Photo competitions

There are a number of different ways to run a photo competition, which can be made to suit even the smallest club, through to the whole of FMC. We’ll discuss a few ways to make it work for you.

Just about everyone these days has access to a decent quality digital camera, whether on their phone, as a point and shoot or a great big SLR.

Photography is a powerful way of capturing the beauty, emotions and memory of a moment in the mountains, and photo competitions are brilliant way to share your memories and inspire trips to come.

Some clubs find it a bit of a struggle to fill up their club meeting program with a variety of interesting events. A photo competition does require a little bit of organisation, but the enjoyment is spread over many people; the joy of flicking back through your own albums to find an entry or two, the chance for judges to view and critique works of the artform they love, the thrill of seeing others being impressed when your photo is shown, the cameraderie within your club after being inspired by all the images…

We’d like to thank the following people for contributing their knowledge to build this article:

  • Jean Garmin from Manawatu Tramping and Ski Club
  • Peter Laurenson from Wellington Section NZAC
  • Pamela Rowe from Howick TC
  • Barry Walker from Otago TMC
  • Tony Gazley and Grant Newton from Wellington TMC

If you’ve got advice or wisdom to add to this article, please get in touch

Pick a date, and get it on the club calendar!

If you’re keen on running a competition, get in touch with your club committee and get it on the club calendar. Clubs often plan their meeting calendar a season (or even a year) in advance, so the earlier you get in touch, the better!

Entries to FMC’s competition close on 15 September, so to give the organiser time to get the winning shots through to FMC for our overall competition, it makes sense to schedule your competition mid-winter. It’s dark early which helps the display on any screens/projectors at a club night, plus the weather is more likely to make you want to sit and watch photos than be outside in the evenings!

If you do end up using a dedicated judge, then there’s another opportunity for an interesting club night earlier in the year. Your club could ask that person to do a presentation on what makes a good photo, with some tips and tricks for photography, to inspire members to get out and take shots with the competition in mind.

Promote the competition, and nudge people to enter

Once you’ve figured the basic mechanics of how the competition will work, then let your members know, via your website, newsletters, reminders at club nights, general pestering… A small core of enthusiastic photographers will surely enter, but the more people you can convince to enter, the more involvement and camaraderie you can create within the club.

Some organisers report that “lack of time” to sort through all the folders to find some entries prevent a lot of people from entering. A technique to share with your club is to create a “possible photo competition entries” folder on your computer. Most people will at least take a look at the photos they have straight after the trip; if they come across a good one (or two) they can pop a copy in that folder. By the time the competition comes around, they should have a decent shortlist of their top shots to enter, and no more excuses to make!

Consider a prize or two

It might be worth approaching your local outdoor store, to see if they would sponsor a prize. Make it worthwhile for any sponsor; mention them in your newsletter, and invite them to come along to the club night to present the prize. Don’t forget to thank them! Building a relationship between local clubs and other outdoor businesses can only lead to good things, and this is a simple way to begin!

If you don’t approach a local business, perhaps your club could offer a free night in the club hut, or free gear hire, or free membership for a year, or even just a block of chocolate or bottle of wine.

Some clubs go to the effort of printing out certificates for the top photographers, even including their winning shot on the certificate! These could be presented later, perhaps at a club annual dinner, or prepared ahead of time if the entries are judged before the club photo comp night.

Set some rules

A great part of the kiwi culture is healthy disrespect for too many rules, but setting a few will help the competition run smoother and avoid any arguments down the track.

You may want to consider explaining;

  • The closing date for entries
  • How entries will be submitted
  • Any file naming conventions for entries.
  • How entries will be judged
  • The categories, and how you define them.
  • Geographic limitations
  • Rules on post processing
  • Any prizes on offer
  • How the results will be shared (online, via the newsletter, and/or at a special club night)

An example list of rules from the FMC photo competition will help give you ideas on what to include. Some clubs require that the photos are taken in NZ, and on an official club trip, whilst others accept photos from anywhere or any trip.

Keeping the club categories the same as the FMC ones makes it a little easier when it comes time to submit the winning club entries to the FMC competition. On the other hand many clubs prefer their traditional categories, and others have included categories like “humour” to get a few laughs at the club night and look on the lighter side of being in the hills. Overseas categories can form great conversation starters, and provide inspiration for future presentations at club meetings.

