Tips for Winning Photo Contests

Today’s Post by Joe Farace, photos by Mark Toal

I admit to being ambivalent about photography contests but I know that many shooters are driven to compare their work against others . And I get e-mails from readers asking for “contest winning tips” and so for those of you who asked, here goes…

There are two methods to use when entering contests. You can submit your favorite picture and cross your fingers. You might even win a contest or two but the odd are against you. The other technique is to get serious and treat it like any other competition. This begins with knowing the rules and making sure you follow them to the letter.

If the contest has different categories makes sure your entry is properly classified. If you want to enter an equestrian picture, it won’t fit in the automotive category just because it has one horsepower. Follow the technical specifications for upload size or print sizes too. Read the rules and read them again, looking at the fine print.

Oregon City bridge HDR Mark Toal A popular misconception is that a photograph must be technically flawless to win. Not true. The picture doesn’t have to be perfect but has to be technically competent. Perfection alone won’t win it any prizes. In any contest there will be lots of entries and some of them are going to be very good, but you only have one chance to make a good impression so make the judges want a second look. Impact separates winners from also-rans.

  • Doesn’t be a fair weather photographer. Often the best photographs are made under less than ideal conditions.
  • Make the image bold. Use strong composition with simple lines that say speed, and power, or use a formal, symmetrical organization to create a Zen-like quiet mode.
  • Don’t be passive. Photograph subjects you are passionate about, not ones you think the judges will like. The judges want to see that the photographer cared about the subject.
  • Avoid eye-level camera placement. Climb a ladder, climb a lamppost, or climb a hill to provide your entry with a dramatic camera angle. Lie on your stomach, use wide-angle lenses, and shoot up against the sky to simplify the background.
  • Get close to your subject. Use a macro lens, close-up filters, or a bellows to show a simple everyday object in a way that has not been depicted before or at least not lately.


Even Vladimir Horowitz, who was one of the greatest piano virtuosos who ever lived, practiced every day. The simplest and best advice I can give you is the answer to the classic question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? “Practice, man, practice. “