What Are Photography Competition Judges Looking For?

Those who know me know that I love to enter photography competitions. It’s not about entering to compete against other photographers, or for the trophies (even though the trophies and accolades are nice). It’s to push myself creatively and be inspired by other photographers continually.

And whether or not the feedback and advice from judges is what I expected to hear, once taken on board, it’s always educational.

I know that by having my work judged by leaders in our industry, I am producing the high level of work that my clients deserve.

I have been entering print competitions for just over seven years, both in Australia and internationally. Every year I get just as excited and nervous as the year before. I still remember the very first year I entered – the doubt in selecting the right images and then eagerly awaiting my scores to see if they were above or below “standard professional practice” in the jurors’ opinions. I liken it to the first time I picked up a camera and began to experiment. I just knew it was like nothing I’d ever felt before – there’s was a rush of excitement shared with a subconscious knowledge that I had discovered something that just felt right.. and everything changed after that.

If you’ve never entered a photography competition before but have been considering putting your work in front of a panel of judges, I encourage you to do so. It not only pushes you to take your imagery that extra step further, but to create something truly unique. Taking this chance could be your first step towards building a global audience for your body of work.

Selecting your strongest images for submission is no small feat. You have to seriously assess your overall body of work – a challenge that you may not have attempted previously. And while there is no formula to determine which images you should enter, there are factors that jurors look for when assessing images.

I feel very fortunate to have been asked to judge competitions all over the world. This experience has grown my knowledge substantially. For years prior to this, I sat in the audience watching and learning. As every print appeared in front of a panel of judges, they would give their review pointing out areas for improvement and acknowledging what worked. I would soak up every comment. Even after studying photography at college, I believe this was the best classroom I could have ever asked for.


What Are Jurors Looking For?


An image that grabs their attention.

Creativity and Style

Creativity that tells a story, and style that’s defined by a particular genre or technique.


Composition should hold the judge’s attention. It should prompt the judge with leading lines, alignment and lighting, drawing them to look where the photographer intends them to look.

Image or Print Presentation

The overall finish of an image is highly important.

In the case of online competitions, make sure you are working on a calibrated monitor. You will need to ensure your image files for submission meet the requirements of entry with regards to colour profiles, image dimensions and file format. Incorrect submissions can significantly impact how your image appears to others.

In the case of print competitions, mats and borders should be carefully selected and never distracting.  And paper choice can be critical as every paper stock is different and will impact on the final print.


Correct use of light needs to enhance an image and should be appropriate to the image and subject.

Colour Balance

Colour balance should be harmonious in an image and can also create dramatic effects in an image.

Technical Excellence

Technical excellence refers to the sharpness, exposure, correct use of colour, and, in the case of print competitions, mounting, paper selection and print quality.

Photographic Technique

Posing, lighting, composition, ISO choice, lens choice and exposure should all be considered, in conjunction with technical excellence.

Story Telling and Subject Matter

Images should strike the judges’ attention, and draw them in to discover the message without distraction.

For me, it always starts with a gut feeling. Sometimes I’m faced with a client’s story, and it’s my job to create something with meaning and significance for them to cherish. Other times it’s an idea – my imagination working overtime to think of something original and emotive. Images need to reach out and force a jury to pay attention, whether it’s the subject matter, powerful composition, or incredible use of light.


Pushing yourself to step outside your comfort zone can be very rewarding. I strongly suggest watching the online judging of the RISE International Photography Awards, as well as going along to watch live judging at competitions like WPPI. You’ll not only learn a lot from watching other photographers’ images being constructively critiqued, but you’ll be incredibly inspired to start creating. And if it’s not your cup of tea, that’s okay too. We are all different and work differently.

There are a lot of photography competitions out there, so you need to decide carefully which ones you will enter. My advice is to invest only in those competitions that advance your career goals. And please make sure you read the Terms & Conditions, so you know what’s involved, especially concerning the use of image rights.

The reason I love entering photography competitions so much is knowing that the photographs I create have meaning. These images don’t need words to evoke emotion or to tell you the story. They push the boundaries of imagination, craft and skill, and, each year, I know I’ve photographed something truly unique and more technically advanced than in the previous year.

Hopefully, I have inspired you a little, and I wish you the best of luck with your future entries.



Kelly Brown – newbornposing.com




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