Plan how the actual competition part will work for you and your club

The basic steps would usually be;

  • Accept entries
  • Processing entries/pre-judging
  • Final judging
  • Awarding of prizes
  • Sharing of the results.

All or none of these activities could take place on a club night, or separately online. It’s up to you to decide what’s appropriate for your club, and the amount of effort you want to put in.

Doing the whole process online through social media:

This is great for smaller clubs, or clubs with dispersed memberships.

A low effort way to run an online competition, is via your clubs Facebook presence. You can create a Facebook Event, with the rules for the competition, and invite members to post their entries (and captions) to that event.

A trick to make it easier for the judges, is to require each entry to have a ‘hashtag’ as part of the caption. For example #AUTCphotocomp2018. Once all the entries are in, the judge can simply click on the hashtag to see all the entries in one place. Without a hashtag it can be rather laborious to process any entries.

If you have separate categories in your competition, you could have separate hashtags to make it even easier; eg; #AUTCabovebushline2018

A judge could then either decide the winners by themselves, or the organiser could simply create a shortlist and allow members to vote. Voting is easily done by the organiser posting an ‘album’ of the shortlisted photos in each category, and inviting club members to ‘like’ the photos they want to vote for. Most likes wins.

With this method, all the club members can see all the entries (including who entered them) which is great for sharing the fun, but there’s room for bias and double votes at the end… But if you want a quick, easy and fun competition, this is for you.

Accepting entries online

Although I’m sure there will be many clubs who still enjoy getting out the slide projector on photo competition night, and asking members to bring their slides on the night, accepting entries ahead of time online gets this part of the process done behind the scenes, leaving the most fun parts for the club nights themselves.

If you are comfortable using them, cloud transfer services are superior to email/social media, as the latter often compresses photos without you knowing. Cloud transfer services may be intimidating to use for some members who aren’t tech-savvy, but it does help to keep the competition organisers inbox from overflowing with lots of big photos!

Make sure you are willing and available to assist members who might struggle with the technology, email is a reasonable backup option, but it does take a bit of extra ‘shuffling’ and mouse clicks for the organiser.

Processing entries/pre-judging

As entries come in, we download each photo into an appropriate folder. For FMC’s competition, it’s important that the photos are anonymous when the judges appraise them. We make a copy of all the entries, then convert one set of file names to a serial number, and provide that list of photos for judging.

If there are a large amount of entries, it’s worth pre-judging the entries, so that only a moderate number need to be shown on the club night, or given to the overall judge.

Finding judges

A single judge (or panel) is more likely to make an informed decision, weighing up the technical aspects of the shot as well as the subject matter. Most clubs will be able to think of a member with great talent for photography. Why not ask them to judge your competition? They might be flattered, or they might be disappointed at no longer being eligible to enter!

Otherwise there may be a local professional photographer you could approach, or perhaps a photography club that may have members keen to volunteer.

Whomever you pick, it’s best that they have in interest in and aptitude for photography. Whilst some judges may be happy to volunteer for several years, it is worth considering rotating the judges so that one judges preference doesn’t necessarily dictate the style of winning photos over the years.

You could also consider the ‘people’s choice’ style of judging, where judging is done by the club members online (via Facebook perhaps) or on the club night via a voting form or a good ol’ fashioned show of hands. These do get members a little more involved, but it’s a bit harder to organise and control on a club night. ‘People’s choice’ votes tend to be more influenced by the content of the shot, rather than the technical aspects; both are considered important by professional photographers.

Some clubs even do both; with a separate prize for the ‘people’s choice’, as well as the official winners as determined by the appointed judge.


Judging a photo competition can be fun, but can be challenging as you’re offering an opinion, and with all art, it’s all in the eyes of the beholder, so others are bound to disagree. Here are some tips from Grant Newton, who has been judging the Wellington TMC photo competition over the past 5 or 6 years

