What to Enter: Photo Competitions for Nature Photographers

One of the best ways to get recognition for your photography is through photo competitions. Unfortunately, a lot of scammers have figured out how eager we are for recognition, and there are a number of less-than-legitimate competitions out there who will happily pocket your hefty entrance fee in exchange for a pat on the back. Over the six months or so I've been researching and entering photo contests, and I’m sharing my findings here to help my fellow photographers navigate the vast bog of competitions online. I’m focusing here on international, adult competitions, but many of these also have youth competitions or allow under-18’s to enter the general competition. I hope to eventually have here a comprehensive list of legitimate competitions for nature and conservation photography (or general competitions with nature or environmental categories), though I’m sure I don’t have all of them here yet. 

The photo that earned me a spot in the winners' gallery of the 2016 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. "The Collaborators", WPY Wildlife Photojournalism finalist.

At the bottom, I’ve also included two other short lists: a list of competitions to enter with caution, and a list of photo grants/workshops that are worth applying for.

This list is in order of yearly deadline, and is meant to give an overview of available competitions. “Winners Announced” dates are either drawn from official competition documents or deduced from previous press releases. The deadlines posted here are based on information available in January 2019; while I’ll try to keep up with any changes in deadlines, entry fees, etc. from year to year, you should always double-check the competition website to make sure they’re correct. And don’t forget to read the rules posted on the official competition website for details about image submission and other rules. 

One critical thing to look for in the rules: it’s common for competitions to claim a “non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free license [on your images] to reproduce, enlarge, publish or exhibit, on any media”. But you want to make sure they follow that with a clause like this: “for any purpose connected with the Competition”. If a major organization like Smithsonian uses your images to promote their competition – fine. No big deal for you, and you WANT your image to be prominently displayed as a winner. But if the organization claims the right to use all of your entries, forever, for free, in any of its media – you’re losing out on a potential future client. They no longer have to pay you for that work because they’ve already claimed rights to it. You have no control over how and when they use your photos, you get no compensation, and you may not even get a credit. And Smithsonian, along with a few other major competitions, DOES do this – see the “AVOID” section toward the end of this post.

In general, I encourage photographers who are just starting out to enter contests widely. You have little to lose and a lot of exposure to gain. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind: 

  1. Beware of contests that are designed for rights-grabbing, as discussed above.

  2. Be cautious of competitions that you’ve never heard of with steep entry fees and small prizes. They’re probably geared more toward a profit for the organizers than for helping photographers, and they’re probably not worth your time or money. At worst, they could be a scam. Equally, be cautious of competitions that have no entry fee. You have to wonder how they’re covering their operating costs, and in some cases they do this by grabbing your rights.

  3. Take note of the fact that some of the major competitions disqualify photos that have been recognized in any other international competition or have been previously published (and though this appears to be an extreme case, posting your photo on Facebook counts as “publishing” in the Sony competition). For some of them this disqualification applies even if you entered the photo before you knew that it won that other competition. What that means is you should be aware of the rules for all of the competitions you want to enter, and you should be cautious with your best photos. If you think a photo has a real chance in a major competition that has a restriction like this, consider entering them there first and only entering it into a minor competition after winners for those major competitions have been announced.

  4. Generally speaking, don’t bother looking at previous winning images for guidance. The judging panel for most competitions rotates each year, and beyond a certain standard of quality, everyone’s tastes differ. In fact, judges in some competitions will immediately reject photos that appear to be very similar to previous years’ winners. Something that may not be a winning image one year might have a better chance the next; unfortunately, most contests forbid you from entering the same images twice. This is why it can be worth your time to research the judges and think about what images might excite them (this is NOT to say that you should enter images that are very similar to their own photography; that strategy will often backfire).


Know of a contest that I’ve missed? Had a bad experience with one of the competitions I’ve recommended below, or a good experience with one that I've advised to be cautious about? Any information you’re dying to know that you think I should include in this guide? Please comment at the bottom of the page, or use the contact form here to let me know!


Contests to Enter:

Sony World Photography Awards Deadline January 5

  • Type: General photography with Nature, Wildlife, and Travel categories.

  • Backed by: World Photography Organisation, Sony

  • Restrictions: Photos must be from the past year for Open competition; must be taken or published during past year for Professional competition.

  • Entry Fee: Professional competition is free; Open competition is free for 3 images, £14.95 for 8 additional images (11 total) and £39.95 for 20 additional images (23 total).

  • Winners Notified: Sometime between January 31 and the award ceremony in April

This is a major photo competition with good international reach. For the Professional competition, entrants must enter 5-10 photos with a description, which will be judged as a series. It does not appear that you need to submit any professional credentials. For the Open competition, entrants are judged on single images. Entries are automatically entered into both the international competition and the national competition, if available for your country of residence. 

A note: For the professional competition, I’ve heard that the “publishing” rules apply to photos posted on Facebook or Instagram. So, if you posted a photo on Facebook in 2015, it might not be eligible for the 2016 competition even if it was first published in a proper publication in 2016.

