How To Take Prize-Winning Photographs

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

How to Get the Edge in Photo Contests
To Win Photo Contests, Your Photos Need a Winning Edge. Image (c) Jeremy Woodhouse / Blend Images / Getty Images

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 have a lot of expensive equipment or be a professional to win. These tips will help you take amazing pictures with a higher chance of winning photo competitions.

1. Read the Rules Carefully:

When you want to just start shooting, it's not a lot of fun to stop to read through a bunch of legalese.

If you want to in photo contests, though, it's worth the time to read the rules carefully. Why?

Many contests have special requirements about 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.

2. Check the Judging Criteria:

While you're checking out the rules to make sure you qualify to win, also check the criteria that the judges will use to pick the winner. Is technical prowess the most important quality of a winning shot? Or maybe they want something that's funny, touching, or super creative? If you can tailor your photo to match what the judges are looking for, your chances of winning will be much higher.

3. Use the Sponsor’s Products in the Shot, When Appropriate:

When possible, and when it fits the contest's theme, try to incorporate the sponsors products in your picture.

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).

5. Watch Your Background:

I can't even describe how often I've taken a great shot, only to be unable to enter it into a contest because something in the background doesn't look right. So before you click that button, make sure that everything looks right. Learning how to see the world like your camera does can help with this.

6. Experiment with Distance:

A common beginner’s mistake is to take a picture from too far away, including too much irrelevant background. 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 of my favorite photos feature a stunning 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 submit into your 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 shots come out best.

8. Watch Your Lighting:

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. If you're taking pictures inside, check out these inexpensive studio lighting ideas.​

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.