theme. It’s also more beneficial for you. Instead of just trawling through old photos and saying to yourself “Will this do?”, you’re going out and stirring those creative juices.

6. Be honest

Don’t try to cheat. If the rules say a photograph must have been taken in France, don’t submit one taken in Belgium and hope no one will notice. A year or so ago there was the sad case of the wildlife photographer who won a prestigious competition with an image of a tame wolf, jumping over a gate at night. When his ruse was rumbled he was stripped of his award. That was bad enough. But far worse was that his reputation as a wildlife photographer is now in tatters.

7. Submit your very best

Whilst some people think they are not good enough, others enter the most appalling rubbish. Take a look at any photo competition where you can see all the entries to date. Some of the stuff that wannabees submit is beyond belief. Don’t waste your time sending in junk.

8. Present your entries professionally

Clean up all dust spots. Do colour enhancements sparingly. Don’t over-sharpen. And, even if the rules don’t specifically forbid it, do not put a border around your image. If your photo is not the best, adding a border isn’t going to make it any better. And don’t, whatever you do, put ‘© Joe Bloggs’ in a corner somewhere.That’s really naff!

9. Meet the deadline

If it says 31st December and you submit on the 1st January you’re out!

10. Don’t give up

Don’t get disheartened if you get nowhere. Remember that judging images is a hugely subjective process. Every judge is going to see things differently from every other judge … and from you. Just because you don’t win doesn’t mean that your photograph is no good. Try again, with a new competition. Remember what I said at the beginning, “You’ve gotta be in it to win it.”



  1. A very good advice, see previous contests and their winners. Not only is valid for photo contests but for other competitions or college exams …

    Greetings from Spain!! And thanks for this article

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