If you’re looking to challenge your photography skills by entering your work into a photography competition, it pays to know what the judges could be looking for in a winning photograph. These competitions are a fantastic way to raise awareness of your work and to assess the competition in your chosen niche. However, it’s rare to receive feedback from the competition judges once the awards have been handed out, so it makes sense to get into their heads before submitting your photography.

We’ve been speaking to a few professional photographers who have been involved in the judging on many photography competitions. They were happy to share their views on what, to them, makes a winning photograph, for anyone wondering how to win a photography competition. Use these words of wisdom to better your chances in the next photography competition you enter - it could be the difference between winning and falling short.

Think outside the box (but not too much)

As a fantastic landscape photographer, journalist and editor, it goes without saying that Benedict Brain has the knowledge and experience to know what to look for from photography submissions. Benedict has judged in the past and will be judging a few upcoming photography contests, including International Garden Photography of the Year and the British Photography Awards.

“I’m always looking for an original take on a subject. Many competitions have a huge amount of entries to get through and you start seeing the same image again and again (and again), so thinking outside the box can really help a submission stand out.

However, don’t think so far out of the box that the image is irrelevant to the category. Ideas, concepts, stories and fresh ways of seeing are more important to me than fancy technique, however, first-rate camera craft and good technical quality is vital too. It’s one thing making an image look good on an Instagram feed, but many competitions will want to make large prints of the winning images so the quality has to be up to scratch”.

Create a connection

Not only does Damien Demolder create some truly brilliant landscape, portraiture and street photography, he is also an expert when it comes to photography equipment too. His experience and expertise allow him to see through individual photographs, to understand the meaning behind the image and the skills used to capture it. Damien has judged a range of photography awards during his time, including Landscape Photographer of the Year.

“To get anywhere when I'm judging a competition, your picture needs to make me respond. I need to feel a connection and understand what it is that you are showing me. I need to be able to feel that again when I go back and look at your picture later, so make sure you are creating deep and enduring identification rather than a flash in the pan.

I want to feel that I'm there, to share the emotions that surround the scene and to identify with what is happening or to relish a new experience. And I want to still be thinking about it when the picture isn't in front of me anymore.

Your exposure, the way you've focused, the colours you've concentrated on and the way you've arranged the elements of the scene in the frame will all contribute to how I feel. If you weren't feeling when you took the picture, I probably won't feel when I look at it.

It is rare that the subject itself will make me choose your picture. What usually gets my attention is the way you have decided to represent it.”

Imperfection is OK

Morag Paterson is a fine art landscape photographer who works alongside her esteemed colleague, Ted Leeming. Together, the two photographers have years of experience in capturing the natural landscape merged with our impact and interaction within it. Morag and Ted have involved themselves with a number of photography contests during their career, such as the Digital Camera Photographer of the Year.

“Originality is a key factor when we’re judging competitions - we are not simply looking for the technical proficiency of an image. An image that evokes an emotion or a sense of place will generally win us over more than something that has been perfectly executed but is something we’ve seen a similar image of dozens of times before."

A huge thanks to the photography judges from the team here at Peli UK, for taking the time to offer an insight into what judges look for in photography contests. Whether you’re thinking about entering your next competition or you’re searching for photography competitions for beginners, we’re sure that these words of wisdom will help you to create some fantastic photography that will catch any judge’s eye.

Whilst you’re here, why not peruse the Peli UK Photography Hub, for further information and tips on how to perfect photography in popular niches? Alternatively, find out more about our range of hard camera cases available, perfect for any photography thinking about heading out on a shoot.