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  • Writer's pictureAbdul Qudoos

How to Stand Out in Photography Contests: 5 Creative Ideas

Updated: Apr 7

Over 415,000 images flooded Sony's contest this year, all vying for fame and glory in their annual photography competition. But how could a single photo stand out from a sea of submissions?

The answer lies in getting creative. Putting a fresh spin on your work is key to capturing the judges' attention. But what does it mean to "think outside the box" when it comes to photography? How can you infuse your images with imagination and vision?

This article uncovers the secrets to creating eye-catching contest entries that don't just look technically good - they hook the souls. Equipped with these insights, you'll be ready to wow the judges and turn your artful images into award-winning masterpieces. The tips await…

Key Takeaways

  • Shoot from unique angles like worm's eye view and bird's eye view to offer new creative perspectives.

  • Use dramatic lighting like golden hour, backlighting, and artificial lights to make your images shine.

  • Photograph unexpected subjects like extreme close-ups, urban decay, and imaginative concepts to stand out.

  • Focus on emotion and storytelling by capturing authentic moments and moods that connect with viewers.

  • Try innovative post-processing techniques like HDR, panoramas, and black-and-white conversion to enhance your photos.

1. Shoot Unexpected Subjects and Themes

Choosing a novel subject or theme is a great way to make your contest entries unique. Steer away from clichéd overdone photography styles.

Take the road less traveled by photographing unusual topics, objects, and themes. Here are a few ideas:

Shoot extreme close-ups of overlooked details like water droplets, flower petals, ice crystals, and more. Fill the whole frame with a tiny sliver of the world for a disorienting abstract effect. This forces viewers to re-see mundane things in a magical new light.

For an edgy subject, photograph decrepit abandoned buildings, weathered textures, and graffitied public spaces. Urban exploration photography offers a moody gritty atmosphere compared to pristine nature. But take safety precautions – don't trespass or take risks.

Dream up imaginative scenarios or new realities, then bring them convincingly to life through careful photography and post-processing. Surreal conceptual photos manage to look simultaneously fantastical yet realistic.

Expert use of compositing, perspective illusions, fog machines for atmosphere, and dramatic lighting convincingly sell the concept.

2. Capture from Unique Angle

One of the best ways to make your photographs rise above the competition is to showcase a unique perspective. Rather than shooting from eye-level height, explore different angles and viewpoints when composing your images.

Get Low for Dramatic Angles

Lowering your camera angle to ground level can add drama and dynamism to an image. Shooting from a worm's eye view looking up distorts proportions in an exciting way. This perspective works especially well for landscape photography, making mountains loom large against the sky.

Newer camera apps like Moment's Pro Camera for iPhone allow you to manually control settings while holding your phone near the ground for stable worm's eye shots. Use low aperture values like f/1.8 to keep foreground elements sharp.

Shoot Down for Abstract Views

On the other hand, a bird's eye view shot from directly above can simplify a scene into graphic abstract lines and shapes. To capture this perspective, you may need to get creative by climbing up on a ladder, balcony, or drone.

Play with Scale

Altering scale in unusual ways can result in eye-catching images. Getting extremely close to large objects with macro photography captures normally overlooked details in an abstract way.

Or step far back with a telephoto lens to portray small scenes from afar. This exaggerates the sense of scale.

3. Experiment with Lighting

Creative uses of lighting provide one of the most powerful ways to make your contest photographs shine. Natural light can be harnessed at optimal times, while artificial lighting set-ups allow for dramatic effects.

Optimize Natural Light

Make the most of natural light around sunrise and sunset. The fleeting moments around sunset known as the “golden hour” and “blue hour” produce appealing hues and rich tones respectively.

When shooting in daylight, try backlighting your subject so the light source is behind them to create flare or rim lighting on their silhouette.

Get Creative with Artificial Light

For night photography, leveraging artificial lighting allows for amazing effects. Try flash photography to freeze motion creatively, or light painting where you move a light source during a long exposure shot to “paint” with light.

Don’t be afraid to get creative in more difficult conditions like low light, fog, rain, or snow to capture softly diffused scenery.

Embrace Overcast and Weather

While stunning photography is often showcased in optimal lighting, don’t avoid flat overcast days. Diffused low-contrast light can create soft, tranquil moods.

Similarly, fog, rain, and snow also produce uniquely atmospheric scenery. So get creative in all kinds of weather conditions. Playing with extremes heightens the feeling.

4. Focus on Emotion and Storytelling

Beyond just technical quality and creativity, the most memorable photographs also connect with viewers on an emotional level. Images that convey a strong mood or tell an engaging story tend to capture judges’ attention in contests.

Think about what emotion you want to portray – whether it’s joy, sadness, curiosity, fear, serenity, or another feeling. Then compose your image using elements like color, light, and subject matter to visually communicate that mood.

Try catching people naturally reacting to events around them to portray authentic emotion. Images featuring people in real unguarded moments often connect strongly with viewers. Try candid street photography to capture spur-of-the-moment interactions and emotions.

5. Try Innovative Post-Processing

After originally capturing your photos, take them to the next level through experimental post-processing techniques. HDR imaging, panoramas, composites, and creative coloring can produce highly unique images that make your work memorable.

HDR for Vibrant Contrast

With high dynamic range (HDR) processing, you composite multiple exposures taken at different brightness levels to create an image with immense contrast showing details in both shadows and highlights.

Apps like Photomatix allow you to easily blend exposure-bracketed photos into HDR on your phone. This helps capture color and detail beyond the camera's single-shot capabilities.

Stitch Panoramas

Taking a series of photos across a wide field of view allows you to stitch them together into super wide panoramic images showing sprawling scenery. This exaggerated elongated shape is great for dramatic landscape contest entries.

The iPhone's native camera app has an easy panorama mode. Or use the AutoPano Pro stitching app for seamless ultra high-res results from DSLR photos, with precision control over projections and corrections.

Convert to Black and White

Converting images to black and white simplifies scenes down to graphic lines, shapes, and tones. This can give photos an evocative classic feeling. Subtle color tinting paired with black and white conversion adds stylistic flair.

Platforms like Lightroom and Luminar AI provide presets to quickly convert to black and white while fine-tuning contrast. Luminar has filters like Color Contrast that shift specific hues like orange or teal to greyscale while keeping others in color for emphasis.


Taking creative photos is about more than just getting a technically perfect shot. Great photography finds new perspectives, puts light in magic, and edits expertly to share an inner vision with the viewer.

Look at the world with fresh, curious eyes. Photograph little moments and details that fascinate you, not just pretty scenery. Don't be afraid to try new things and push your skills.

With consistent practice and dedication to continually pushing your creative boundaries, your images are sure to connect deeply and catch the eyes of judges.


How can I make sure my photos aren't too edited or enhanced?

While creative editing is good, avoid going overboard. Judges want to see your photographic vision, not excessive post-production. Subtlety is key for realistic and compelling edits.

How many photos should I submit to a contest?

Check the contest rules, as some limit entries to 1-5 photos. In general, carefully curate and only submit your very best work. Aim for 2-4 of your strongest images that align with the contest theme and categories.

What gear and software do I need to take creative contest-worthy photos?

Any camera can capture great shots with vision. But RAW-shooting interchangeable lens cameras provide the most flexibility. Post-processing apps like Lightroom help optimize images.


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