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Photography Competitions: To Enter or Not to Enter?

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There’s a funny divide in the photography world when it comes to competitions. On the one hand, some people love them and think they’re a great way to promote amateur work. On the other hand, some people think they’re a waste of time and money and will only end with participants being a few hundred dollars out of pocket.

So which is true? Is a photography competition really a worthwhile pursuit, or is it just as rewarding to simply upload your photos to a photo book creator and exhibit them on your shelf? Below, we’re going to examine the ins and outs of photography competitions, their pros, their cons, and whether you should enter one in 2024. 

What is a Photography Competition?

A photography competition is a fairly simple construct. As a photographer, you typically pay money to enter, get given a theme or category – set by competition organisers – and your work is then judged based on specific criteria – including creativity, technical proficiency, composition, etcetera. 

Photographers who win then have the opportunity to win prizes, earn money, have their work exhibited or, depending on the competition, even have it published in top photography magazines. Across the US, there are plenty of photography competitions to choose from, with the most popular including:

  • Amateur Photographer of the Year
  • Landscape Photographer of the Year
  • Sony World Photography Awards
  • Close-Up Photographer of the Year
  • Nature Photographer of the Year
  • Drone Photo Awards
  • Travel Photographer of the Year

As well as this, you’ll likely find various local photography competitions in your state, with the potential for cash prizes – typically ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 – and the opportunity to appear in a local magazine. 

To Enter a Photography Competition

If you’d like to turn your photography into something more than a hobby, then a photography competition has a lot of positive traits. The first is the recognition and exposure. Even if you don’t win, being selected as a finalist can often bring about some exposure opportunities, including features in exhibitions, publications, and online platforms. Depending on your Instagram following, this might not be wholly necessary, but it can still be a great way to reach another demographic and add a bit of a ‘professional’ stamp to your work. 

As well as this, competitions can be a great way to get some good feedback. It’s not often that your work can be analysed and judged by a panel of experts, and hearing their comments can be a little more enlightening than the average ‘thumbs-up’ or ‘heart-eyes’ emoji you might be used to on Instagram! 

Apart from feedback, you can also use competitions to look at other people’s work and get some inspiration. All of this while working under a competition deadline and having to push your creative boundaries to succeed – it can all help to turn your photography into something a little more serious and character-defining. 

Or Not to Enter a Photography Competition

Unfortunately, those calling out photography competitions as nothing more than cash grabs are not always wrong. In many cases, photography competitions have entry fees, and with hundreds – or even thousands of people entering – the chances of winning this money back aren’t high, even if your photography is great. 

Speaking of chances, competitions aren’t always the ‘inspiring and motivating’ beacons that we mentioned above. On the contrary, facing rejection can be hard to deal with. In fact, it can be pretty disheartening and can even harm the passion you had for photography in the first place. 

Complete with various commercial intentions, the time and effort that needs to go into preparing and submitting work, and the fact that photography is more or less subjective anyway, there are plenty of understandable reasons why people give them a miss.

What’s the Answer?

Really, the question of whether to enter a photography competition or not lies in the individual. Yes, the negatives can be kind of off-putting, but they don’t necessarily outweigh the positives or make them less important. 

If you have specific goals and a drive to become more recognised – and you have the money to spare to enter – then a competition can be a great way to shoot some photographs and put them to the test. Who knows? You might even get an award and an incentive to enter some more. And if it doesn’t work out, like we said before, you can always turn the ones you're most proud of into a photo book. As long as you love them and they sit snug on your shelf, then that’s what really matters.


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