NANPA Showcase Tips

Tips From the Judges

In past Showcase competitions, we have asked the judges for some insights and tips on image selection and preparation to help future participants produce winning photos. Here are some of those comments:

  • Study the photos that made it into previous Showcases.
    Try not to duplicate the images, but go a step beyond them. Never think that because something has won before, it will win again if copied. “There is a lot of talent out there,” said one judge. “It ain’t easy judging this!”
  • If you know an animal or landscape intimately, you can create an intimate picture.
    Shoot what you know.
  • Make descriptions and titles relevant.
    The “descriptive text” you enter benefits your entry by anticipating and providing answers to judges’ questions. More information helps judges evaluate an image. Information in this field will also be used as your image’s caption if chosen as a Top 250 winner.
  • Bring to mind the pictures that have moved you and try to work out what it is about them that makes you respond.
    Then use it.
  • If you are not shooting digital but are submitting digital pictures, check the scans against the originals before sending.
    The judges may love the composition and content of an image, but be unable to get past the pixelation in the sky or water or the softness of a bad scan. (That’s true for photo buyers as well.)
  • The submission of an image that isn’t sized properly is unacceptable.
    Follow the competition rules exactly.
  • As a rule of thumb: Keep your subject sharp.
    It’s not always easy, but submitting photos that are in focus and tack-sharp shows a command of your equipment.
  • The best composition is crucial.
    If needed, use in-camera or out-of-camera cropping.
  • Be sure your file does not include an embedded photo credit or border that would require an immediate disqualification.
  • Know when to stop with your image management software.
    Advances in image management software have enabled photographers to do nearly anything with their images. Too much or unskilled sharpening, dodging and burning can easily ruin an image. Over-saturation of images using image management software can become garish. “The art of the natural is far more difficult to achieve,” said one judge.
  • When you specify Photo Illustration, briefly describe what warranted that designation in the comments field.
    Judges understand the cosmetic retouch of a shiny rock or a stick at the edge of a frame. Without mentioning it, however, they may guess at more extreme methods. Photo Illustration is quite acceptable in Showcase. If you use that designation, explain why.
  • Photo contest judges look at thousands of photos and it takes a lot to stop them in their tracks.
    They are stirred by a fresh and surprising composition, creative use of color or a new way of seeing an old subject, if not a new one.
  • Catch a moment of interesting behavior to breathe life into common subjects.
    It takes persistence and talent to catch that moment in just the right way. For example, flying birds make a nice image, but an image of birds interacting in flight is exciting.
  • Look at what other people aren’t shooting and consider those subjects.
    If everyone else is shooting canyons and sand dunes, choose a landscape close to home and make a study of it until something new emerges. Think about new ways of interpreting a river scene rather than just blurring the running water. Use your technical skills and your creativity to set yourself apart. Originality is the real art of competing.

The entry period opens August 1, 2021, and closes at 11 pm EDT on September 20, 2021.

Captive and Photo Illustration Explained

NANPA believes in photographers’ creative freedom to make images as they wish. Yet, it also recognizes that images presented in educational and other documentary contexts are assumed by the public to be straightforward records of what the photographer captured with a camera. Communicating clearly, efficiently and fully about the making of nature images is thus linked to public trust and acceptance.

Creators of images entered into the Showcase competition must be truthful in representing their work. NANPA’s Truth in Captioning statement provides guidelines used by the Showcase competition. Label your images with the following tags when applicable:

The term captive, abbreviated CAPT, applies to any animal living under human care and control in a restricted environment. This includes, but is not limited to zoos, game farms, falconry birds, rescue facilities, sanctuaries and research facilities. Garden flora should be designated as captive.(Photographs taken at game farms are not accepted into the Showcase competition.)

Normal processing and capture that’s acceptable without designating an image as Photo Illustration includes:

  • cropping
  • minor adjustments to color, white balance, tone, lighting levels and curves, shadows and highlights, saturation, contrast, sharpness
  • moderate toning, dodging and burning
  • removal of dust or scratches or reduction of image noise
  • HDR, focus stacking and stitched panoramas
  • in-camera multiple exposures
  • minor cosmetic removal of elements not affecting the material content of the image

Photographs that have been digitally or otherwise altered beyond standard optimization should be designated Photo Illustration. These include:

  • addition, removal or alteration that changes the material content of the original scene
  • significant color adjustments and other treatments that differ widely from the original image
  • extreme toning, dodging or burning that fundamentally alters the actual scene by obscuring parts of it

If using the Photo Illustration designation, it’s in your best interest to state (explain) in the description field on the entry form what was done to warrant it. Judges can only go on what they see in the image or read in the supporting information provided by the photographer. Anticipate judges’ questions such as:

  • If Photo Illustration is marked, why?
  • Explain the circumstances of an unexpected/uncommon element.
  • Include background information if an element may be questioned from an ethical perspective, e.g., a defensive posture of the subject or a situation often created by baiting.
Screenshot of Showcase entry form highlighting descriptive text field
Include information in the “descriptive subject” field that can preemptively address judges’ likely questions about photo illustration, unexpected elements, or ethics concerns.

