Paid photo contests / competitions. Cash grabs or legitimate?


I’ve had a few conversations recently with professional photographers, former panel judges and hobbyists. My personal conclusion after speaking with everyone is that some of these huge competitions like the IPA’s are a huge cash grab. While there is no doubting that most judges on all the big competition panels are experts and very good at what they do, I feel that there are too many other variables that factor in to their decision making. After considering the points below I feel that there are other, cheaper ways to go about getting noticed in your craft. There are other ways to get noticed such as social media, self marketing, magazine submissions and many free competitions or just good old wedding shoots! What do you think?

  • What’s the mood of the judge, is it impacting why they advocate for one photo over another?
  • What’s going on in a a judge’s personal life, is it impacting why they advocate for one photo over another?
  • Does the judge have fellow colleagues in the competition which they may be biased towards?
  • Are there up and coming photographers in the competition that the judges may have heard of that they may be biased towards?
  • Does the judge have former students or proteges in the competition that they may be biased towards?
  • Are there sponsored photographers who have or are working with the competition affiliates?
  • Is there corruption with a judge, the whole panel or within the organization?
  • Paid photo contests / competitions are a huge cash grab; work hard and get noticed in other ways.
  • Paid photo contests / competitions give me a huge chance to try and get noticed and can offer valuable feedback.

0 voters


When lens culture (who I don’t even follow on IG) contacted me via email, to suggest that I enter a photo that I’d tagged “street photography” on IG into their street photography competition, it smacked to me of a desperation to get to know my wallet.

To get noticed I think is a tough nut to crack…

…tag your photo this or that, give it away to unsplash, send your shots to a news agency and all for a chance to be featured etc etc

Sometimes (average monthly, but occasionally weekly) I get into “flickr explore” and my photo feed gets 20k views in one day, but then the day after it’s back to the regular far more modest viewing level

So I’m not convinced that getting attention even works out long term…

Ok winning a competition or something maybe that works out great for a few, but for the majority it’s just a way for us all to help make people other than ourselves take profit from our hard work

That all said…

It’s important to remember that success is a side effect, not an end goal. I’m just going to keep plodding along with what I do (the X-Pro website is quite popular, but that popularity hasn’t transfered to my images) and what happens, or doesn’t happen, happens

I might look at competitions, but maybe more local ones.

I still do paid gigs, and that’s perhaps the best type of attention :slight_smile:


The local [physical] competition that I’m most aware of has a judging panel that is limited in its taste. The winning images all seem to be overprocessed landscapes printed on metal. It’s hard to see it being worth it to even enter, and I’m not sure what winning something like that would do for my visibility and salability in the market here.


I can suggest two great articles on the subject of photography competitions written by Grant Scott on the marvelous blog “United nations of photography”, they’ll give you more informations about how competitions work.


I hadn’t heard of that blog before but there’s some good stuff there. Thanks Sam!