How to Take Prize-Winning Pictures and Win Photography Contests

Want to Win Photo Contests? 10 Ways to Impress the Judges

Image of a Photographer Taking an Contest-Winning Picture
•••  Image (c) Jeremy Woodhouse / Blend Images / Getty Images

Have you ever thought about using your photography skills to win cash, trips, and other amazing prizes?  Photography contests are a great way to have fun, improve your picture-taking skills, and win prizes. Best of all, you don't have to use expensive equipment or be a professional to win. Here's how to improve your chances of winning photo contests.

1. Read the Rules Carefully

If you've been inspired to enter photo contests, you might be tempted to just dive in and start shooting. Hang on just a second, though. If you want to in photo contests, it's worth the time to read the rules carefully. Why?

Many contests have special requirements that limit the photographs they'll accept. For example, many contests won't accept entries that contain any brand names or logos. That means that the wrong t-shirt or a logo in the background of your shot could disqualify you. And you'd never know if you didn't read the rules.

You might also want to check whether other people can be in your shots, whether you need to use the sponsor's products in your photographs, and if there are any other relevant restrictions and requirements.

2. Check the Judging Criteria

Another thing to check before you start taking your best shots is how the winners will be chosen. Most photo contests list the exact criteria that the judges will use to pick the winner. Is technical prowess the most important quality of a winning shot? Or maybe the contest is looking for a photo that's funny, touching, or extremely creative? Once you know what the judging criteria are, you can tailor your photographs to ensure that you are giving the judges exactly what they need.

3. Use the Sponsor’s Products in the Shot

If it's appropriate and matches the theme of the contest, using the sponsor's products in your photographs may give your entry an edge.

For example, if a fabric softener company is sponsoring a baby photo contest, try laying your child on top of your dryer (safely!), wrapped in a soft yellow blanket with a bottle of their fabric softener in the background. In most cases, sponsors are more likely to select winners whose photos help their advertising efforts.

4. Improve Your Technique

You don't need to be a pro to win photo contests, but there are some simple ways to improve your photography techniques (and following them will oftentimes improve the score your photos get from judges). If you don't know how to use the rule of thirds, avoid camera shake, and make the most of photography's "golden hour," check out these essential photography techniques for beginners from

5. Watch Your Background

Have you ever taken a photo that you thought would be amazing, only to realize that something in the background makes the shot unusable? If you want to win photo contests, don't get so carried away with your subject that you ignore a background that's messy, ugly, or otherwise inappropriate. Before you click that shutter button, make sure that everything looks right. 

6. Experiment with Distance

A common beginner’s mistake is to take a picture from too far away, including too much background that dilutes the impact of your subject. Many times, coming in close and letting your subject fill the shot will give you a more moving photograph. If your original shot is too distant, cropping the photo could achieve the same result.

On the other hand, some stunning photos feature an impressive background with the subject showing up as a small part of a broader shot. Experimenting with distance gives you more options for the shot you'll use to enter a photo contest. It's a great way to come up with something unique.

7. Pay Attention to Your Relative Height

Are you taking pictures of children, pets, or other things shorter than you are? Shots that look down on your subject tend to feel small and distorted. Get on the level of your subject for a closer, more intimate look.

On the other hand, many adults look best if they are looking up at the camera. There's a reason why people hold the camera high when they take selfies! So experiment to see which angle to use to come up with the most visually interesting shots.

8. Watch Your Lighting

The proper lighting can make the difference between winning and losing a photography contest. Shadows or the glare from overly bright lights can destroy an otherwise perfect picture. Try taking pictures early in the morning, just before sunset, or on a cloudy day. Use the flash on bright days to fill in shadows on faces or irregular surfaces. Popular Photography has some tips on how to use interesting lighting in photographs.

9. Tell a Story with Your Picture:

Most contests have some kind of theme. It may be a one-word theme like "gold" or something more philosophical like "the meaning of life." In any case, make your entry stand out by not just sticking to the theme, but actually telling a story with your shot.

If you are invited to submit a title and/or a caption, these can be used to reinforce your story. To see why making your photos stand out from the crowd is so important, read this article: Advice from a Photo Contest Judge.

10. Take Lots of Photographs:

No matter how confident you feel, don’t settle for a single shot. Take dozens of pictures. Move around a little bit. Try photographing the same subject from different angles, in different lighting, and at different times of the day.

You want to submit a picture that stands out from the rest, so look for shots with eye-catching colors, unusual composition, and great expressions. Remember that unintended blurriness is the kiss of death of competition entries.

Digital photography makes it easy and inexpensive to take tons of pictures, so take full advantage of it to boost your odds of winning photography contests.