World Press Photo Contest Deadline January 6 for requesting entry, January 11 for submission

  • Type: Professional photojournalism, general, with a Nature category

  • Backed by: The World Press Photo Foundation

  • Restrictions: Entrants must have credentials as a professional photographer, proven by a press card, membership documents from a professional photo association, a journalism union membership card, or a letter of reference from an agency, editor, or publication. All single images must be shot in the preceding year, and stories must be shot in the preceding two years with some images from the preceding year.

  • Entry Fee: None.

  • Winners Notified: February 13

World Press Photo is one of the most, if not the most, respected competitions in photojournalism. Winning this will likely earn you heaps of recognition and send a lot of business your way. The competition is tough, but since there’s no entry fee, you have nothing to lose (as long as you have the credentials to enter).

Note that it can take three days for your account to be approved after you register, so don’t wait until the last minute!

Pictures of the Year International Deadline January 14

  • Type: General photography with a Science and Natural History category

  • Backed by: Missouri School of Journalism

  • Restrictions: Photos must be taken or published for the first time during the past year. Photos must conform to photojournalism standards, and cannot be posed or staged.

  • Entry Fee: $50 for 15 images

  • Winners Notified: February 28

POYI focuses on “the human experience”; although there have been runners-up in the past few years that are purely natural history images with some journalistic relevance, most of the winners and runners-up are photojournalistic images that contain human elements. Keep this in mind when selecting images to enter.

Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards Deadline January 18

  • Type: Nature photography competition with 10 categories

  • Backed by: Audubon, African Wildlife Foundation, International League of Conservation Photographers, Divers Alert Network, Nature’s Best Photography Magazine

  • Restrictions: Photos can be taken any time and there are no listed restrictions on previously published or awarded images. You must include information about Red List status of subject species in the caption.

  • Ethics: Entrants “must not enter images of captive wildlife or involve the willful harassment of wildlife or damage to the environment.” Meaning, no game farm images, but baiting does unfortunately not appear to be restricted.

  • Entry Fee: $30 for every 25 images.

  • Winners Notified: August

There are no prizes for this competition, except inclusion in a gallery. So, it’s not entirely clear to me what the category sponsors’ (Audubon, AWF, ILCP, DAN) role is. However, this is a prestigious competition and there is potential for good exposure if you win. EDIT: As of 2019, the gallery will no longer be at the Smithsonian Museum and will instead be at the Wonders of Wildlife Museum in Missouri. This is going to dramatically decrease the exposure that the images get from the gallery. I would guess that, given this change and the fact that there are no prizes for this competition, the number of entries and the quality of images in this competition will decrease in the coming years.

Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year Deadline January 25

  • Type: Regional nature photography competition

  • Backed by: Australian Geographic magazine and the South Australian Museum

  • Restrictions: Photos must have been taken in the ANZANG bioregion (Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and New Guinea. Photos must have been taken within the 7 years prior to the competition closing date.

  • Ethics: Animals in captivity or unnatural conditions must be declared (and the species in question must occur in the ANZANG region). Conservation laws and habitat preservation must be upheld. No other restrictions.

  • Entry Fee: AUD$38.00 (~USD$27.00) for the first image and AUD$22.00 (~USD$16.00) for each subsequent image

  • Winners Notified: August 15

The entry fee is very steep but the prizes are pretty good, with AUD$10,000 for the overall winner and AUD$1,000 for each category winner.

Siena International Photo Awards Deadline January 31

  • Type: General photography competition with nature and wildlife categories

  • Backed by: Art Photo Travel (nonprofit, Italy)

  • Restrictions: Photos can be taken at any time. No restrictions for photos that have previously won other contests.

  • Ethics: No guidelines listed for animal or nature subjects, except that animals must be wild for the “Animals in their Environment” category.

  • Entry Fee: First image is free; €30 for 2 or 3 images; €8 additional for each image beyond 3. Storyboard is €35. Early bird discount before December 24.

  • Winners Notified: June 10

This is a large competition although the prizes (equipment) are relatively small. It is also very new – it has only been running since 2015 - but it has already attracted some attention.

PDN Photo Annual Deadline February 4

  • Type: General photo competition with no explicit nature category.

  • Backed by: Photo District News Magazine

  • Restrictions: Photos and projects must be made or first published within the past year, though long-term projects can contain older images.

  • Entry Fee: Professional, $50 for a single image and $60 for a series of 2-6 images. Student, $25 for a single image or a series.

  • Winners Notified: May

Though there’s no specific nature category, nature/environmental photojournalism stories have recently been recognized in a number of the categories. This is quite a prestigious competition with recent winners including well-known photogs like Steve Winter and Nick Brandt. The entry fees are quite steep but if you win it will likely be well worth it. PDN has a variety of smaller contests throughout the year, which you can learn more about here.

GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year Deadline March 1

  • Type: Nature photo competition, with 8 categories

  • Backed by: The Society of German Nature Photographers (GDT)

  • Restrictions: Limited to photographers based in Europe, and to all GDT members. Photos awarded in any other “significant” photography competition are ineligible. Photos can be taken anytime.

  • Entry Fee: €30 for 20 images total

  • Winners Notified: May 9

This might be the most prestigious regional competition for Europe. Definitely worth entering if you are eligible.

Fritz Pölking Prize Deadline March 1

  • Type: Nature photo series competition

  • Backed by: The Society of German Nature Photographers (GDT)

  • Restrictions: Limited to photographers based in Europe, and to all GDT members. Photos awarded in any other “significant” photography competition are ineligible. Photos can be taken anytime.

  • Entry Fee: €10 for a series of 8-12 images. One entry allowed per participant.

  • Winners Notified: May 9

This is a competition related to the above European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Entrants will be judged on a body of work, either a portfolio of single images or a series of related images (i.e. photo story) with an 8-10 sentence description. The previous three winners (all that is available on the GDT website) were coherent photo stories rather than portfolios.

BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition Deadline March 1, January 31 for early bird discount

  • Type: Nature photography competition with 7 categories

  • Backed by: California Academy of Sciences, bioGraphic

  • Restrictions: Limited to 10 single images per email address, but you may register any number of email addresses (with one entry fee per email). Photos can be taken any time.

  • Entry Fee: $25 for up to 10 single images, $15 for photo series (3-5 images)

  • Winners Notified: May

This is a relatively new competition (began in 2014) but it is already very prestigious, drawing excellent entries and big names for its juries and awarding generous cash prizes. This competition shouldn’t be confused with the “The Big Picture” competition in the UK.

Make sure you read the “Image Checklist” document, which is separate from the rules document, to ensure that you’re complying with some of the details for entry. You’ll also be given the option to donate your images for the California Academy of Sciences to use in their outreach efforts.

National Wildlife Photo Contest Deadline March 22

  • Type: Nature photography competition with 7 categories

  • Backed by: National Wildlife Federaton (nonprofit, USA)

  • Restrictions: Previously published photos and photos that have previously won awards are permitted, but this record must be disclosed. Photos can be taken anytime.

  • Entry Fee: $20 for every 10 images

  • Winners Notified: October

A relatively small competition, though the grand prize is substantial ($5,000). Despite “national” in the name, this contest is open to all photographers internationally, and accepts photos of subjects all over the world. Oddly, I cannot find winners galleries from previous years on the website.

If you enter, you will be given the option to donate your images to the National Wildlife Federation for use in its outreach efforts and to raise funds for conservation. 

Glanzlichter International Competition of Nature Photography Deadline March 31

  • Type: Nature photography competition with 8 categories.

  • Backed by: German Association of Photography (DVF); Projekt Natur & Fotografie; the German Ministry for Environment, Conservation, and Nuclear Safety

  • Restrictions: Only 5 photos can be entered in each category, up to 25 images total. Photos can be taken anytime.

  • Ethical Standards: Entrants must indicate if their subjects are captive or the photos are taken under controlled conditions. The rules make no mention of other ethical issues e.g. baiting.

  • Entry Fee: €20 for 25 images.

  • Winners Notified: February 23

The Glanzlichter website is a bit tough to navigate if you don’t speak any German, but there is a PDF of competition guidelines in English here (the link above takes you directly to the page where you can choose a PDF in your language). The website is pretty old-school, and I’d never heard of this competition before researching for this blog. I believe it is a legitimate competition, but I don’t think it carries a great deal of weight internationally. 

Bio Photo Contest Deadline March 31

  • Type: Nature photography competition with one rotating theme

  • Backed by: Organization of BioArt (Italy)

  • Restrictions: Photos that have already won another award are ineligible. Photos can be taken at any time.

  • Entry Fee: €30 for up to 20 images.

  • Winners Notified: June

This competition has a unique premise: each year they focus on a different biome. Of course, that means that if you focus on tropical climes you may not have anything to enter this year, when the theme is Boreal Forests. Participants seem to come mostly from Europe, though entrants of any nationality are welcome.

Audubon Photography Awards Deadline April 8

  • Type: Bird photography competition

  • Backed by: National Audubon Society, Nature's Best Photography

  • Restrictions: Only residents of the U.S. and Canada (except Quebec) are eligible, but photos can be taken anywhere in the world. Photos cannot have won any previous awards. Photos cannot have been previously published in Audubon or Nature's Best Magazines. Photos must contain at least one bird. Photos can be taken at any time.

  • Entry Fee: $15 per image before early deadline; $20 per image after. If you mail prints of your entries, there is no entry fee. Entering the youth competition is also free.

  • Winners Notified: March 27

This is a well-respected bird photography competition, which is unfortunately only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. You will be given the option to donate use of your photos to Audubon for its outreach and conservation efforts.

Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year Deadline April 30

  • Type: Photographs from Africa, with a Wildlife and a "Scenic" category

  • Backed by: Africa Geographic Magazine

  • Restrictions: Photos must be taken on the African continent. Entries cannot have won any previous national or international award. Photos can be taken at any time. No limit to the number of entries, but only one entry per photographer can qualify as a finalist.

  • Entry Fee: None.

  • Winners Notified: May

MontPhoto International Competition of Nature Photography Deadline April 30

  • Type: Nature photography with various categories

  • Backed by: the Spain-based MontPhoto Association and various sponsors

  • Restrictions: Photos must be taken within the last 4 years. Entries cannot have won any previous category or overall awards in another competition. Will not accept scanned slides -- files must be digital.

  • Ethical Standards: Captive or trained animals, or inducing an animal to perform a certain behavior, must be disclosed. Does not prohibit baiting.

  • Entry Fee: 25€ for up to 25 photos.

  • Winners Notified: June 30

Though this competition seems relatively small the awards are decent and the quality of images is great.

Banff Mountain Photo Essay Competition Deadline May 1

  • Type: Mountain-themed photo story competition (culture, adventure, wildlife, sport, environment or natural history).

  • Backed by: Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

  • Restrictions: Photo stories must have mountains as the central focus and consist of 3-5 photos. At least one of the photos must be taken on or after 8 June 2016.

  • Ethical Standards:

  • Entry Fee: $15 CDN per story

  • Winners Notified: June

  • $2000 Grand Prize and opportunity to attend the 2018 Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival

WildScreen PhotoStory Panda Award Deadline June 8

  • Type: Natural world photo story competition

  • Backed by: WildScreen

  • Restrictions: Photo stories must have an aspect of the natural world as the central focus and consist of 6-10 photos. At least one of the photos must be taken on or after 8 June 2016.

  • Ethical Standards: The competition does not permit entering photos which portray subjects that have been captured using live bait, or that are captives, models, restrained, domesticated, or being exploited for profit, except if done so for the purposes of reporting on exploitation of animal(s) by a third party or a welfare issue.

  • Entry Fee: Early Bird, £15+VAT per story; Official, £30+VAT per story

  • Winners Notified: Nominations announced mid-August, Winners announced 19 October at Panda Awards Ceremony.

PDN Exposure Award Deadline June 16

  • Type: General photography, no categories

  • Backed by: PDN Magazine, see.me

  • Restrictions: Images can be taken anytime.

  • Entry Fee: $55 per portfolio

  • Winners Notified: August

This competition is judged based on sets of photos (portfolios) rather than single images. Though there are no nature categories, a few nature-related portfolios were recognized in the 2016 competition.

WildlifePhoto Wildlife Photography Contest DeadlineS JUNE 30, SEPTEMBER 30, DECEMBER 31

  • Type: Nature photograpy with 3 categories

  • Backed by: Wildlifephoto.com/Camtraptions, Burrard-Lucas Photography

  • Restrictions: There are few restrictions.

  • Entry Fee: None, if you meet the staggered deadlines for each of the three categories. If you want to enter all of them up until December 31, you must pay a membership fee of £9 per year.

  • Winners Notified: February

This is a new competition, started in 2016 and likely to be small and little-known at the outset. There is only one judge, who is the owner of the website, Will Burrard-Lucas. There are three sub-competitions (categories, really) in the “photo series”. “Wildlife Portraits” has a deadline of August 1. Habitats & Landscapes” has a deadline of October 15. “Animal Behaviour” has a deadline of December 31. If you are a member, you can submit to any of these categories up to the final deadline of December 31. The prizes are enticing for a free competition: an African Safari for grand prize, and some useful gear for the category winners.

Nature's Best Photography Africa Deadline July 2

  • Type: African nature competition with 16 categories

  • Backed by: Nature's Best Photography, Iziko South Africa Museum

  • Restrictions: Photos can be taken any time.

  • Ethical Standards: The competition has a whole page outlining their ethical standards here. Among other things, they prohibit harassment of wildlife, destruction of habitat, photos taken in captivity, and baiting or other manipulation of behavior.

  • Entry Fee: 300 ZAR per 20 images

  • Winners Notified: Not specified.

This is a competition that is related to, but separate from, the Nature's Best Photography Windland Awards (above), which also has an African wildlife category. Unlike in that competition, Nature's Best Photography Africa winners do receive prizes (photo safaris). Winning photos are furthermore displayed at the Iziko Museum in Cape Town. Though the photos must be taken in Africa, you do not need to be from an African country to enter.

Environmental Photographer of the Year Deadline July 31

  • Type: Nature and environmental competition with 3 categories

  • Backed by: Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management; Atkins Global; Forestry Commission England

  • Restrictions: Up to 10 photos or videos may be entered. Photos must have been taken and videos completed since January of the previous year.

  • Entry Fee: None.

