How to win a photo contest

You’re developing your photography skills or are already a professional photographer. What’s next on your photography bucket list? How about: to win a photo contest? Some contests have big prizes to win, like expensive photography-related products or even money (some up to thousands of dollars). If you’re new to entering photo contests, we’ve got you covered with some great tips here.

What is a photo contest?

Let’s first establish what I mean by a photo contest. What I’m referring to as a photo contest, is an online contest in which people can submit a photo they’ve taken. A photo contest usually has a particular theme, like ‘Landscapes’, ‘Portraits’ or ‘Abstract’. Sometimes entry is free, and sometimes you’ll have to pay an entree fee to be able to participate.

Are photo contests worth it?

That depends on the contest and the conditions. If you have to pay a high entree fee and the chances of winning anything are slim, maybe not. Also: make sure to find out what happens to your photo. Do you want to give the contest host a perpetual license for commercial use of your photo? If not, make sure they can’t. Read the fine print and make sure you know who you’re sharing your photo with. You really do not want to pay an entree fee only to find out that you’ve waived all rights to your photo and cannot ever use it or sell it anymore. So, be careful when sharing your photos!

The Xpozer Photo Contest is a safe place to submit your photos.
An example of a safe photo contest is the Xpozer Photo Contest. First of all, the Xpozer Photo Contest is free to enter and welcomes everyone from around the world, and with any level of photography experience. Xpozer won't ever share your photo files or information with third parties, nor will they be used for promotional materials without your explicit consent. The winning photos will however be shown on the Xpozer Blog, with credits to the photographers, of course. Xpozer respects photographers and their work, so the photo you submit remains yours. If it makes you feel better, you are even allowed to add a small water mark to your photo.

1. Stick to the rules

The first thing to remember to be able to win a photo contest is to stick to the rules. Okay, this sounds boring, I know, but let’s just get it out of the way. A photo contest has a theme or subject, and you will need to stick to it in order to have a chance at winning. So, even though your photos of your dog and kids are cute, they don’t belong in a landscape photography contest. Don’t forget to read any other entry requirements, like the maximum file size. Upload the photo exactly like the contest organiser asks. This is the easiest step, and it would be a shame if you lost because your photo didn’t meet the rules 100%.

2. Check out the competition

Check out which photos have already been submitted in the contest, if you can. Sometimes, judges see hundreds of photos that are quite similar. None of those similar photos will win. Why? Because they don’t stand out. So, before you enter the contest, check out all of the other submissions and make sure your photo stands out from the crowd. It’s always very helpful to look up previous winners, too. They can tell you a lot about what the judges are looking for (if they keep the same judges).

Example of what bird or nature themed photo contest judges will probably see tens or hundreds of times:

Even though these photos are very pretty and well-executed, one does not stand out in particular. And that’s why you’ll have to be creative, and sometimes maybe a little lucky, to make an amazing winning shot.

3. Plan your shot

A photo doesn’t always have to be planned months in advance nor does it always require hours of research. But preparation is very important. If you have a plan, you have a great shot at a … great shot 😉

Examples of being well-prepared

Preparation can mean a lot of different things. Some examples:

  • Visit the location multiple times to learn when the lighting conditions are at its best.
  • Pack the right gear. What lenses do you need, how many SD-cards do you bring, and do you have spares in the car? Don’t forget your tripod and spare batteries!
  • If you’re shooting in nature or if you’re working with animals or kids, your shoots won’t always be as easy to plan. Animals and kids don’t necessarily do what you need them to do, so sometimes you will need a lot of patience. Bring enough water, comfortable clothing and other supplies you might need.
  • Check out the weather if you’re shooting outdoors. Different types of weather may require different gear or sometimes, you’ll have to wait for the perfect moment to go to your location.
  • What will be your main subject, and what is the story you want to tell with your photo? Do some research on the subject and learn all you need to know to be able to create the best photos.
two camera bodies with different lenses and one lens on the side.

