Feature photo by Jaymi Heimbuch
Read Time: 14 minutes
Entering wildlife photo contests can be an exhilarating leap for any nature photographer. It's an opportunity to showcase your talent, passion, and dedication to capturing the breathtaking beauty of our planet.
But, the thought of entering your work is often accompanied by a flurry of questions and uncertainties.
How do you select the right contest? How do you position your work to win? How can your work truly amplify the conservation issues you care about?
This guide aims to answer these questions. We point out the best contests to consider, and help you navigate the world of wildlife photography contests – not just to elevate your career, but also to make an impact on the causes you deeply care about.
Why enter a wildlife or nature photography contest?
They're a tool.
Entering a photo competition as a conservation photographer provides a platform to bring exposure to pressing environmental issues; it's about using our skills and passion to inspire, inform, and contribute.
While we all love winning, we prefer to frame this topic of competition and contests less about gaining personal recognition and more about creating an impact.
We look at wildlife photography competitions as a way to get the wild world in front of broader audiences, as a platform for you to highlight important issues, as a way for you to make a bigger impact with the photos you've spent weeks, months, maybe even years trying to create.
By participating in photo contests, your photos can provoke thoughts and stir emotions, sparking meaningful dialogues about pressing environmental issues and compelling people to take action.
Combining your photography skills with your commitment to the cause of conservation, you have the power to inspire change.
Simply putting yourself and your work out there can result in increased conservation efforts.
It's not so much about us as photographers, or even necessarily winning, but about giving the conservation stories the platform they need to encourage awareness and, ultimately, change.
What to watch out for when choosing a wildlife or nature photography contest to enter
Here's the secret to maximizing your impact: choose the contests that resonate with your conservation goals and values.
To find the right one, research the contest's and the sponsor organization's background and reputation. Look for ones that have a track record of supporting environmental causes.
Also, examine the judging panel. A contest's judges should be credible and respected figures in the fields of photography and conservation. Their involvement lends legitimacy to the contest and can provide valuable exposure for your work.
Apart from that, it is imperative that you fully understand the agreement you make when entering of the contest and sponsor(s) usage of your image entries.
Some contests may claim broad usage rights to your work, even for non-winning entries.
Ensure the contest respects your copyright and that you're completely comfortable with the potential use of your photos.
How do you win a wildlife photography contest?
Winning a wildlife photography contest takes more than just a good eye for detail and a knack for clicking at the right moment.
You're often competing against thousands, even tens of thousands of excellent photos.
To make your work stand out in a nature or wildlife photography contest, especially as a conservation photographer, there are a few key strategies to keep in mind:
1. Develop a unique style
A unique perspective can set your work apart.
Your photos should engage the audience while standing out amidst a sea of entries. This requires developing a photography style that is recognizably yours.
Think about what moves you about the natural world and how you can convey that through your images.
2. Understand the subject
A deep understanding of the subject you're photographing is pivotal.
This is when you can create photos of moments never seen before. So, if you photograph wildlife, get to know animals' behavior, patterns, and natural habitat.
In getting to know your subject, consider collaborating with other photographers, conservationists, and local communities.
This can lead to learning important insights about your subject and environment and to unique and informed perspectives in your work.
3. Use powerful imagery
Photos bring to light the unseen, ignored, or often overlooked aspects of the natural world.
When you lean into the storytelling capabilities of photography, you can make a real statement through a single frame.
This both sets your work apart and helps shed light on lesser-known environmental issues that need attention.
Images that showcase the stark realities of environmental degradation, or the resilience of nature in the face of adversity, can be extremely compelling.
Powerful images can also be incredibly simple shots that, through that simplicity, bring forward an emotion, a truth, a surprise.
The more impactful your images, the stronger your conservation message.
4. Use emotional storytelling
Technical excellence is essential, but it goes hand in hand with style and substance.
Consider your photos not just as images but as a powerful storytelling medium.
Each image should contribute to a larger narrative about the conservation story that you're telling. This could be a story about the impact of climate change on a specific species, the regeneration of an ecosystem after a natural disaster, or even the daily lives of a species under threat.
A well-told story through images is captivating and can effectively draw attention to important issues.
5. Use captions effectively
The captions for your photos allow you to provide context and further emphasize the conservation message of your images.
A well-written caption can amplify the impact of your photograph.
Successful images go on to multiple rounds of judging. In the final round, when competition with other stellar entries is particularly fierce, a high-quality storytelling caption can make all the difference.
6. Quality over quantity
Instead of submitting a high number of good images, focus on a few outstanding ones. A single, exceptional picture can have a greater impact than multiple average ones. (Plus, it'll help keep a reasonable entry fee budget!).