  • Winners Notified: May 5

International Photography Awards Deadline August 31

  • Type: General photography competition with environmental and nature categories

  • Backed by: The Lucie Foundation

  • Restrictions: Photos must be taken within the last 5 years.

  • Entry Fee: Up to $35 each image (professional)/$25 each image (non-professional), with discounts for series, students, and residents of developing countries.

  • Winners Notified: Before late October

This competition doesn’t seem to attract a whole lot of international attention, at least for nature photographers. Entry fees are very steep. Cash prizes for the grand title winners are substantial, but category winners do not receive prizes. Uniquely, this competition has a special award called “Deeper Perspective of the Year”, which considers the stories behind the images and comes with a cash prize of $5,000.

Travel Photographer of the Year Deadline September 9

  • Type: Travel photography with several categories relevant to nature photographers

  • Backed by: Travel Photographer of the Year, various sponsors

  • Restrictions: Shortlisted entrants must submit prints for final judging. Single images that have won a prize in another international competition are only eligible as part of a portfolio. Portfolios that have won another international prize are not eligible. Photos can be shot anytime, but should not be outdated (e.g. an old city skyline).

  • Entry Fee: £15 per portfolio, £8 per single entry

  • Winners Notified: Early December

I have never entered this relatively small competition because it doesn’t seem worth the headache to submit prints if you’re shortlisted. This appears to be a unique requirement among international competitions and it’s just not realistic for people who aren’t living in civilization full-time.

IUCN Nature Images Awards Deadline September 15

  • Type: Nature photography with 10 categories

  • Backed by: Terre Sauvage Magazine, IUCN, Nature Picture Library

  • Restrictions: Photos can be taken any time.

  • Ethical Standards: Does not allow photos of captive animals (except in some of the story categories). The rules make no mention of other issues e.g. baiting.

  • Entry Fee: €15 for a maximum of 5 entries

  • Winners Notified: October

I tried to enter this competition this year. The website is not kept up to date and the submission system is a nightmare, with a bad design and poor translations to English, and it’s absolutely not clear to me whether my photos actually got submitted or not. That said, its association with the IUCN gives this competition some weight, and I know people who have been awarded prizes so I know it is legitimate.

Neutral Density Photography Awards Deadline September 22 (Early deadline April 28)

  • Type: General photography with 5 nature categories

  • Backed by: Neutral Density Magazine

  • Restrictions: Photos can be taken anytime. There are no restrictions on previously published or awarded images.

  • Entry Fee: $15-$25 per single image, $20-$30 per series, depending on professional status and date of entry

  • Winners Notified: November 26

This photo doesn’t seem to carry too much weight in the nature photography sphere, and has very steep entry fees. I would only enter this if I had a pile of extra cash lying around.

Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards Deadline October 1

  • Type: General photo competition with no categories.

  • Backed by: Feature Shoot

  • Restrictions: Entrants must be over 21 and cannot be commercially represented by an agent or a gallery. Entries cannot be previously published.

  • Entry Fee: $35 for up to 5 images per project; you can submit as many projects as you like

  • Winners Notified: March

This contest works on an unusual model, where each judge is responsible for a particular prize and chooses their own winners. The same winner can be chosen by multiple judges. Prizes include cash, gear, gallery space, and agency representation. Some of these prizes could lead to good exposure.

Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum International Photography Award (HIPA) Deadline October 31

  • Type: General photography with very broad categories. Previous years have had a wildlife category.

  • Backed by: The Crown Prince of Dubai

  • Restrictions: Photos cannot have won any previous awards whatsoever or be used for commercial purposes. Photos can be taken at any time. Only 1 photo allowed per category, except the portfolio category. Photos cannot contain content deemed to be contrary to UAE religious or moral traditions.

  • Entry Fee: None.

  • Winners Notified: March

The cash prizes for this competition are absolutely gigantic, especially considering there is no entry fee, with $400,000 total in prize money. $120,000 is granted to the grand prize winner and $15-25,000 for each category winner. The smallest prize (5th place) is a whopping $6,000. Some very well-respected photographers have won in previous years.

International Garden Photographer of the Year Deadline October 31

  • Type: Plant photography competition with 7 plant/landscape categories and a category for garden wildlife.

  • Backed by: Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, London

  • Restrictions: Entries that have won previous major awards may be disqualified by the organizers – you can request a ruling before submitting.

  • Entry Fee: £10 for up to 4 images in one category; you can enter as many as you like.

  • Winners Notified: February

One fantastic element of this competition is that you can receive professional feedback on your entries if you submit a request up to a month after the entry deadline. Though it can take six months for the organizers to deliver this feedback, this could be invaluable for beginning and mid-level photographers.

The top prize for this competition is substantial (£7,500), and if you win or earn a place as finalist there’s bound to be some prestige from being associated with the Kew name. Additionally, other competitions tend to undervalue plant photography; if this is your specialty, you should absolutely enter this competition.

