Worth a read: Disphotic on photo contests that cost money

Members of the audience hold out dollar bills for stunt riders to grab during the performance of the Wall of Death traveling show at Evel Knievel Days in Butte, Montana, USA. - photo by M. Scott Brauer
Members of the audience hold out dollar bills for stunt riders to grab during the performance of the Wall of Death traveling show at Evel Knievel Days in Butte, Montana, USA. – photo by M. Scott Brauer

Photographer Lewis Bush, on his blog Disphotic, has a great little piece about the photo contest industrial complex, published in September of last year. Calling paid-entry photo contest the “cash cow” of photography, Bush raises a lot of valid points.

He writes, “to my mind any organisation that is overly reliant on artists and photographers to raise money for it relies on a questionable (and perhaps unsustainable) model. Equally the tired excuses that charging fees helps to filter out weaker work and keep standards high simply don’t really hold water, instead all these practices filter are those with money from those who don’t.”

He also does the math on just how much the Taylor Wessing prize generates through submissions alone, nearly 8 times the prize money they give out. And there are many more photo contests that charge substantial entry fees and don’t have nearly the size of prizes or possible exposure for the winners.

Check out Disphotic’s list of free or almost free contests and grants. And Disphotic should be on your reading list if it isn’t already.


It’s photo contest time, by the way, so make sure to check out our deadline calendar. I’ve just added a bunch of new ones this morning. Contest time means a lot of time spent considering which images to enter into which categories of which contests, but equal time should be spent considering whether a particular contest is worth entering.

Not all contests are a good idea to enter. We try to only list the best contests on our calendar, but occasionally a bad one gets through. Be careful to read the terms and conditions or rules of entry. Some contests are rights grabs. Smithsonian’s annual photo contest is a notable bad actor; National Geographic’s used to be bad, but I’ve noticed they just added language that they can only use submitted images in relation to the contest (though entrants still “consent to Sponsor doing or omitting to do any act that would otherwise infringe the entrant’s ‘moral rights’ in their entries.”). And some are just cash grabs with little return to the entrants even if they win, such as most of PDN’s contests besides their Annual.

Be smart about photo contests!

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