What do judges look for? We're going to assume that the hallmarks of a technically sound image, such as precise focus, correct exposure and balanced composition, don't need much more than a mention here. All of those things certainly matter, but fine technique alone probably isn't going to launch you into the winner's circle. And while there's no set of criteria that can guarantee your photograph will rise above the rest, we do have some tips that will get you going in the right direction every time you decide to enter.
Grab Attention. Avoid Clichés. This is definitely challenging, especially if you're entering a contest with a theme. If the subject is portraits, it's tempting to enter the standard smiling face-forward shot with soft focus. It's a formula that often works well, but it may not stand out among thousands of other images. Silhouettes, reflections, self-portraits, environmental portraits or focusing on a specific feature, such as the eyes, all offer something a little different. Try to figure out the shot you expect most others to take and then go in a different direction.
Finding interesting, unique or even humorous subject matter often results in some of the best pictures. Before you hit the Submit button, ask yourself what sets your image apart from others. Maybe it's the lighting or composition or color. Maybe there's a strong graphic element. No matter the answer, just asking the question will help stretch your creative skills in new ways.
In trying to get on the judges' radar, it's also a good idea to play to your strengths. If you're into street photography and the contest has a travel or locations theme, enter street photos taken while on a trip.
Stick To The Rules. If there's a theme, don't venture too far from it. While there's room for interpretation and creativity, make sure you're not leaving too much up to the imaginations of the judges.
Make sure you know all of the technical rules so you don't end up submitting an image that violates some aspect of what's allowed. You may enter an awesome photo, but not taking the time to know how many shots can be submitted, entry date requirements, image size limits and entry formats could result in the judges having to discard your entry.