7. Keep learning and improving
Stay updated with the latest trends in photography, experiment with different techniques, and constantly seek feedback to improve your work.
The more you grow as a photographer, and the more you play with the possibilities of your medium, the better your chances of winning contests and, more importantly, making an impact with your conservation message.
Wildlife photography contest submission checklist
Before you submit your work to a wildlife photography contest, ensure you have checked all the boxes in this comprehensive submission checklist:
1. Research the Contest: Ensure that the contest aligns with your conservation mission and the organization behind it is reputable.
🔥 Pro Tip: Also check out the past winners. This helps you understand what the contest seeks in winning images, the caliber and style of images, and what types of images work best for different categories.
2. Check the Rules: Understand the contest rules thoroughly, including submission format, deadlines, number of entries allowed, and any theme or category requirements.
3. Understand Image Rights: Ensure you're comfortable with the image rights agreement and how your photos may be used.
4. Prepare High-Quality Images: Ensure your images are the highest possible quality, correctly formatted, and sized as per contest requirements.
5. Captions: Write compelling captions for each image that further exemplifies the conservation message.
6. Proofread: Proofread all written materials, including captions, your artist statement, and any descriptions you're asked to provide.
7. Submission: Submit your work well before the deadline, ensuring all required fields and materials are included.
🔥 Pro Tip: Seriously, don't wait until the last day. Often there's a rush of submissions on the last day, which can sometimes jam the contest's online systems, making it impossible for you to submit your work before the deadline. So, plan ahead and submit 5-7 days before the deadline at the latest.
8. Thick Skin: From my experience being a judge on many photo contests, this is an incredibly subjective process and often with a lot of behind-the-scenes discussion and compromise. So once you submit your work, remember the outcome is not about you or even necessarily the quality of your photos or skills. It's just how the cookie crumbled this time around. So, keep going.
Best wildlife and nature photo contests to enter
📌 Note: Contest rules, entry dates and prizes change. We've done our best to keep this list updated with the most current information. But please be sure to double-check when contests are accepting entries, rules, terms and conditions, and other details.
Photo: Screenshot/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
1. Wildlife Photographer of the Year
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest, sponsored by the UK Natural History Museum, is one of the most prestigious platforms for nature and conservation photographers worldwide.
It annually garners a plethora of entries from talented photographers looking to share powerful narratives about our planet and its diverse ecosystems.
This contest is lauded for its commitment to conservation, encouraging entrants to capture the pressing environmental issues of our times and evoke a global awareness and love for wild animals.
The winning photos are exhibited at the museum and tour internationally, providing the photographers an unparalleled opportunity to reach a broad audience and make a significant conservation impact with their work.
If you aim to become a professional wildlife photographer, placing at this contest can be a very helpful career bump.
2. BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition
The BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition is a prestigious competition that invites photographers globally to submit their most impressive nature photos.
This unique opportunity allows photographers to spotlight the planet's biodiversity, emphasizing the urgency of protecting and preserving it.
The contest aims to generate awareness and inspire action through the power of compelling photos.
By submitting your work, you contribute to a larger, collective effort to conserve our planet and might even catalyze change through your powerful visual narratives.
Photo: Screenshot/The Nature Conservancy
3. Global Photo Contest
The Global Photo Contest by The Nature Conservancy invites global photographers to spotlight the planet's natural beauty, investigate environmental issues, and convey the urgency of preserving and restoring our planet's ecosystems.
This contest provides an opportunity for photographers to use their craft as a tool for environmental advocacy, weaving their conservation message into each submitted image.
Photo: Screenshot/Landscape Photographer of the Year
4. International Landscape Photographer of the Year
The International Landscape Photographer of the Year recognizes and rewards the talent of landscape and nature photographers across the globe.
Winners receive cash and gear prizes and gain the honor of having their work included in the contest's annual book, providing a broader reach for their conservation message.
Photo: Screenshot/Nature Photography Contest
5. The Nature Photography Contest
The Nature Photography Contest is a relatively new but rapidly gaining recognition in the world of photography.
Open to both amateur and professional photographers, this international competition seeks to utilize the power of photography to remind us of our planet's breathtaking beauty and the imperative to preserve it.
This contest is a great platform for conservation photographers to demonstrate their passion, reveal nature's fragility, and contribute to the global conversation on environmental issues.
Whether you're a budding nature photographer or a seasoned professional, participating in this contest can help you make a difference, raise awareness, and grow your photography career.
Photo: Screenshot/Bird Photographer of the Year
6. Bird Photographer of the Year
The Bird Photographer of the Year is a globally recognized competition that celebrates avian photography's artistry and ecological importance.
