Tips for Winning Photo Contests

Photo: David Lazar
Entering photographic competitions can be very rewarding. Not only might you win prizes, but there's something wonderful about seeing your photo exhibited if you win.

Here are some simple tips that can help you increase your chances of winning a photographic contest.

Stick to the Subject Matter

Most photographic competitions will specify certain subjects. It might be photos of for example, tourist icons in a particular city, people at work, rural architecture, children, your favourite beach or your interpretation of the word 'love'.

Make sure you give the judges what they have asked for. A picture of an interesting insect, no matter how brilliant, is not going to come close to winning a competition themed around historic architecture.

Stand Out

To make your entry stand out, try an unusual interpretation of the subject. For example, if the theme is 'love', the obvious images are a couple gazing into each other's eyes or a mother holding a baby. Instead, you could try: 
  • a car owner standing proudly next to their beloved vintage automobile
  • a grandma holding her favourite, delicate china tea cup
  • a child hugging a tree, looking up into its branches
  • an image of a love heart created by something unusual

Beat the Deadline

This one is obvious, but if your entry arrives late, you have no chance of winning.

Take Photos All Year Round

If you know a photo competition is run each year, don't wait until the competition is announced. Start taking photos now.

For example, a "cute kids" photo competition might run each year. If the deadline is usually in summer, most entries will be of children at the beach, swimming or playing outdoors. To make your entry stand out, photograph your subject when you visit the snow or when they're wearing cold weather clothing.

The same applies to landscapes. If the competition is publicised during winter, a photo which shows the magic of a fresh, spring morning will catch the judge's eye.

Keep it in Focus and Sharp

Unless you're doing some artistic blurring, your photo will have no chance of winning if the subject matter is not in focus or blurry. If you are having problems with this, try using a tripod or a fast shutter speed.

Check the Background

Most of us have taken a photo with something unusual sitting on, or sticking out of the subject's head -- that power pole right behind them, or the sign in the background that points to their ear and states "no exit". You've concentrated so much on the subject, that you forgot to check what was in the photo's background.

Before you click the shutter, check for distracting items. Perhaps you could move your subject to a position where the background isn't so busy. If you can't move the subject of your photo, try shooting from a different angle.

Or, you might choose to leave the background in because it makes your photo funny or unusual.

Look at Previous Winners

Photo: David Lazar
Photo competitions run via a web site will often display winners from previous years. See what the judges liked and get inspiration from the photographers who won.

Submit Correctly


A lot of competitions allow you to submit your photographs through a web site. This is my favourite way to submit because you don't have to spend any time or money having your photo printed or buying stamps.

Make sure your file size is correct. Most competitions will specify a minimum and maximum file size. Some will ask for a relatively small file and then ask the winning entries to submit larger files. Take note of the correct file type as well. It will most probably be a JPG file.

Some competitions will require a printed photograph that you'll need to post. Take special note of the size of print specified. Some competitions just need the standard size you usually get from your mini lab - 6 x 4 inches. Others will need a 10 x 8 enlargement. Insert a piece of cardboard with your photo so that it doesn't get bent in the mail.
The competition rules may ask you to mount your photograph on black or white card. Use a spray adhesive, not a liquid glue. Make sure you photograph is straight before the adhesive makes a permanent bond.

Entry Forms
Read the rules to see if you need to submit an official entry form with your photo.

Model Releases
If your photo contains pictures of people, you may need to get a signed permission form (called a model release). Photo competitions that require these will usually allow you to download one of their own model releases.

Do It Today !

Many competitions have only a few hundred entries so you have a pretty good chance of winning. That's because lots of people think about entering, but never get around to actually doing it. I'm sure Woody Allen is telling us to just have a go when he says, "Eighty percent of success is showing up."

Back to main Photo Competitions page.


  1. Anonymous1:45 PM

    Always check the height that you are when taking the photo- e.g.
    The subject is helplessness, sad, sidekick etc.
    Make sure you are looking down on them--> it shows that they are lower than the people viewing the photo, it shows that they are helpless or lonely, or even younger than them or yourself.
    Or if it’s something like superhero, royalty or even professional: try to look up on them as if they are “high and mighty!”

  2. I'm just getting started as a photographer, i'm going to enter photo comps as a way of improving my skills. Do you think I would have a chance at winning even though i'm only new to the game?

  3. Editor - Dianne10:59 PM

    You absolutely have a chance of winning, especially if you have a unique and creative entry. Sometimes the judges aren't looking for a high level of photographic technique - they're looking for a good idea....something that makes your image stand out from the crowd, something that perhaps makes them laugh or an interpretation they haven't seen before.

    Good luck with your photography and do send links to any images you've entered in photographic contests.

  4. Anonymous5:16 PM

    So excited i found this site!
    I'm taking this excitement and using it
    to put myself - "outhere!"

  5. Editor - Dianne10:14 PM

    Glad to hear you're going to put your photos "out there". One of this blog's readers has received paid photography work after designers saw his photos in a competition.

    Let me know how you go.

  6. Anonymous7:37 PM

    I'm just starting to look into the whole "photographic contest" deal, even though I entered some online when I was just starting as a photographer in 2009. Now, I'm building a more serious interest in getting my work out there, so these contests and tips will certainly be a good thing for me (:

  7. Editor - Dianne10:30 PM

    Good luck with building your profile. You're welcome to include a link to your online gallery. We photographers are always interested in seeing other photographers' work.

  8. Beware of the T&Cs - they usually say that the copyright stays with you but many competitions reserve the right to use the photo (and sell it on) without giving you anything, for ever. I avoid those competitions and stick to ones where they will only use your photo in conjunction with the competition.