? Great preparation idea: If possible, bring multiple bodies, so you don’t have to switch lenses. This is extra important, if not a must, when shooting time-sensitive subjects, like a wedding, event or birth.

Want to win a photo contest? Stay creative!

Of course, your photo shoot preparation plans change depending on your subject and location. Just know that being prepared can help you improve your photos. Being prepared makes you more confident, which can result in bolder photos and more creative compositions. When you’re well-prepared, that doesn’t mean you cannot leave some room for spontaneity during the shoot. On the contrary, your schedule should definitely leave time for new ideas that you think of on the spot. And you could bring props that might be of use, even though you’re not sure yet how they’ll come into play. Always leave room for deviating from the plan.

4. Make your photo stand out & win a photo contest

There are multiple ‘simple’ things you can do to ensure a strong photo. One is to make sure you understand what a good composition is. Others are mostly to make sure your colors, lights and darks are pretty and/or interesting.


Use the rule of thirds, framing, rule of odds, leading lines, focus in the right spots and create an overall well-balanced image. Sometimes you’ll have to choose a different ratio (shape) for the most interesting composition. You can accomplish that by cropping or by stitching photos together to make a panorama. More tips on composition and ratio >


Also very important for a photo that pops: the use of color. Adding colors to your scene can make a huge difference. Also, use color to make your subject pop! Here are some examples of how to use color to make a photo stand out.

For the biggest contrasts, use complementary colors like red-green, yellow–purple, and blue–orange. Contrasting colors can make an otherwise dull photo interesting.

LIGHTS & darkS

To be able to win a photo contest, your photo’s lights and darks have to be right. Lighting can truly make or break your photo. Use continuous studio light, natural light or flash. When shooting landscapes, find out when the golden hour and blue hour are, and shoot with those wonderful blue and yellow colors around sunset and sunrise. When using flash or continuous studio light, make sure it is well-balanced all over the photo. Prepare your lighting even before your model arrives, to ensure an efficient use of time and budget. Lighter and darker areas in your image make or break your composition. Play with light and shadows to make an interesting image.

5. Tell a story & win a photo contest

To have a photo touch you in the feels, it must tell a story. A great photo can bring back a fond memory, it can make you feel happy or sad or <insert any other emotion here>. If you want to win a photo contest, make sure to bring across a compelling story.

How to touch someone with your photo’s story

A great photo makes you feel something that you didn’t expect to feel at that moment in time. It surprises you, or wows you. How do you accomplish that?

  1. Well, let’s start by not having any distracting factors in the photo. An item that’s not necessary for the look and feel of the photo, is an item that should be removed.
  2. Keep it simple. A person’s face could be enough. Does your photo really need all that clutter in the background? And the clothing the model is wearing, does it contribute to the feeling you’re trying to evoke? How about the hairdo and makeup?
  3. Colors and lighting can change the atmosphere completely. So, whichever the story or emotion is you’re trying to bring across, make sure the lighting and colors fit the atmosphere. So, happy colors and bright lights for happy photos, and darker colors fit a sad scene.

How to win a photo contest in 4 easy steps

  • Make sure to play by the rules. They are there for a reason.
  • Familiarize yourself with the contest and the judges to understand what they’re looking for.
  • Plan your photoshoot to prevent silly mistakes. Planning makes you more confident and more efficient. It usually results in better photos, or at the very least better chances of better photos.
  • Be sure to have your photo stand out from the crowd. You can do this by making interesting color combinations and by making sure the lighting is pretty, but I think the most important thing is: make the judges ‘feel’ your photo and its story.

Do you feel like you’re ready to participate in a photo contest? It is time to put all you’ve learned into practice. Xpozer organises the Xpozer Photo Contest and every 2 months, a new contest starts with its own theme or subject. Check out the current Xpozer Photo Contest theme, see all the submissions, read about the jury and more by pressing the button below.