How to Win Photography Awards

Photography awards are a great way to showcase your skills and get recognition in the photography community. Winning a photography award can help boost your career and give you credibility as a photographer. These accolades can increase bookings, brand sponsorships, and even cash prizes for some contests. In this article by SLR Lounge, we'll explore some tips and tricks for how to win photography awards.

Understand the competitions

Before you can start submitting your work to photography awards, it's important to understand the types of awards available and the criteria they use to judge submissions. Conduct a Google search for the term “[your genre] photography awards” and make a list of options. Research each of them and enter the ones that match your style, genre, and skill level.

After you’ve made a list of the contests you want to enter, research past winners and their work to understand what the judges are looking for. Even if the judges change for each competition, they still generally follow the standards and criteria set forth by the organization or website when evaluating images.  


Understand the characteristics of award winning images

The next step is the hardest part of the process — creating and selecting the right shots for the photography award submissions. We’ll review these concepts using the award winning images from Wedding Maps, a directory for wedding photographers. All of the photos are used with permission from the photographers.

Award winning images often combine multiple compositional elements

Award winning images often have multiple compositional elements that work together to create a visually stunning frame. These elements could include leading lines, symmetry, and the rule of thirds. Knowing how to use each element effectively can help elevate your photography to the next level.

In the image below, the photographer uses multiple instances of reflections as a compositional tool, combined with the concept of a “frame within a frame,” to create a stunning shot.

How to win photography awards award winning photo by Jessie & Dallin

Photo by Jessie & Dallin

Award winning images often involve taking risks as a photographer

Creating an award winning image often involves taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone as a photographer. Taking a risk could be as simple as trying a new technique or experimenting with different equipment, but it's also a chance to get creative with your subject matter and explore unique perspectives.

In the image below, Jason Vinson climbed on top of the basketball hoop, using the rim to frame the subjects — a shot he would have visualized in advance. There is the obvious physical risk of perching 10 feet up on a basketball hoop, but there's also the chance you might end up wasting your time and your client's time if the shot doesn't work as planned. 

How to win photography awards award winning photo by Jason Vinson

Photo by Jason Vinson

Award winning images require attention to detail

Attention to detail is key when it comes to creating an award winning image. Pay attention to the lighting, color, and composition of the images you create, taking the time to carefully craft your shot and make sure every element is in place.

The image below by Dan Sauer captures and frames every element in a way that draws your eye to the couple in the center of the photograph while capturing the beauty and scale of the scenery around them. Everything is technically accurate — the lighting, the pose, and the textures — but it goes beyond that; each element has been considered and only included because it adds to the overall aesthetic of the composition. 

How to win photography awards award winning photo by Dan Sauer

Photo by Dan Sauer

Award winning images often require great timing

Award winning images often require great timing, where careful preparation allows you to be in the right place for a fleeting opportunity. Capturing an emotional or interesting moment is an art in itself and often is more than just luck. It's usually the culmination of planning, forethought, and preparation to be there for the shot you envisioned. Whether it's a decisive moment in street photography or the perfect expression on a subject's face in a portrait, capturing that split second requires a keen eye and quick reflexes. 

To increase your chances of capturing these moments, it's important to be patient, observant, and always ready with your camera. Anticipating the action or emotion and having your camera settings prepared ahead of time can also help ensure you don't miss that perfect shot.

In the award winning image below by M and G Photography, the frame has been perfectly timed to pair a pre-planned composition with an exciting moment. One they no doubt knew was coming and were prepared to capture as soon as it occurred. 

How to win photography awards award winning photo by M and G Photography

Photo by M and G Photography

Award winning images often include interesting light

Interesting light can take a photograph from good to great, and it's often a key element in award winning images. Light can create mood, depth, and texture and help draw the viewer's eye to the subject. Understanding how to work with different types of light, such as natural, artificial, or a combination of both, can help you create images that stand out from the rest. Being aware of the direction and quality of the light, as well as how it interacts with your subject, can help you make the most of the available light and create award winning images.

In the image below, see how the golden hour light peeks over the mountain and through the leaves; and it also kisses the couple, outlining them and making them stand out against the shaded foreground.

How to win photography awards award winning photo by Lin and Jirsa Photography

Photo by Lin and Jirsa Photography

Prepare and submit with care

The last steps in winning photography awards are preparing and submitting the photos.  Preparing your submission involves selecting the right photograph to submit and ensuring that it meets the guidelines for the award. This may involve preparing high-quality prints or digital files, as well as writing a clear and concise artist statement. Even the most beautiful photos will not win if they are submitted incorrectly.

When submitting your work, it's important to follow the guidelines carefully and be mindful of deadlines and entry fees. Double-checking your submission for errors or mistakes can also help ensure that it is given the attention it deserves.

How to win photography awards — conclusion

Winning a photography award requires a combination of skill, creativity, and attention to detail. By understanding the competition, taking risks, and paying attention to the little details, you can create an award winning image that stands out from the crowd. You might not win in your first few attempts, but when the results are announced, take a moment to evaluate the images that did win and compare them to the brief for the photography awards. You'll not only get a better understanding of what the judges are looking for, but your photography will also improve for it. 

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