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Winning the Best Amateur Photo Contests

written by: Matthew Bamberg•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 8/15/2011

If you don't enter, you won't win. Winning the best photo contests will gain you recognition in the photography world on top of winning good prize money.

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    Recognizing the Best Photo Contests

    Amateur contests for photography are the ultimate reward for working hard to get exemplary photos. Sure, the competition is tough, but the rewards could be endless—from massive exposure online to prize money and hit increases on your website to photo job opportunities.

    The best amateur contests for photography hosted by reputable organizations occur on a regular basis, so if you miss the submission date, you can apply the next time.

    In order to increase your chances of winning, you can study the winners of previous contests. Remember, though, that your images need to be at least as good as the winning pictures you view online.

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    Winning the Photo Contests

    In order to win or place at the top of an amateur contest, you need to submit photos that are sharp - preferably taken with a tripod. You also should pay close attention to the details and composition of your shot. Follow the Rule of Thirds (placing main subjects and objects one-third from either the left or right side of the frame) and make sure there is not too much clutter in your background.

    Decide beforehand if you want your background blurred or sharp. If you’re submitting a landscape, make the entire scene sharp. If you are submitting a portrait, make the background soft. To photograph the former, use a small aperture (high f/stop), and for the later, use a wide aperture (low f-stop).

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    The Top Three Photo Contests

    Pop Photo

    You can put $100 (third place), $200 (second place) or $300 (first place) cash in your pocket if you win the contest. Photo sizes required are 50-75 mb, but you should have a 9 mb JPEG on hand if you want your photo published in their magazine, Popular Photography. In that case, you’ll need a decent (no noise, subject sharp) 9mb JPEG file, a photo size that ensured with only with dSLR cameras of 14 mb or better. That means your old Canon 5D or Rebel XT, won’t be enough.

    The contest takes place once a month, and they are one of the few big publications that offer photo submission opportunities this often. Multiple submissions are allowed and you can submit by entering your pertinent information, clicking the Browse button, navigating to the file from your computer, and then clicking on the Upload button.

    Judges evaluate your technical skill, creativity and relevance to the contest submission requests. Shots can be of anything you want so long as it’s appropriate for a mainstream audience.


    Five opportunities exist every year to win $500 in Smithsonian's contest. The magazine doles out this money to photographers winning in each of the following categories: Altered Images, Americana, the Natural World, People and Travel. A Reader’s Choice award of $500 can also be yours if you win, and the grand prize is a trip to Yosemite or the cash equivalent.

    Judges rate photos on technical quality, sharpness, composition, and the ability to capture the perfect moment. What’s more about this contest is that you don’t have to wait to see if you’re in the running-each week their website posts the images under consideration to be a finalist. The application process is lengthy, so you’ll have to spend some time typing it out. It requires photography and image information.

    National Geographic

    Five opportunities exist every year to win $500 in National Geographic’s contest. The magazine doles out this money to photographers winning in each of the following categories: travel portraits, outdoor scenes, sense of place and spontaneous moments. A Reader’s Choice award also provides the same amount of award money. In addition, there are 50 finalists, each of whom get their photograph published if selected.

    First prize for this contest is a trip to British and Irish Islands aboard the National Geographic Explorer. Second prize is a trip to India. (This sounds better than first prize in terms of photo ops.) Third prize is a photo workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Seven merit prizes of $200 gift certificate from B&H Photo are also dispensed.

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    Other Photo Contests

    A myriad of other amateur contests for photography offer everything from prize money to publication of your photos. Some of these annual contests include The Nature Conservancy contest, the National Wildlife Contest and the PDN (Photo District News) contest.

    A plethora of amateur contests for photography are ongoing in many local areas, too. These contests are charted with information on entry fee, type, artist details, voters, spots available, prizes, organizers and deadlines.

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    Don't Procrastinate

    The only way to win a photography contest is to enter. That's the biggest step. You also have to be consistent. Don't give up, keep submitting, and who knows, one day you might win!