National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year Deadline November 4

  • Type: Nature photography, with 4 categories

  • Backed by: National Geographic

  • Restrictions: Photos must have been taken within 2 years of the entry date and not previously won an award in a National Geographic competition. Entry is limited to a handful of countries.

  • Entry Fee: $15 per photo

  • Winners Notified: December

This is a major competition that carries weight internationally. However, the entry fee is quite steep, so you may need to be very selective about which photos you enter. The grand prize is a National Geographic expedition rather than cash, with airfare to be paid by the recipient. So, that prize might not do you a whole lot of good if you don’t have a couple thousand dollars lying around to spend on a vacation. First, second and third places receive cash prizes.

The competition was changed in 2016 – previously it was the National Geographic Photo Contest with 3 categories: People, Places, and Nature. Now, National Geographic has separate Nature and Travel (see above) competitions. The rules for these NG competitions are epics in legalese and I recommend that you read them to make sure you’re happy with the rights you’re granting for your submissions. 

Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition Deadline November 30

  • Type: Underwater photography with 16 categories

  • Backed by: Underwater Photography Guide

  • Restrictions: Photos can be taken any time. You must have been in the water yourself when you take the photo – no pole shots. Photos that have placed 1st, 2nd or 3rd in a major international contest will be disqualified.

  • Entry Fee: $12 per photo, 11 for $120, 22 for $240

  • Winners Notified: January 9

One interesting element of this competition is that the winners select their own prizes from an interesting variety of expeditions and gear. 

Memorial Maria Luisa Deadline December 1

  • Type: Mountain, nature, and adventure sports, with 12 categories applicable to nature photographers

  • Backed by: Memorial Maria Luisa (non-profit, Spain)

  • Restrictions: 5 photos can be entered in each category (14 categories, for a total of 120 entries). Photos can be taken at any time.

  • Entry Fee: €18

  • Winners Notified: March 1

This competition has been running since 1990, and is small but respected. The competition is heavy on mountain-themed categories, but there are also a number of categories that don’t require mountain photos. It’s a bit tricky to understand the boundaries between some of the categories, such as “Animals” and “Biodiversity”; it’s not clear even from reviewing past winners of these categories what type of images belong in each one.

Asferico International Nature Photography Competition Deadline December 2

  • Type: Nature photography, with 8 categories

  • Backed by: Asferico natura photography magazine, Italy

  • Restrictions: Images can be taken at any time, but should not have won previous recognition in another contest. They also prefer unpublished images.

  • Entry Fee: €25 for up to 30 entries

  • Winners Notified: February 28

A relatively small but respectable competition with decent prizes.

Outdoor Photographer of the Year Deadline DEcember 6

  • Type: Outdoor photography, with most categories relevant to nature photographers

  • Backed by: Outdoor Photography Magazine, FjällRäven

  • Restrictions: Images that have won a category or overall award in a national or international competition are not eligible. Photos can be taken at any time.

  • Entry Fee: £8 per category, for up to 8 images

  • Winners Notified: February

A relatively small competition, but the grand prize is pretty cool: an all-expenses-paid assignment to photograph the FjällRäven Polar Expedition dogsledding race in Norway and Sweden!

Wildlife Photographer of the Year Deadline December 13

  • Type: Nature and wildlife photo competition with 16 categories

  • Backed by: Natural History Museum, London; rotating major sponsor

  • Restrictions: Entries cannot have won an award in any other international competition. Images can be taken any time.

  • Entry Fee: £30 for total of 25 entries

  • Winners Notified: March 17

This is the premier contest for wildlife and nature photography (sometimes referred to as “the Oscars of wildlife photography”). The competition is stiff, but if you win you’ll get tons of publicity. I was a finalist in 2016, and my participation in the awards ceremony and place in the gallery has helped me to make some really important professional connections. It’s absolutely worth your time and the relatively small entry fee.

LensCulture Exposure Awards Deadline December 20

  • Type: General photography, with a nature classification (that doesn't necessarily name a winner)

  • Backed by: LensCulture Magazine

  • Restrictions: Images cannot have won a cash prize in a previous LensCulture competition. Photos can be taken at any time.

  • Entry Fee: $20 for a single photo, $60 for a series of up to 5. There is a 30% student discount and a 50% discount for entrants from developing countries.

  • Winners Notified: February

Nature-related photographs aren't often among the top selections in this contest, and in 2017 only one nature-related image, of a polar bear in a zoo, made it to the finalists. Given that low probability and the high-ish entry fee, this perhaps shouldn't be the first choice of contest for nature photographers. That said, LensCulture’s competitions are fairly prestigious, with judges from major publications. An additional bonus: if you enter 5 or more photos, LensCulture gives you a free personal submission review a few months after the competition. This means that an anonymous professional will give you written feedback on your photographs. This is potentially a really cool feature of this competition, as most competitions give you no feedback if your entry isn’t successful. Last year, my review consisted of a few paragraphs describing which images stood out and why, as well as any weaknesses. I found the review to be somewhat useful but not groundbreaking; I wouldn't have paid for it, but it was a nice free perk.


