Whether you are a professional photographer looking to gain more exposure or an amateur who wants to know how your work stacks up against your peers, photography competitions are a fantastic way to stretch yourself and grow your craft. From free photo contests to paid photography awards, it's possible to invest as little—or as much—as you'd like. And sometimes, the rewards can be life-changing.
From cash prizes to traveling exhibitions at renowned institutions, the best photography contests give their participants the opportunity to show their best work to a wider audience. Most contests have separate professional and amateur divisions, as well as youth competitions for young photographers—and you don't always have to pay. Contests like the EyeEm Awards and the Smithsonian Photo Contest are free of charge, while others charge nominal fees to enter multiple photographs. Additionally, the deadlines for these challenges vary from the start of the year to late into the summer or even the fall.
With such a wide variety of photography competitions, you can decide whether you want to try your hand at one of the larger contests with a range of categories for all types of photography, such as the International Photo Awards, or go more niche. Underwater photography, architectural photography, astrophotography, wedding photography, and pet photography are just some competitions that let you hone in on specific aspects of the craft. Whether you win 1st place or become a finalist, these events will surely boost your creative practice.
To help you find what photo contest meets your needs, we've pulled together a list of the best photography competitions—in alphabetical order—that you'll want to consider entering. Over the years we've featured all of these contests, many times publishing early entries and finalists, in addition to winners—proving that you can gain valuable press coverage whether you win or not.
Our list of the best photography contests covers a wide range of photography from wildlife to fine art.
The Architectural Photography Awards
Architectural photographers compete in six categories—Exterior, Interior, Sense of Place, Portfolio, Mobile Architecture Photography, and Buildings in Use—for a chance at cash prizes and having their work exhibited at the World Architecture Festival.
When to enter: Annually from March to July
Entry fee: One-time registration of £55 allows entrants to submit up to 3 images to each category
Prize: $3,000 and exhibition at the World Architecture Festival.
Audubon Photography Awards
Combine your love of birds and photography by competing in the Audubon Photography Awards. Participants must be legal residents of the U.S. or Canada and at least 13 years of age. Winning photos will be published in the Audubon and Nature’s Best Photography magazines, as well as go on exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
When to enter: Annually from January 11, 2023, to March 1, 2023
Entry fee: $15 per image; Youth competition is FREE
Prize: Cash prizes up to $5,000.
B&W Child Photo Competition
Celebrate the beauty of childhood across the world by submitting your most stunning black and white images of children. Photographers compete in four categories—Portrait, Fine Art, Lifestyle, and Documentary & Street. The contest accepts international entries and there is no limit on the number of submissions per photographer. It has two submission periods per year; the 1st half at the beginning and the 2nd half at the latter part of the year.
When to enter:1st half at the beginning of the year until July; 2nd half from August to the end of the year
Entry fee: €10 for a single image, €20 for 3 images, €30 for 5 images
Prize: €1,000 each for two Grand Prize winners, €100 for category winners.
Best of the Best Photo Contests for Weddings
Wedding photographers are encouraged to show off their best wedding images in annual contests run by Junebug Weddings. The theme for the contest changes with each competition.
When to enter: Varies depending on the contest
Entry fee: $28 for up to 15 images for non-members. Members can submit up to 3 photos for free or up to 15 images for $18
Prize: 50 winning entries are featured on the website, with a link to their blog.
BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition
Run by the California Academy of Sciences, this international photo contest celebrates “the rich diversity of life on Earth and inspires action to protect and conserve it through the power of imagery.” Photographers can submit work across seven different categories such as the art of nature, aquatic life, terrestrial wildlife, and winged life.
When to enter: Annually from December 2022, to March 1, 2023
Entry fee: $25 for up to 10 single image submissions in any category, $15 for 1 photo series (3-5 images)
Prize: $5,000 to the overall winner, $1,000 for category winners. Participation in an annual exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences.
Bird Photographer of the Year
This global competition asks wildlife photographers to submit their best bird photography across 9 categories, including best youth photographer. There are also two special prizes up for grabs—best portfolio and crowd choice. Participants can submit single photos or an entire portfolio.
When to enter: Annually from mid-August to the end of November
Entry fee: From £6, participants can enter up to 8 images per category
Prize: £5,000 for the grand prize winner, camera equipment for the portfolio prize winner (a £3,500 retail value), and a pair of Swarovski CL Companion 8×30 binoculars for category winners. All winners receive a portfolio review from the Director of Photography at Alamy.
British Wildlife Photography Awards
Created to focus on the glory of British wildlife, photographers of all nationalities are encouraged to enter the contest, but their images must be taken in the United Kingdom. The 15 separate categories also include a prize for wildlife in HD video, and two separate prizes are awarded to young photographers. The top entries are included in a traveling exhibition across Britain, as well as a coffee table book.
When to enter: Annually from November to April of the next year
Entry fee: From £10; Youth competition (up to 6 images) is FREE
Prize: £5,000 for grand prize winner, while some adult category winners receive a cash prize of £500 and new camera equipment. The Wildlife in HD Video category will receive a new camcorder. The winning pictures and best entries will be included in a touring exhibition across the UK as well as a coffee table book.
Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards
If you like to see the humor in the natural world, this photography contest is for you. Founded by the wildlife charity, Born Free Foundation, the awards are a light-hearted way to bring attention to conservation issues. In addition to four categories for adults and a youth competition, videographers are encouraged to enter their funniest video clips. But note, photographs of domestic, captive or enclosed wildlife of any description are not allowed.
When to enter: Entries accepted through August 23, 2023
Entry fee: FREE
Prize: Overall winner receives a trophy and one-week safari in Kenya.
Dog Photographer of the Year
The Kennel Club, the UK’s largest organization focusing on the welfare of dogs, runs this annual, international contest. Photographers can enter in 10 categories, including Dog Portrait, Dogs at Play, Assistance Dogs, and Rescue Dogs. There are also two youth categories for young photographers.
When to enter: Annually from February to April
Entry fee: FREE
Prize: Overall winner receives a SmugMug business account and mentorship day with an acclaimed dog photographer. All winners will have their work displayed at the Kennel Club Art Gallery in London, as well as a prize package.
Part of the Art Photo Travel Association, this worldwide competition is open to aerial photography and videos whose platforms also include “fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, balloons, blimps and dirigibles, rockets, kites, and parachutes.”
When to enter: Entries are accepted from April to June.
Entry fee: FREE
Prize: The Drone Photographer of the Year will be awarded a prize package that includes €500,00 worth of photography equipment and more.
This leading photo community, which also licenses images, runs what they call the largest photo competition for rising photographers. They annually award prizes in 10 categories, including The Street Photographer, The Great Outdoors, The Portraitist, The Photojournalist, and The Architect. Additionally, the Photographer of the Year is selected based on their body of work and potential for growth.
When to enter: Entries accepted until the end of July
Entry fee: FREE
Prize: Photographer of the Year wins €1,000, a feature in EyeEm Magazine and Format Magazine, and more.
Fine Art Photography Awards
Seeking “photos born out of passion,” the international contest is open to both amateur and professional photographers. With 20 different categories to select from, there is no shortage of artistic themes that will allow photographers to display their creativity.
When to enter: Annually; deadline is February 23, 2023
Entry fee: From $15 per photo
Prize: $3,000 for Professional Photographer of the Year, $2000 for Amateur Photographer of the Year.
Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year
The world’s biggest astrophotography competition draws photographers from across the globe, who compete across nine different categories. Amateur and professional photographers are encouraged to apply for the contest, which is judged by representatives of NASA and the editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Children are encouraged to apply in the special youth competition for photographers under 15 years old.
When to enter: Annually until early March
Entry fee: FREE up to 10 images
Prize: £10,000 for overall winner and £1,500 for overall category winners. Cash prizes are also given to category runners-up.
International Landscape Photographer of the Year
Celebrate the art and craft of landscape photography with this contest, which is open to photographers around the world. The top landscape photographs are collected into an annual book and photographers are awarded for best single images, as well as portfolios of four photographs.
When to enter: Entries close at the end of November
Entry fee: $25 per photo, every fifth photograph is free
Prize: Grand prize of $5,000 as well as inclusion in awards book. Second prize of $1,000 and third prize of $500, as well as photo book inclusion.
International Photo Awards
These prestigious awards cover a comprehensive range of photography and allow entries into separate Professional, Amateur, and Student competitions. From editorial and advertising to fine art and sports, this is one of the most wide-ranging contests, with over $22,000 in cash prizes annually.
When to enter: Entries close mid-July
Entry fee: $15-$35 per single image, $30-$60 per series depending on professional, amateur, or student status
Prize: International Photographer of the Year receives $12,000, Discovery of the Year Award $5,000, category winners (professional) win $1,000, and category winners (non-professional) win $500. All category finalist receive two tickets to the Lucie Awards Gala in New York City.
International Photographer of the Year
IPOTY is an international competition open to professional and non-professional photographers, who are asked to submit to a wide range of categories and subcategories. Photographers are encouraged to apply to multiple categories and receive exposure through extensive media coverage.
When to enter: Annually from mid-February to mid-December
Entry fee: From $20 per single image
Prize: Professional Grand Prize of $2,500, Amateur Grand Prize of $1,500
iPhone Photography Awards
The IPPA are awarded exclusively for images shot with an iPhone or iPad, with any postproduction limited to iOS apps. Photographers compete across 18 categories, including series of up to 3 images.
When to enter: Entries accepted until the end of March
Entry fee: From $3.50 per image
Prize: Grand Prize winner receives a prize that is TBA. The first place winner of each category receives a Gold Bar.
Mobile Photography Awards
Mobile and tablet photographers are encouraged to submit their best work across 18 categories to express the artistry and creativity of mobile photography. Top images are included in a traveling exhibition and are available for sale.
When to enter: Annually from October to mid-December
Entry fee: From $15 per image
Prize: Grand Prize of $3,000
Monochrome Photo Awards
This international black-and-white photography contest awards separate prizes to professional and amateur photographers for entries in 13 categories. From architecture and wildlife to fine art and photo manipulation, the awards challenge participants to show their creativity.