This contest provides a platform for photographers aiming to capture the beauty, diversity, and significance of birdlife around the world. The competition's emphasis on conservation aligns with its mission to raise awareness about the fragile state of bird species worldwide and the necessity of their preservation.
Winning this contest amplifies your career and contributes to global conservation efforts, as a portion of the competition's entry fees directly supports bird conservation initiatives.
Participating in this competition is an excellent way for photographers to blend their passion for wildlife photography with impactful conservation work.
Photo: Screenshot/World Photography Organisation
7. Sony World Photography Awards – Nature & Wildlife Category
The Sony World Photography Awards, organized by the World Photography Organisation, includes a specific category for Nature & Wildlife, offering a global stage for photographers to showcase the stunning diversity and fragility of Earth's ecosystems.
This competition encourages photographers to capture the raw, untouched beauty of nature and wildlife, emphasizing natural habitats, animal behavior, and environmental phenomena.
As part of one of the world's most prestigious photography contests, winning an award in this category could significantly boost your career. More importantly, it presents an opportunity to raise global awareness about conservation issues, using the power of visual storytelling to highlight the pressing need to protect our world's delicate ecosystems.
8. Audubon Photography Awards
The Audubon Photography Awards is a distinguished competition that aims to celebrate and protect the diverse bird species across the Americas.
Hosted by the National Audubon Society, this competition provides an extraordinary opportunity for bird photographers to share their work on an international platform, raising awareness about bird species' beauty, diversity, and vulnerability.
The competition's alignment with conservation efforts makes it a perfect choice for photographers passionate about environmental preservation. Winning this contest with your bird images could provide an exceptional boost to your photography career while also supporting the Society's work in bird conservation, science, and advocacy.
The Audubon Photography Awards is a testament to the power of photography to inspire, educate, and instigate change, making it an ideal choice for conservation photographers.
Photo: Screenshot/National Wildlife Federation
9. National Wildlife Photo Contest
The National Wildlife Photo Contest is a prestigious event that encourages photographers to capture and share stirring pictures of wildlife and natural landscapes. Winning images gain international exposure and contribute to fostering a more profound appreciation for wildlife conservation.
It's an opportunity to let your pictures speak volumes, telling tales of beauty, survival, and the urgent need for conservation. If you want to make a difference with your wildlife pictures, this contest is an excellent platform to magnify your voice and impact.
Photo: Screenshot/British Wildlife Photography Awards
10. British Wildlife Photography Awards
The British Wildlife Photography Awards, or BWPA, is a unique competition that shines a spotlight on the rich biodiversity within the United Kingdom. Recognizing both amateur and professional photographers, the contest celebrates the beauty of Britain's wildlife while promoting awareness of its conservation.
Participants have the opportunity to capture the remarkable variety of British flora and fauna, ranging from the highest peaks in Scotland to the quiet corners of English gardens. Becoming a part of this competition means joining a community committed to capturing and preserving the essence of Britain's wildlife.
Photo: Screenshot/Nature Photographer of the Year
11. Nature Photographer Of The Year
The Nature Photographer Of The Year contest is a globally recognized competition inviting all nature photographers to submit their most impressive work.
This contest not only advocates for the artistic and technical aspects of photography but also aims to highlight the urgent need for nature conservation.
By participating, photographers gain substantial exposure and an opportunity to relay critical environmental messages to a worldwide audience. Winners receive not only prestigious awards but also the satisfaction of knowing their work contributes to a greater understanding and appreciation of planet Earth. This contest truly embodies the spirit of conservation photography, making it an excellent choice for those passionate about preserving our planet's biodiversity.
Photo: Screenshot/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards
12. Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards
The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards is a unique and delightful competition that seeks to find the funniest, most engaging images of wildlife.
The contest's light-hearted approach serves a dual purpose: celebrating the joy and humor found in nature and highlighting the importance of wildlife conservation.
Its mission is to “widen understanding and engagement of a sustainable world,” using the universal language of laughter to engage a broader audience in conservation issues.
By taking part in this competition, conservation photographers can leverage the power of humor to create a lasting impact and foster a more profound appreciation for nature.
Photo: Screenshot/World Nature Photography Awards
13. World Nature Photography Awards
The World Nature Photography Awards is a globally renowned competition whose mission is to utilize the power of photography to highlight the awe-inspiring beauty of nature, remind us of our interconnectedness with the environment, and inspire collective action for a sustainable future. P
articipation in this competition offers photographers a platform to further their career, gain international exposure, and, more importantly, contribute to a global narrative of environmental stewardship. Winning this competition not only adds a prestigious title to your portfolio but gives you the satisfaction of knowing that your work is instrumental in inspiring change and fostering a more sustainable tomorrow.
14. Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest
The Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest is a global competition sponsored annually by the Smithsonian Magazine. This contest provides amateur and professional photographers a platform to showcase their talent in capturing striking moments and discovering fascinating people and landscapes.
The contest's themes are diverse, ranging from natural world and travel to people, the American experience, altered images and mobile photography.
Winning this contest not only gives you international recognition and a boost to your career but also provides an opportunity to contribute to the Smithsonian's mission of “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”
Your images can help inspire curiosity, ignite new ideas, and bring attention to less-known corners of the earth and untold stories of life.
Photo: Screenshot/Nature's Best
15. Nature's Best Photography International Awards and Benjamin Mkapa African Wildlife Photo Awards
The Nature's Best Photography International Awards and the Benjamin Mkapa African Wildlife Photo Awards are two prestigious competitions that aim to celebrate and conserve our planet's rich biodiversity through photography.
The former is a global contest promoting the beauty and diversity of nature, while the latter focuses specifically on African wildlife, named in honor of the late Tanzanian president who was a staunch advocate for conservation.
These contests offer photographers a chance to showcase their talent, gain worldwide recognition, and contribute to significant environmental causes. Winning these competitions allows your work to serve as a catalyst for conservation stewardship, encouraging public interest in outdoor enjoyment and environmental protection.
- Contest Website
- Entries close: TBA
- Prizes: TBA
Photo: Screenshot/Underwater Photographer of the Year
16. Underwater Photographer of the Year
The Underwater Photographer of the Year competition is a prestigious annual contest that shines a spotlight on the ethereal beauty beneath the water's surface. It invites amateur and professional photographers worldwide to capture the diverse and vibrant underwater life, from the ocean's mysterious depths to the serenity of freshwater environments. Winning this contest propels your career forward and provides a platform to draw attention to marine conservation. As your images captivate viewers, they can raise awareness about the importance of preserving these underwater ecosystems, striking a delicate balance between aesthetic appeal and environmental advocacy.
17. North American Nature Photography Association's Showcase Competition
The North American Nature Photography Association's Showcase competition is a highly esteemed contest that invites nature photographers across North America to celebrate the region's diverse wildlife and landscapes through their lenses.
By participating in this competition, photographers have the opportunity to bring important environmental issues to light and draw attention to the continent's unique natural beauty.
As a winner, your photography will be distributed across NANPA's widely-followed social media platforms, newsletters, and blog, allowing your work to be viewed by a vast audience of nature-enthusiasts, fellow photographers, and environmentalists.
This exposure can be pivotal to your career growth, opening doors to networking opportunities and collaborations. Most importantly, standing out in this competition means that your photographs—your visual messages highlighting nature's vitality and fragility—resonate powerfully with viewers, sparking conversations around conservation, and inspiring collective action towards preserving our planet's precious biodiversity.
Photo: Screenshot/Close-Up Photographer of the Year
18. Close-Up Photographer of the Year
The Close-Up Photographer of the Year is an annual contest inviting photographers from all around the globe to capture the intricate details of nature that are often overlooked.
This competition specifically celebrates the art of close-up, macro, and micro photography, promoting an appreciation for the tiny wonders that inhabit our world.
Your winning images, revealing the miniature marvels of nature, can inspire viewers to take a closer look at their environment and understand the need for its conservation.
Photo: Screenshot/Siena International Photo Awards
19. Siena International Photo Awards
The Siena International Photo Awards is a renowned contest that attracts photographers eager to showcase the wonders of nature through their skillful imagery. It's a platform that goes beyond straightforward aesthetics, aiming to tell compelling stories of the world's wild wonders.
The competition includes categories like “The Beauty of Nature,” “Animals in their Environment,” and “Underwater Life,” allowing photographers to highlight important conservation messages.
Winning this contest means your work reaches an international audience, serving as both a celebration of nature and a reminder of the importance of preserving it for future generations.
Siena Awards also hosts the Drone Photography Awards and the Creative Photo Awards, each of which have categories for nature and wildlife.
MontPhoto, with its international appeal, is an esteemed photo competition that invites both amateur and professional photographers to exhibit the brilliance of the natural world.
As the contest states so well: “Our mission is to add value and help spread the art of photography in order to raise awareness and protect nature.”
This makes it a perfect contest for purpose-drive nature photographers who want their work reach a bigger audience for wider impact.
Winning at MontPhoto doesn't merely attest to creative skills; it underscores a commitment to conservation. As your work gains exposure, it simultaneously raises public consciousness about the fragility of our planet, marrying visual art with ecology—a poignant reminder that every shot shared is a chance to advocate for the planet’s welfare.