Kuwait Grand Photography Contest 

  • Type: General photography with categories in Landscape and Wildlife.

  • Backed by: Phoenix Services

  • Restrictions: Photos can be taken any time.

  • Entry Fee: First photo in each category is free; thereafter, for a fee of $25 you will be allowed 5 photos per category

  • Winners Notified: April 21

I tried to enter this competition this year. Before the deadline, the website was never updated from the 2016 competition details, and the results of the 2017 competition have still not been posted (leading me to believe there was no 2017 competition). The entry system led to a dead end -- it kept sending me back to the home page. I sent an email to the organizers but never got a response. It seems as though this contest is dead, but I'd be interested to hear whether anyone else had a different experience.

Oasis Photo Contest 

  • Type: Wildlife and nature photography competition with 10 categories

  • Backed by: Oasis Magazine, Natural History Museum, Giacomo Doria – Genova, City of Chiaverano (Italy)

  • Restrictions: Photos can be taken at any time.

  • Entry Fee: €25 for a maximum of 3 photos; 6-9 photos allowed in the Storyboard category

  • Winners Notified: March

Though I had never heard of it before, this seems like a competition worth entering. The jury this year has some big names on it, including Joel Sartore, and the prizes are pretty good; the grand prize includes cash and a Botswana safari, and the lower awards are relatively small cash prizes. The organizers state that this is the largest nature photo competition in Italy, with international participation. NOTE: I have been contacted by the organizers and asked to correct the above entry to read that 35 photos can be entered for €25; however, their rules read 3 photos for €25, and until they update them to reflect that I cannot confirm that this information is true.

Por El Planeta Wildlife, Nature and Conservation Photo Competition 

  • Type: Wildlife, nature, and conservation

  • Backed by: Por El Planeta, National Geographic Society, Grupo Televisa, Mexican Secretariat of Culture

  • Restrictions: Photos must be taken no more than 5 years before the competition closing date. No more than 5 photos can be entered per category, with the exception of Six Frames for Change (3 series of 10 pictures each).

  • Entry Fee: $15.00, up to 30 photos and 2 videos.

  • Winners Notified: November

This competition awards one of the largest cash prizes for nature photography, awarding $100,000 for the overall winner in 2015. However, there was no 2016 competition and it isn’t clear whether there will be one in 2017.


Prix de la Photographie Deadline April 30

  • Type: General photography, with several categories in nature and landscapes

  • Backed by: Appears to be a standalone competition.

  • Restrictions: Photos must be taken in the last 5 years.

  • Entry Fee: Professional, $30 per single photo, $50 per series, $25 to enter same photo in additional category; Non-professional and student, $20 per single photo, $40 per series, $15 to enter same photo in additional category

  • Winners Notified:

I know, the fancy French name sounds enticing. But I am always reluctant to enter competitions that have no recognizable sponsors or institutional affiliates, especially when the entry fee is this steep (among the highest!) and the prizes are only average (only $8,000 total in this case). It makes me think that somebody might be pocketing a lot of money. I find it additionally weird that the competition has a Parisian veneer but is headquartered in Los Angeles. I’m not sure what to make of this and would appreciate information from anyone who has experience with this competition.

Zoological Society of London Animal Photography Prize Deadline May 15

  • Type: Wildlife only, 6 categories

  • Backed by: Zoological Society of London

  • Restrictions: Up to 6 images can be entered, with no more than 1 per category

  • Entry Fee: None

  • Winners Notified: September 15

I will never enter this competition because of its rights-grabbing terms and conditions. While most competitions claim the non-exclusive right to use your entries royalty-free for promoting the competition only, ZSL really stretches this by claiming an EXCLUSIVE, royalty-free, perpetual license for any ZSL purpose for any shortlisted entry. Specifically, “By entering the competition, each shortlisted entrant grants to ZSL an exclusive, royalty-free, and perpetual licence to reproduce, publish and communicate to the public by any means and exhibit their image(s) and copies of their image(s) in all media throughout the world in relation to ZSL and the work we promote, in particular within the exhibition including but not limited to all use in the context of: Judging the competition; Display in the exhibition; Inclusion in ZSL magazines and/or similar; Inclusion within ZSL’s websites, including within interactive elements associated with not only the competition and/or exhibition (now known or hereafter created) available for viewing or download from ZSL’s websites but any work ZSL promotes; Inclusion in promotional, press and marketing materials associated with not only the competition and/or the exhibition but any work ZSL promotes; Inclusion in any merchandising associated not only with the competition and/or the exhibition but ay work ZSL promotes.”

The implications of this are perhaps not as severe as for the Smithsonian competition, below, as ZSL only allows 6 entries as opposed to the Smithsonian’s 90, and ZSL’s rights-grab only applies to shortlisted entries, rather than all entries as in the Smithsonian competition. Regardless, consider whether you’re willing to give up these rights (remember, exclusive rights mean you can’t publish them anywhere else) to your favorite images before you enter them.