When to enter: Entries are accepted through early July
Entry fee: $20 per entry (amateur) / $25 per entry (professional)
Prize: Overall professional winner $3,000 and overall amateur winner $1,000. Winners are also featured in the Monochrome Photography Awards Annual Book.
This black-and-white photography magazine holds an annual competition to celebrate the best of monochrome photography. Participants compete in two different sections, single photographs and series of up to 8 photographs.
When to enter: Entries are accepted through mid-May (early deadline is the end of January)
Entry fee: From $20 per single image / $25 per series
Prize: $5,000 in cash prizes
National Geographic Travel Photo Contest
Share your best snaps of life around the world in the National Geographic Travel Photo Contest. Three categories—Nature, People, and Cities—allow photographers to show how their travel imagery is revealing, transporting, and exciting.
When to enter: Annually from mid-March to the end of April
Entry fee: Starts at $10 per entry
Prize: Grand prize of $7,500. First place winners receive $2,500, second place $1,500, third place $750.
National Wildlife Photo Contest
For over 40 years, the National Wildlife Federation has run this prestigious competition celebrating the glory of nature. The eight categories include Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians, Mammals, and People in Nature.
When to enter: Annually from January to March
Entry fee: $20 for 10 photos
Prize: Grand prize of $5,000. First place category winners receive $500, second place category winners receive $250.
Nikon Small World Contest
This contest, which has been going for over 40 years, recognizes photography taken through the light microscope. It’s a leading showcase for photomicrographers from a variety of science disciplines. While participants aren’t required to use Nikon equipment, as images must be taken using a light microscope.
When to enter: Entries accepted until late-April
Entry fee: FREE
Prize: First prize $3,000. 2nd to 20th place winners receive cash prizes ranging from $200 to $2,000.
Red Bull Illume
Red Bull runs this international photography contest dedicated to action and adventure sports, which is also sponsored by Sony. The competition has been running every three years since 2007, with the next contest taking place in 2019. All finalist images participate in an international traveling exhibition.
When to enter: Entries accepted until late July
Entry fee: FREE
Prize: €100,000 in consumer goods and photography equipment to the overall winner and category winners.
Siena International Photo Awards
This international photo contest receives over 50,000 images from amateur and professional photographers. Whether Sports in Action or Story-telling, the categories allow photographers to show the best in their portfolio. Winners are announced at an annual ceremony in Siena, Italy.
When to enter: Annually from October to January
Entry fee: Professionals can enter one image for free and have to pay beyond that point.
Prize: €1,500 for Photo of the Year, €500 for Storyboard Winner. Photo of the Year, Storyboard Winner, and Category Winners receive stays in Siena, Italy during award ceremony weekend.
Smithsonian Photo Contest
Smithsonian.com has run their international photo contest for 15 years, asking photographers to submit their best photographs across six categories, including one for Mobile photography. Photo entries will be judged based on creativity, quality, originality, responsiveness to the prompt, and overall impact.
When to enter: Annually from early April to the end of November
Entry fee: FREE
Prize: $2,500 Grand Prize, $500 for Category Winners and Readers’ Choice award.
Sony World Photography Awards
For over a decade, Sony and the World Photography Organisation have run this competition, which unfolds in four sections—professional, open, youth, and student. Professional photographers are judged on a body of work, while the open competition awards single images. One of the world’s leading photo contests, the total prize fund is $30,000. All shortlisted photos participated in an exhibition at Somerset House in London and will be published in Sony World Photography Awards book.
When to enter: Entry deadline is between December and January depending on the competition section
Entry fee: FREE
Prize: $25,000 Photographer of the Year, category winners receive a trip to London for the awards ceremony.
Travel Photographer of the Year
Also known as TPOTY, this photographer-founded contest celebrates travel photography. The international competition culminates in an exhibition in London, selected from the 9 competition categories. These include Earth & Climate, Food, and Tales of Adventure.
When to enter: Entries accepted from April to October
Entry fee: Starts at £8 for single images; Youth competition is FREE
Prize: £5,000 and prize package for Overall Winner. Category and portfolios winners receive prize packages.
Underwater Photographer of the Year
Across 10 categories, underwater photography is heralded as an art form in this long-running competition. This is an international contest, though several categories are only open to images taken in the waters of the UK. The 2017 contest saw a new category—Underwater Photography Book.
When to enter: Annually from November to early January
Entry fee: Starts at £12 for three images
Prize: The Underwater Photographer of the Year gets first to pick something from the prize-pool featuring a variety of incredible awards.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year
The Natural History Museum in London runs this prestigious competition focusing on wildlife photography. Photographers are invited to submit their best work in 16 categories, such as Animals in their Environment, Urban Wildlife, and Behavior. There is also a separate youth competition.
When to enter: Annually from late October to mid-December
Entry fee: £30
Prize: £10,000 for Wildlife Photographer of the Year, £2,500 for Portfolio winner and Photojournalism Awards. Cash prizes for category winners.
This article has been edited and updated.
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