There is Something Really Wrong with a Photo Contest and We Just Ignore It

You know the feeling when you found out about something and can’t wait to tell someone about it. This is what happens to me right now. When I surfing the internet, doing my stuff (you don’t need to know). I also search something related to photography contest and I found something interesting and irritate me a bit. Also when you think about it, it actually quite normal, but still irritating. There is something really wrong with a photo contest and we just ignore it.

Before we begin, I must say that I won’t mention any name of a person or party for a simple reason. I don’t like insult others by name. And also I don’t want to get into a problem. It’s a pain in the ass.

There is Something Really Wrong with a Photo Contest and We Just Ignore It

So let me tell you what happens.

So an hour before I write this article, I was surfing the internet and look back at some of the photography contest I have enter. Some won, mostly lose. Sad but normal. It’s alright, I’m still young and in college.

So anyway, I also look at some winners, the one I really like. More like starring and wondering, how in the hell they are so good at it (a bit jealous, if I’m being honest). Nothing wrong at the time, not until around 50 minutes later when I realized something.

Usually, any photo contest has at least two categories based on their level of expertise, professional and non-professional (or open). A professional contest is a contest for professional, who actually use photography as their way of living. A non-professional contest is an open contest for anyone with a camera, it can amateur, student, and anyone with a camera.

In one of the photo contest that I entered, I was on non-professional category (for the obvious reason). But in this specific photo contest I entered, they also have a Student category, which gives a student discount. So that category for student fit right to me.

Then I saw the winner of this contest. In this contest winners, there are only two categories, professional and student. I just assume they just merge the non-professional category and student category into one, the student category.

Then I saw some of the winners who won in the same level of expertise category as me, that’s when I realize.

“I know these photos.”

Indeed I know them. I friend them on Facebook. Really great photographer, really great photos. There’s no doubt about it. But why is he in non-professional category. I’m pretty sure he’s a pro. So I want to make sure, is he really a non-professional photographer?

Before I look for it, I want to know how this photo contest defines professional and non-professional. So here what I found:

“…professional photographers those who earn or have earned the majority of their income from photography. Also, those who sell or publish their work regularly, and belong to professional photography organizations.”

“All students are eligible for the student discount, regardless of the concentration or major in which they are studying.”

Now the contest doesn’t define non-professional so I just assume its the opposite of professional definition.

So there you have it. That explains enough. Then I try to look whether or not he is a professional photographer. Look at his Facebook profile, it appears he won a lot of photo contest. But not enough to determine he is a professional.

So I google his name and found his website, which every professional should have. Same name, same photos, same guy. But still not enough. (I have a website and I’m not a professional).

Then I found his bio and that’s where I see the first sentence,

“…*** is a professional photographer…”

WHAT THE HELL, MAN!!!

Now I know for certain that he is a professional that enter a non-professional photo contest.

And it occurs to me. I’m sure he’s not the only one. I’m sure there are many out there.

But in my heart, it doesn’t even matter and I have no interest in reporting. I simply don’t care to the extent to make it an issue. Still, it opens up a conversation.

Should we now?


Let’s recap. A professional photographer who entered a non-professional or open category when there is a professional category.

No explicit rule that says they can’t. But is it a right thing to do?

I always assume that non-professional category is created so any amateur with a camera can shine. If a professional, which is far better and far experience, entered the same category, it defeats the purpose.

Just like playing a game. One online game competition can only be entered by gamers level 1-20. What happens when gamer level 200 enter the same game competition? Who do you think gonna win?

It’s a totally different story if the opposite happens, a non-professional enter a professional category contest. We will say that person is awesome. Especially if he wins.


So how to solve this problem, I can think of two things.

First is the photo contest vetted their participant. But it actually impossible to do that. With hundreds of entry. Even more when it’s online.

So the second solution is for the photographer him or herself, to be honest. Yeah right!!! Forgive me that I’m being skeptic about this.

So based on that, I don’t actually have a good solution.

How about you guys? Thought?

3 thoughts on “There is Something Really Wrong with a Photo Contest and We Just Ignore It

  1. I couldn’t AGREE more. I will be graduating from a two year photography program and I’ve wanted to enter contest for amateurs however you can clearly see many individuals are not amateurs. However I still will put my work out there on occasion.

  2. I understand it takes time for them to be vetted, but if you sponsor a contest, you set yourself up as a kind of authority to judge it. If you are judging in two categories then part of the judging process needs to be to make sure the entry fits the category or your award has little integrity. I understand your frustration on this one.

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