  • Ensure you get the images with sufficient time to judge – unless you are a very experienced judge and a confident speaker, it is hard to judge and provide critique on the fly – ideally 10 days prior to presenting – this gives time to judge, collate feedback and prepare a presentation, including finding the names of the winners!
  • To add a degree of objectivity, consider using scoring table during the judging process. As you appraise each image, you can record a score for a number of parameters. For example, relevance to the category, technical quality, creativity, difficulty of getting the shot. For each parameter, the judge would award a 1-5 score, with a final weighted score allowing a more objective way to rank a large number of entries. This helps provide a point of reference when you have difficulty deciding which is 1st and which is 2nd!
  •  Judge blind – get someone else to collate the submitted images and name or number them without the photographers name – this ensures impartiality. You can then send the results to the organiser and find out the names of the winners.
  • Initially sort the photos into “commended” and not ….. This provides some shortlisting for making final picks
  • Review your decisions a day or two later to ensure you are comfortable with your decisions …. Sometimes you can be easily wowed by something that may not look great on a second look
  • Offer some critique on every photo – people have made the effort to submit photos so deserve a response
  • Try to be positive emphasise the good points and feedback on weaknesses should be pitched as ideas that could have made the image stronger e.g. “straightening the horizon on the computer will make this even better”, or “a change of angle would have avoided the bright orange pack liner in the background and helped focus the eye on the great subject”
  • Be clear and concise of what works and what doesn’t – try to keep to 1-2 points per photo
  • Try to keep technical photography jargon to a minimum as many viewers won’t understand within a tramping club setting. Occasionally it may be necessary though.

Sharing the results

Once your judge(s) have decided on the winners, you can share the results via facebook, in your next club newsletter, at the next club night, or a combination of all three!

A photo in isolation can be a beautiful and technically brilliant shot, but photos truely come to life when you understand the story behind the photo; where it was taken, what it took to get that photo, the hardships and joys of the trip.

So when you are sharing the results, a great idea is to ask the judge for their comments on why the image was selected, and get the photographer to share the story behind the photo.

Making a club night out of it

Most clubs who make a night out of the competition report that it is a popular event that members enjoy.

To ensure the night runs well, it’s worth setting up the projectors ahead of time, and doing a few test runs with the display program on the computer you’re going to use.

The trick to running a successful photo competition club night is to have the right number of photographs. Too few and it’ll be over too quickly, too many and members will get bored and loose interest. A good goal is for the viewing to take about 30-40 minutes.

If you are going to get the club members to vote on the night, then each photo in a category should be first displayed for about 5 seconds, then each photo again for a few seconds for people to confirm their votes. For this you probably want about 40 – 60 photographs all up, so if you’ve received more entries than that, the organiser might need to whittle them down with a bit of pre-judging to select the a shortlist for the club night.

Voting on the night could be as simple as one vote per member, via a show of hands on the second run through. This is easy to organise, but does take a bit of time and those photographers who get few (or no) votes might feel a bit hurt.

Other clubs vote by ballot, with either a voting form or just sheets of pen and paper made available. Members would vote for a 1st, 2nd and 3rd preference, then during an intermission, the organiser would tally the scores up (3 points for 1st preference, 2 for 2nd and so on)

A possibly more interesting way to run the night, is for a selection of photos to be displayed, with the judge commenting on the desirable aspects of each photo, and ways the photo could be improved. This also turns a photo competition into a mini photography workshop, which might interest more members.

Some judges can get a little carried away, so again, it’s desirable to limit the number of photos shown; just sticking to the highly commended shots, and/or the winners. It also gives time for the winning photographers to stand up and give a short (1-2 minute) narrative of the story behind the shot.

If you’ve arranged prizes, then it rounds the evening off nicely if the sponsor can present them to the winners. Make sure you leave a little time for general chat and ‘debriefing’ over a cuppa after the show!

Interclub competitions

In the manawatu area, the 3 clubs (MTSC, PNTMC and MUAC) all have their own photo competitions, but hold an Interclub competition night. The hosting club rotates each year.

The top 3 shots from each club, from each category are shown on the night, with an independant judge from a local photography club and a few prizes sponsored by the local outdoor store.

A little bit of friendly competition is a great way to build relationships and networks across the clubs in you region. Another bonus is to give members from university clubs a good chance to meet folks from other clubs nearby, as encouragement to continue their outdoor club careers.

We’d like to thank the following people for contributing their knowledge to build this article:

  • Jean Garmin from Manawatu Tramping and Ski Club
  • Peter Laurenson from Wellington Section NZAC
  • Pamela Rowe from Howick TC
  • Barry Walker from Otago TMC
  • Tony Gazley and Grant Newton from Wellington TMC

If you’ve got advice or wisdom to add to this article, please get in touch

Last updated: 28 February 2018