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Think you’ve got what it takes to win?

All photos by Lola Akinmade

If you’re a photographer building your online presence and are now regularly networking with other photographers to get crucial feedback and constructive criticism on various techniques, it’s probably time to begin thinking about contests.

Contests give you an assessment of how your photographs stack up against the competition as well as the visibility that comes with winning one.

A major downside is most competitions come with entry fees. Even well known contests from Photo District News (PDN) for professional photographers come with fees as high as $35 per photograph.

These costs usually go towards prize payouts, communication, marketing, and other administrative tasks.

For the hobbyist, this can be downright expensive and usually deters participation.

Other cons include rules that require photographers transfer all rights to the sponsor so always read the fine print as a few competitions may require this.

So we’ve rounded up a few popular contests that don’t require entry fees.


National Geographic’s Your Shot – Readers are invited to upload photos and every day, Photo Editor Susan Welchman picks her daily dozen. Each month, one of the submitted photos is selected for publication in the magazine – a much coveted opportunity.

Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest – Powerhouse Smithsonian runs a high visibility contest that awards winners of each category $500 with the grand prize being an all expenses paid trip.

Energizer Photo Contest – Administered by National Geographic, this is one of their free contests with the grand winner landing spots on NG Expeditions to places like Tanzania and publication in the magazine.

Nikon Photo Contest International – Nikon has been running this free contest since 1969, providing opportunities for amateur photographers to spotlight their work.

Sony Photo Awards – With a prize of $5000 and all expenses trip to Cannes going to the overall winner, this is another contest worth exploring.

Nothing like camera giants Nikon and Sony promoting your photography through live exhibitions and online.

Fresh M.I.L.K – A grand prize of $50,000 and no entry fees makes M.I.L.K one of the best free contests out there. 150 winners are also selected with prizes of $500 each, and all winning entries are published in one of their books with royalties doled out. This contest was launched in November 2008.

Pricey But May Be Worth It

International Photography Awards (IPA) – With a cash prize of $10,000 for the International Photographer of the Year award and $5,000 for the Discovery of the Year, this renown contest provides lots of categories and opportunities to win, but at $25 per photograph, is one of the priciest.

National Geographic Traveler’s World In Focus Contest – With entry fees upwards of $22 per photo after the promotional deadline of $12 per photograph, winners of this contest win exciting all expenses paid trips and some nice professional grade cameras.

Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY) – Usually touted as the Oscars or Emmys of Travel Photography, this may be worth considering. Keep in mind that the competition is fierce with established professional photographers usually sweeping all categories.

Winning one of these contests can definitely boost your portfolio and speed track your budding career as a travel photographer.

Community Connection

Know of other free contests worth entering? Please share them below

Photo + Video + Film


About The Author

Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström

Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström is a MatadorU faculty member and Network contributor. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Vogue, BBC,, and many more. Follow her photoblog at

  • jenni :-)

    Flight Centre Canada just started their own photo contests which are free to enter. You do have to be a Canadian resident to enter though. Here is a link to the current “South Pacific” contest:

  • eileen

    great tips Lola! The free ones are particularly attractive, of course! Lovely photos as well!

  • Ryukyu Mike

    Great list. Some of them have residency requirements you need to check before submitting. Glimpse. org has a Cultural Experience Contest going; extended deadline till Sept 15th. It’s worth looking into if you’re living outside the USA.

  • AnnaI

    Hi Lola!
    And one more thing worth mentioning here is that you should ALWAYS read the small print before taking part in any photo contest, because you may find out that you gave up the copyrights to your photos just by entering. So be careful and read everything very carefully before submitting your photos to avoid any nasty surprises later on.

  • Paul Sullivan

    Nice work Lola!

  • Carlo

    Thanks so much for this. I will be looking into some of these for sure! And great photos. That monkey one is so cute. But disturbing at the same time.

  • Chris Noble

    Here’s one that I defy any photographer not to drool over., National Geographic Channel & are giving one exceptional individual the chance to go on assignment with renowned wildlife photographer Jason Edwards to Antarctica!

    The brief is to photograph the world’s most remote wilderness aboard Gap Adventure’s Antarctica Classic M/S Expedition, exploring the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula.

    The scholarship recipient will receive AU$2000 worth of Pentax photographic equipment of your choice.

    Find out more here –

    • Lola

      Thanks for adding this sweet contest to the list!


    Thanks for the list of photography contests. Not only is a picture worth a 1,000 words; tt can be worth $10,000 or more if you win a contest :)


    Oops! Noticed a typo in my comment. Meant to say “it can be worth $10,000 or more if you win a contest :) Happy Monday!

  • Will

    Hi Lola,

    Thanks for sharing the info, the competitions sound really good.

    Great monkey shot by the way…


  • Ryukyu Mike

    Here’s a new one by Glimpse. org
    No entry fee and you can submit up to 3 photos. Only $500 Travel Voucher prize, but usually someone from National Geographic is in on the judging.
    How you write your caption counts, probably on an equal footing with how well you shoot. Worth looking into.

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