Think beyond local camera club contests and consider some of the premier nature photography competitions in the world
Text And Photography By Dave Welling
Each year, the winning images are featured in an issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine and a special print show of all winning images travels throughout England during the year. A book of the winning images is published each year as well.
Literally, tens of thousands of people will see your images. The BBC also produces a fantastic awards show for the winners that includes a reception at the Museum of Natural History in London, where all winning images are displayed in a special showing room. Invitations go out to the media and many of the stock agencies so it's an ideal opportunity to discuss your work with people who could help you in the future. Top prize money in the thousands of dollars makes it a worthwhile endeavor.
Nature's Best While the annual photo contest produced by Nature's Best hasn't been around as long as the BBC contest, it has become internationally recognized as one of the premier wildlife and nature photo contests. Structured somewhat like the BBC contest, there's a variety of subject classes.
Nature's Best provides separate sections for pro and amateur photographers so you have a better chance to get your images showcased even though you might not be a professional nature photographer. You're limited to 20 images total spread among all the classes. Nature's Best doesn't put a time limit on when the image must have been taken, but images taken with newer, more sophisticated cameras and lenses and newer, high-quality films tend to win out over older images. You still must be ruthless in your selections and strive for images that have great lighting or unique features, images that will grab viewers and make them want to see more. Dupes as well as original images are accepted.
Nature's Best holds an awards banquet to honor the winners and produces a special edition of the magazine each year that features all winning images. For last year's contest, Nature's Best set up a program at the banquet to sell prints of winning images with the proceeds going to the photographer. Monetary awards are given in each category.
Valley Land Fund One of the newer wildlife photo contests is the biannual Valley Land Fund Photo Contest, produced by the Valley Land Fund in South Texas. This contest is unique in several ways. The premise behind the contest is the recognition and protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat in southern Texas. The area is undergoing rapid population growth, but still has many large, undeveloped ranches that provide excellent habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. The photo contest was developed to raise the awareness of people to the special nature of the area and the wildlife it shelters.
This is considered by many photographers to be the "Iron Man" wildlife photo contest, as the contest lasts six months. It's produced every other year from February through June. There are more than 50 classes of subjects and, to have a shot at winning, a photographer must submit images in as many classes as possible. Only images taken during the six-month contest period are eligible and original images must be submitted.
Photographers may submit images as individuals or as teams. The entry form provides the selection option and the appropriate fee. Each photographer or photographer team is paired with a rancher and must photograph only on that ranch for image submission.
You may submit up to three images in each class but, in many of the classes, such as some of the bird classes that include three or four species, you may submit only one image of a given species. Plan on shooting for a significant portion of the six-month period in order to capture images of migratory species as well as breeding or nesting species.
This contest requires a major commitment of time, energy and effort. Photographers usually will live on the ranch property, possibly in a bunkhouse or an out building to be close to the action. There are five grand-prize winners, with the first grand-prize winner splitting $30,000 with the ranch owner.