Top Seven Tips for Choosing Winning Images for Photo Contests

2021 NANPA Showcase
Time to get your entries ready for NANPA’s 2021 Showcase competition.

In a photo contest, everybody wants their entry to win. So, what can you do to maximize your chances of having one (or more) of your photos chosen for recognition in NANPA’s 2021 Showcase photo competition or, for that matter, any other photo competition?

It should go without saying that your images have to be creatively composed, properly focused and exposed, and taken in beautiful light. Any technical flaw is a quick ticket to the rejection pile. But, once you have a technically perfect and artful composition, what will make your shot stand out?

Over the years, NANPA has collected feedback from Showcase judges and compiled their best suggestions. You can read all the details in an article about Showcase Tips and Judging Process and Tips but here are seven of the top suggestions.

1. Study past winners

There’s no better way to get a feel for the kinds of entries that are popular with judges than to carefully examine the images that won past competitions. You’ll get a sense of what kind of compositions are in favor, whether any fads or current photography trends are favored by judges, and how well your images stack up against past winners. You can find past issues of Expressions, NANPA’s magazine-style publication featuring the winners and Top 100 photos from each year’s Showcase competition, in the Members Area of the NANPA website.

2. Don’t do what everyone else is doing

Photos of great blue herons, brown bears, waterfalls and sunsets are a dime a dozen. Classic shots of the Watchman from the bridge over the Virgin River in Zion or Tunnel View in Yosemite seem to be in every photographer’s files. If you submit an image of something that the judges have already seen a thousand times, it’s going to have to be pretty darn spectacular to grab anyone’s attention.

3. Be creatively new

Instead of the same old shot, do something creatively new and different. Maybe that’s a completely new angle to an iconic landscape shot. Maybe it’s an animal doing something unusual or a weird weather pattern. Photographing a subject in a new and different way is one key to capturing a judge’s attention.

Quick Tips on What Are Judges Looking For in Photo Contests from NANPA Video on Vimeo. NANPA members can view Wendy Shattil’s entire Photo Contest Secrets Revealed webinar in the Members’ Section of the NANPA website.

4. Catch the rarely caught

Animals exhibit many behaviors, most of which are fairly common. And millions of camera-toting people are photographing everything in sight for their Instagram or Facebook feeds. If you are able to catch a rarely seen behavior or location, you may have a winning image! Certain weather phenomena, species, and activities are also rare and unusual. And it’s the unusual that stands out!

5. See what’s never been seen

There’s nothing as new and unique as something that’s never been seen before. From delving into a macro shot that reveals things otherwise invisible to the human eye, to documenting a hitherto unknown behavior or species, to capturing an image of a unique phenomenon, that which has not been seen before is all the more compelling. It could also be a new location, one that isn’t famous, that hasn’t been shot by thousands of photographers already. Assuming you don’t live in Yellowstone or Yosemite, finding a great shot close to home, in an area you know intimately, can result in an image the judges have never seen.

Photography contest judges are often culling through thousands of images. They’re going to see a lot of very good photos. Yes, yours are all spectacular, but what makes a judge stop and spend some time with an image will be your ability to know what kinds of images they like, avoid the obvious, show them something creative, new, rarely seen or never before seen.

6. Follow the rules

It really should go without saying but, every year, some wonderful photos are disqualified because they didn’t conform to the rules. So, read the Showcase rules closely and follow directions. Don’t use watermarks or borders. Don’t miss the deadline. Make sure your image files are the right type and size. People don’t much read instructions these days, but the Showcase rules are there for a reason.  Don’t disqualify yourself.

7. Write a great caption

Your caption and explanation of your photo can make all the difference in helping a judge understand the context around your photo. You might capture an animal engaged a very unusual activity. Explain that! Don’t leave judges wondering if it’s a captive animal or if the photo was the result of some unethical behavior on your part. Review NANPA’s position statements on ethics. The “descriptive text” you enter should anticipate and answer any questions judges might ask.

Whatever photos you enter, good luck!  The deadline for entering NANPA’s 2021 Showcase photo competition is September 21, at 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Want some more information? Check out these helpful pages:

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