The World’s Largest Photography Competitions — History of Photo Awards

If you really want to learn something, you should watch how the best of the best do it. Competitions, especially worldwide competitions, are an opportunity to learn from the experience of professionals and to be inspired by their ideas. Sometimes it can also be a bar to strive for, especially when you’re just starting out. In this piece, we will tell you about some major photography contests, what the themes are, where they are held,  what exceptions may be in the regulations, and what the winners of the contests will win.

International Photography Awards

One of the most famous and grandiose photography awards in the world is the International Photography Awards (or IPA). The colossal prize fund is the highest level of public recognition with the awards ceremony at New York’s Carnegie Hall — everything is serious.

The IPA is a real “Oscar” among photographers, where the winner is even entitled to a statuette, but instead of the Oscar, they are given a “Lucie”. The photography and art gurus selected as the jury participate in the selection of the finalists, and the winners are the best of the best. Moreover, the IPA nominations are divided between the categories of professionals and students/amateurs. There are also many different areas, among which there are such non-standard topics as the Book, Advertising, Fine Art, Deep Perspective, etc. And even if you didn’t manage to get to this photographic “Olympia” , IPA has branches in different countries.

Winning the IPA is very prestigious. This is not just money and a statuette, but also publication in the annual cataloug, display of works at the award ceremony, mention in a press release that is watched by more than 50,000 IPA members around the world, and, of course, recognition by the photographic community. Interestingly, the most important nomination “Photographer of the Year” is awarded not for a single picture, but for a personal contribution to the development of photography. Mustafa Hasson won the 2019 Photographer of the Year for capturing Palestinian protests on the border with Israel on May 30, 2018.


Hasselblad is also something that is made up of much more than just beautiful photographs. This is a prestigious award for contribution to the development of the art of photography, founded by the Victor Hasselblad Foundation. Hasselblad was an engineer, photographer and founder of the eponymous brand of photographic equipment.

Nominal award — this is awarded not to a specific picture, but to a person. Despite the rather impressive prize fund of one million Swedish kronor, the most important thing here is recognition. Only the top masters of photography get here. People who, in their shots, make you think: these are people who have became a prominent figure in art and changed the understanding of photography as a genre. So, if you want to understand how photography has developed in culture and society, look at the photos of these winners, but, most importantly, read their biographies.

Hasselblad is not just about the “beautiful/ugly”, but photography that captures cultural and social contexts and international artforms, which is not always straightforward and understandable at first sight.

National Geographic Photo Contests

National Geographic has many photo contests every year on a variety of topics. Topics, of course, are always connected with our planet: cities and countries, wildlife, architecture and urban studies, ethnography, animalistics, etc. Prize funds for competitions are different: sometimes only recognition, sometimes— photographic equipment, in other cases — monetary prizes.

There is also the annual National Geographic photography competition, where thousands of photographers from all over the world compete, there are many different topics and the first place winner receives a prize of $ 7,500.

World Press Photo

Since 1955, the World Press Photo Contest has rewarded photographers for the best shots that have contributed to photojournalism over the past year. Whether presented as single frames or series, these images are judged on their accuracy, fairness, and visually compelling representation of our world.

Participation in the World Press Photo Contest is free and open to all professional photographers working in the field of photojournalism and/or documentary photography.

The World Press Photo 2023 competition is held in 6 regions of the world — Africa, Asia, Europe, North and Central America, South America, Southeast Asia and Oceania. Works will be evaluated in the region in which they were made.

Pulitzer Prize

The World Press Photo is often ranked as important as the Pulitzer Prize. Pulitzer is the largest historical award in the field of literature, music, theater and journalism, founded in 1917. Getting a Pulitzer is prestigious, important, and significant for any cultural figure. Among the nominations are also “Art Photography” and “News Photography”, although in fact both of these areas imply social and political problems, world events and conflicts, since Pulitzer is mainly focused on journalism. In 2019, for example, Italian photographer Lorenzo Tugnoli won the Feature Photography category with a disturbing and dramatic series of images about the war in Yemen for The Washington Post.

And in the News Photography category, the Reuters team of photographers won the Pulitzer Prize for emotional footage of migrants crossing from South and Central America to the United States.

Sony World Photography Awards

As the name suggests, this competition was established by Sony. And, despite the fact that both Canon and Nikon have similar competitions, it was Sony’s initiative that reached the most impressive scale. The system is standard for any competition: a lot of categories in everything from architecture to portrait, with an impressive prize fund to be won. In addition, the winner’s works will be presented in the exposition of the Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition in London, and the flight and accommodation are fully compensated by the organizer.

This competition is worth paying attention to, if only because each photo of the finalists here is, if not a masterpiece, then a work of art for sure. Here, the artistic, semantic, and historical value of photography in each of the nominations is evaluated. For example, in 2019, the overall winner was journalist Federico Borella with a series of photographs dedicated to the story of male suicide in a farming community in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which has experienced the worst drought in 140 years. Here is a public outcry, and the problem of world ecology, and the tragedy of man, and an expressive, deep frame.

In conclusion, there are many photography contest around the world that focus on a wide range of topics and offer different prestige and prizes to their winners. These competitions are a great place for aspiring photographers to get inspired to do great things with their work.

Written by Austin Crane

Austin is the principle web director for Untamed Science and Stone Age Man. He is also the web-director of the series for the High School biology, Middle Grades Science and Elementary Science content. When Austin isn't making amazing content for the web, he's out on his mountain bike or in a canoe.

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