Golden Turtle Deadline May 31

  • Type: Nature photography competition with 9 categories

  • Backed by: Floranimal wildlife fund

  • Restrictions: Photos must be taken in the last 3 years and cannot have received another national or international award.

  • Entry Fee: Unclear

  • Winners Notified: By August

If you read the license agreement for this competition, it’s clear that anyone who enters it is giving Golden Turtle the right to do just about anything they want with your photos with no compensation.

The Nature Conservancy Photo Contest Deadline May 31

  • Type: Nature and outdoors, 8 categories

  • Backed by: The Nature Conservancy

  • Restrictions: You can enter as many photos as you like, from any time.

  • Entry Fee: None

  • Winners Notified: by July 10

No entry fee, no limit to the number of submissions -- big red flags! This is another rights-grabby competition. "If you submit a photograph to enter the Photo Contest, you grant The Nature Conservancy a 5 year royalty-free, nonexclusive right" to use your photo as they see fit, for any purpose. Avoid this competition unless you want to cross TNC off your list of potential clients (and contribute to devaluing the photography industry).

Proify International Photography Awards Deadline October 31

  • Type: General photography, with a wildlife and landscape category

  • Backed by: Proify (Australia)

  • Restrictions: Few.

  • Entry Fee: $18-25 per photo depending on number entered

  • Winners Notified: December 15

This competition claims that it is a non-profit competition, but entry fees are very steep. They have a counter on their website that shows that over 4,000 photos have been submitted. Even at the cheapest entry fee ($18 per photo), that’s over $72,000 in entry fees that they’ve taken in. And yet the counter on their website says they’ve awarded $10,600 to date. Where is the rest of that money going? Granted, I’m no expert at contest organizing, but that seems like a pretty big discrepancy. Between that, the fact that they don’t seem to have any recognizable organizational or institutional partners, and the fact that I’d never actually heard of this competition, or any of the judges, or any of the recent winners, I’m going to hold off on entering this competition.

There’s also this slightly concerning clause in the rules: “the Promoter may use entrants’ personal information for any promotional, marketing and publicity purposes of the Promoter, subject to privacy and spamming laws as they apply in the Jurisdiction.”

Smithsonian Photo Contest Deadline November 30

  • Type: Nature and culture, with three relevant categories: Natural World, Travel, Sustainable Travel

  • Backed by: Smithsonian Magazine

  • Restrictions: You may enter 15 photos in each category for a total of 90. Photos are not eligible if they have won other major photo contests. Photos must have been taken in the past 2 years and 11 months.

  • Entry Fee: None.

  • Winners Notified: February 20

I will never again enter this competition because of its rights-grabbing terms and conditions. While it is common for competitions to claim the right to use your entries to promote the competition alone, Smithsonian stretches that right substantially, claiming the right to use any of your entries anywhere in any Smithsonian Institution media, including stories in their magazine, for free, forever, and without the guarantee of including a photographer credit (why else would they allow you to enter a whopping 90 photos, for free? You’re handing over your rights for each and every one!). AND, if you enter the “Sustainable Travel” category, you hand over all the same rights to United Airlines, for free, forever, too. Specifically: by entering, “entrants grant the Smithsonian Institution a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual, non-exclusive license to display, distribute, reproduce and create derivative works of the entries, in whole or in part, in any media now existing or subsequently developed, for any educational, promotional, publicity, exhibition, archival, scholarly and all other standard Smithsonian purposes. Any photograph reproduced will include a photographer credit as feasible. The Smithsonian Institution will not be required to pay any additional consideration or seek any additional approval in connection with such uses. Photos entered into the Sustainable Travel photo contest category also grant these rights to the category sponsor, United Airlines, Inc.”

While Smithsonian is a pretty big name that will earn you a little bit of recognition, the prizes are pretty skimpy and the above rights-grabbing is not only potentially harmful for you, and for your fellow photographers, but also just kind of shitty. Think twice before you enter, and take this as a reminder to read this section of every contest’s terms and conditions, always.


International Photographer of the Year Deadline December 11

  • Type: General photography competition, with 5 nature categories

  • Backed by: Themselves?

  • Restrictions: Photos can be taken any time, and there are no restrictions for previously published or awarded images.

  • Entry Fee: $20-25 per single image; $25-30 per series

  • Winners Notified: February 12

I thought about entering this competition this year until I started digging around. I am skeptical of it for several reasons. For one thing, entry fees are very steep, and prizes only total $4000 (which may only mean that it’s a very small competition, or may mean that someone is pocketing money). I’d never heard of any of the judges or any of the sponsors (which may only signify minimal overlap with the nature photography world). The “Terms and Conditions” seem almost negligently sparse. Most concerning perhaps is that there is no transparency about who runs the competition and why.