The conservation category is slightly different than other categories in the Showcase competition. Learn more >

What Constitutes Altered Reality?

This unconventional category may be confusing to some. NANPA’s definition of altered reality is: Images that display a change in natural color, form, shape or any combination of these that deny the photographic process. The image would be enhanced or transformed beyond the way the subject appears in nature.

Since we know you are visually oriented, we did a Google search on “altered reality,” clicked on the “images” tab, and up came a gallery of images that covered a wide spectrum. So, if you are confused, give that a try.

Meanwhile, in words, a sample of possible Altered Reality nature photos might be:

  • An elephant walking down the traffic-congested streets of New York City
  • An insect made to appear larger than any mammals
  • A kaleidoscope effect of a forest
  • A photo of an animal or plant that is made up of hundreds of photos pieced together
  • A reflection in mirrored sunglasses of a nature scene that is much different from the reality surrounding the person wearing the sunglasses
  • Combining a photo of natural patterns to water and/or sky to give more texture to your scapes image

All images entered into the Altered Reality category should be designated as Photo Illustrated (PHIL). Any image that adds, removes or changes the contents must be designated with PHIL, regardless of category.

7 Most Frequent Mistakes Made in Entering Showcase

  1. Watermark, credit, border or other extra treatment on the image or identifying information in the caption. These require immediate disqualification.
  2. Images come in after the deadline, which is September 20th at 11:00pm EDT. The “shut off” is automatic. Give yourself enough time to complete the process before the deadline. FINALIZE must be clicked before the deadline.
  3. Images are not sized properly (and other software errors). Learn your software. Know how to reach target specs for image dimensions and file size limit. Image preparation tips can be found below for Lightroom and Photoshop.
  4. Scans are pixelated, soft, overcropped or otherwise poorly made. The judges may love the composition and content of an image, but be unable to get past quality that is compromised.
  5. Overprocessed images. A breathtaking shot that is diminished by heavy-handed Photoshop work does not elicit high scores. When it comes to processing, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
  6. Entrant forgets to renew membership or renews too late. It’s best to renew well before the deadline in case of any technical difficulties. Renewal help is only available during normal office hours. Renewal delays may prevent you from entering the contest if you wait until the last minute.
  7. Images are muddy. All images are viewed via web browser, which is always sRGB. Convert your images to sRGB and then adjust saturation and contrast with that in mind. Every image is viewed under the same conditions, so no advantage is given to any color space.

Image Preparation Tips

We tend to get a lot of very similar questions about preparing images for submission. While we can’t cover all the details for all possible software and platforms, there are lots of resources on the internet that will guide you through the steps to prepare your images.

Many photographers will be using either Adobe’s Lightroom or Photoshop. Here are two excellent tutorials on using those programs to prepare your images for submission:

Resize your images using Adobe Lightroom
Resize your images using Adobe Photoshop

If you are using some other software, search for “resizing photo using XXX” with XXX being your program and you will probably find lots of resources to help you.

Most Popular Showcase Subjects

A unique subject will stand out to the judges. Here’s a list of the most popular subjects during previous Showcase competitions:

2021 – Bird behavior, night landscapes
2020 – Bears, night scenes, birds in flight/with food
2019 – Bears, night scenes, birds in flight/with food
2018 – Bears, gorillas, birds in flight
2017 – Alaskan bears, waterfalls, star trails
2016 – Bears, auroras, birds in flight
2015 – Predation, mating behavior, bears, abstracts, trees
2014 – Bears (black, brown and polar), gorillas
2013 – Bears, terns and other shorebirds
2012 – Water-related, e.g., underwater, above water, seascapes, shorebirds

We’ve assembled a list of other Frequently Asked Questions. Browse through them >

Showcase Resources

For further information about Showcase, contact the Showcase Coordinator at

Contest Secrets

Get more tips and contest insights—that apply to NANPA’s Showcase as well as other photo competitions—in our free handbook, Contest Secrets: What to know before you enter a photo.

Prize-winning photo by Karen Schuenemann plus a selection of pages from free handbook titled CONTEST SECRETS: WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU ENTER A PHOTO