How to be a winner? 5 tips to win at a photo competition


Very recently I luckily received 1st place in the architecture category at TIFA 2023.

But wait! Is this just lucky?

Sorry for it may sound pretentious, but looking back on some of my past winning entries, they had something in common…

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Tip-1 Chose the right competition

There are many photo competitions out there: IPA, PX3, Mifa, Tifa, Bifa, ND Awards, Spidar Awards, Monochrome Photography Awards,etc. That names quite a few.
You can’t apply to all of them!
Just pick a few awards that suit your photography style.

But how to choose?

Review the past

If not the first award in their history, each award has past winners.
Watch the winning image in the same category that you are going to apply.
Then you can find what kind of style of images were selected as winners.

For me, if there were no (or less )B&W fine art styles of images selected, I assume that the award(of judges) did not like those styles of images, or could not capable of judging my style of photography.

Of course, you can challenge for any awards with any style of photography, but the chances were pretty slim.

Find a good chemistry

For TIFA, I  won the 1st place in 2016 and 2017.(non-pro architecture category)
Plus I received “Discovery of the Year” at 2017 TIFA.
So I know I have good chemistry with them.
Although I’ve skipped recent TIFA competitions, by checking their winning images,
I found that there were still large chances to win with my style of photography.

“The Land of Connections” 1st Place / Architecture/Bridges, IPA 2016

French don’t like me
Another opposite example: I never won at PX3. I applied a few times in my early career but was never selected as even an honorable mention. I assumed that PX3 was not my award. Since then I never applied for the award.
Your images are not only judged but “you” also judge the right awards before you enter.

Tip-2 Keep them secret

Don’t share
We live in the age of sharing.
When you finish your work, you might feel the urge to share it on SNS or other photo sites to earn more likes. But you should treat your entries as a classified document.
Don’t share it on any SNS, don’t post it on your favorite photo-sharing sites before the result of the competition.

The secret weapon needed to be “secret”
Most photo competitions allow your published photos;
you can apply most of them either published or not published.
Old or new, awarded or non-awarded at other competitions doesn’t matter.
However, that doesn’t mean they are happy with them. The real meaning for apling published images is :

“It’s OK (to see) but, we want to see fresh images that we have never seen before.”

Who wants an already-seen product at the new product presentation?
People are only surprised at seeing a fresh product that they have never seen before.
The same things can be said for judges at photo competitions.

Make them surprised with your secret weapon.

[Into the City] from “Dark Soul” 1st Place winner in Architecture/ TIFA2023

Tip-3 Make a sereis

Take their time

Suppose a judge takes 10 seconds for an image at the most, with a 10 images of series take 100 seconds to see ; Still almost 1.5 minutes. Though 90 seconds is enough time to make a judge impressed than just a 10-second glance.

Prove your ability
Why the most of the grand prizes of the awards called “Photographer of the Year”?
They are selecting not only the best image but also selecting the best photographer.
You can shoot a great image by chance, but a great series of pictures needs high expertise; you need to have a better plan and execute it properly.

I keep shooting Junctions for just my obsession for giant architectures.

Be persuasive
It’s a great tactics to make people convinced with more materials.
They say less is more, but when it comes to competitions “More is better”
You should take advantage of the power of numbers.
Needless to say each image should have a decent quality.

One image can be a book cover.
with Five images you can tell a whole story.

Yoshihiko Wada
[A traveler] from “Dark Soul” 1st Place winner in Architecture/ TIFA2023

Tip-4 Dont be a copy cat

Dont step out from the inspiration
Sometimes yet often a similar(too similar) image wins at a competition.
Judges are not superhumans, so they have not seen all the images on the web,
or they only check some of the winning images at the other, or past competitions.
So you may have a temptation to copy winning images, especially if you need more ideas.

You should not.

Focus on the process, not the result.
You can learn a lot from winning images, but you have to just “study” them; not for coping. In a short-term perspective, you may win with copied(or studied) images, but in the long run, your photography will get stuck.
I’ve seen many copycats, and they were now all banished. ( Or they are just tired of photography. Bye bye! )
In the era of sharing, once you are labeled “copycat”, soon you will be framed and purged.

If you want to grow yourself through competitions, you should have a broad perspective for your photography. A photography competition is just a learning process.
Remember that through competitions, you can be either a good or bad photographer.

An example of two resembles winning images at different competitions

Since I’ve seen Florian’s winners images I was startled when I saw the later images(SINGLES). Maybe the Japanese guy happened to have a similar idea of images, but its resemblance made me suspicious of his awarded title.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence?

photo by Florian W. Mueller

photo by Naoki Fujihara

IPA2018 Non-Pro: architecture 1st place
Naoki Fujihara(Japan)


photo by Naoki Fujihara

Tip-5 Keep shooting

Let’s move on
Once you’ve finished your entry to an award;
forget about it.

Don’t check the website until the result announcement.
The result will be good, or what you did not expect.
Anyway, they will let you know the result by mail.

Let’s move and focus on the next project.
All we can do is: go to a city and shoot. then make our fine art.

Actually, I was shooting in Nagoya for my next project when my fellow photographers told me the result of TIFA. I totally did not care about the announcement.


Dont shoot for an award

It sounds contradictory, but this is true if you want to be a true winner.

My winning images at TIFA 2023 were not shot for TIFA nor other competitions.
They were shot for my photo book: Dark Soul (which will be released in spring, 2024)
I had a shooting travel in Korea to seek the architectures (and to meet my friends there).
Not for an award.

A Funny things that I forgot to pay the bill for the award even after the final deadline.
(I just entried the only title.)
They kindly let me know that I had one week left for the payment and finish the entry.
So I decided to upload the rest of images, and paid the bill for the entry.

I wanted to keep vailed my images until my Photo book’s release, but all images will be 30 or so, but I also thought it would be the good introduction for my E-Book (if it won)

Anyway, the result made me Happy, and I am now working hard for finishing my photo book “Dark Soul “for its release.

Keep working.
The true winner is who can simply keep and enjoy creating hir or her Art.

Yoshihiko Wada
[The connection of Faraway] from “Dark Soul” 1st Place winner in Architecture/ TIFA2023