Max Riche is an award-winning photographer for commercial outdoor and active brands. From the Alps to the jungles of Indonesia, he captures the high energy and accomplishments of athletes and explorers through his stylized images. He is also the founder of the organization, Climate Heroes which aims to mitigate climate change. You might remember Max from his guest stint in one of our 500px Portfolio Reviews episodes. In this article, Max Riche shares the importance of entering photo competitions to move forward with your professional career and attract commercial clients and buyers. Scroll down for his tips, experiences, and some links to the industry’s top competitions!

Why Photo Competitions Are Important

(And How Much Should You Pay For Them?)
by Max Riche

As a professional photographer—or as someone aspiring to become one—it is important to invest in yourself. By this, I don’t mean only investing in gear and how much equipment you own. It is also about investing in the right opportunities. Opportunities to shoot the photos you love, and to point them to the right people who can actually commission you for work. As one of my favorite photographers Erik Almas put it, shooting and marketing should not be considered in sequence, but in parallel. Otherwise, if you spend a lot of time building your portfolio and then only start showing it around afterwards, you’ve technically lost all that time for business—work will only start coming in once you start marketing yourself. At the beginning, no one knows that you exist unless you let them know!

1. They’re an important part of your marketing mix
As part of this marketing aspect, I’ve realized over the year how important photo competitions are. I don’t mean that you must seek competition for the sake of being competitive. What I mean is that photo competitions, awards, and prizes are an important component of what you should allocate to the annual investment you make in yourself—and your business.

If I trace back several of the best commissions I’ve had, many have come through the awards I won following the EISA Maestro Silver Award for Photographer of the Year in Europe, which I received for my “Becoming an Athlete” series. After I got this award, the phone started to ring a lot more.

That’s when Red Bull called me up for the Morphing project, which eventually led to the pioneering project on That’s also when UEFA asked me to do a motion portrait of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi featuring the signature “trail technique” I used for UEFA Best Player in Europe Award 2013—sadly never realized for budgetary reasons.

And again, that’s normal. When you get (good) press, the word spreads much faster about what it is that you do. But you have to make the conscious choice to enter the competition to start with. Juries won’t trace you down to ask you to enter. You have to do it yourself.

2. They’re a great way to reach ad agencies
You can’t reach out to all kinds of clients in the same way. As a general rule, if you are trying to break into the advertising world, you must know already that Art Buyers, Artistic Directors, and Creative Directors receive an innumerable number of calls and emails from photographers on a daily basis. It’s very hard to stand out among all that noise, and sometimes very frustrating to even try. However, there is one thing that they do: they all know their industry extremely well and stay up-to-date by reading the main creative publications and looking for the latest winners of the prominent contests out there, also sometimes called “Annuals”.

Here is a list of some of the most famous annuals:
Luzer’s Archive 200 Best Ad Photographers (This is technically more of a book that you pay to be in, but it’s an excellent place to look at what exists out there.)
International Photo Awards
Graphis Photography Annual
Photo District News Photo Annual
Communication Arts Photo Annual
PX3 – Prix de la Photographie à Paris
Hasselblad Masters
Sony World Photography Awards – Professional Competition
Feature Shoot Awards (A new one)
Red Bull Illume (If you’re into action and adventure photography.)

There are other famous prizes and awards for other types of photography, such as the World Press award, the Getty prize, and the Prix Pictet, but we’ll focus here on the ones that are more likely to suit you, if are pursuing the advertising creative photography sphere. Sometimes, those contests also have a Non-Professional category, so you can choose to enter this if you’re not a full-time pro or if you think your chances are too slim in the Pro category. Remember the saying, “It’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond”?

3. You can see how well you compare to others
Contests are not just a way to get publicity or work; you have to win them in order to do that. They also allow you to benchmark your work with that of other photographers out there. It’s a way to know where you stand. This is not purely to compare yourself in a competitive way, but rather to see if your work is fresh and relevant, and is at the right level to reach the industry creative or technical bar. If you’re not at level with that bar, there’s a good chance you won’t get much work in the advertising area. You have to be able to produce work that is at least “as good as” the standards of the industry—and ideally, much better!

Okay, you may argue that you can get a good sense of where you stand nowadays by counting the numbers of likes and followers you have on social media. But while this may be an indicator, there is nothing like a good ol’ jury of professionals ranking your work against others. Some contests also have special mentions, category winner prizes, or other titles which don’t come with any cash prizes, but you will be able to display those titles in your website. This, in itself, is an important component of building your credibility as an artist over the years.

How much do you allocate for these photo competitions?
Recently, I visited 500px CEO Evgeny Tchebotarev at the company HQ to discuss how these contests usually require paying a fee to enter, or even a fee for each image you submit. (You can check out my interview in the video clip below.) True enough—that sucks. Even I hate it when I have to pay. But look at it this way: it forces you to really edit your work. And that, in itself, is an important and salutary exercise to do.

Hit play to watch my interview with Evgeny Tchebotarev, and get more tips and insights into commercial photography.

Wherever you stand in your career, and what your strategy is, you may want to allocate a different envelope to entering photo competitions. Entering a lot of contests can quickly become very expensive. So it’s a good idea to list all the competitions you wish to enter, and plan in advance which of your new work you want to submit to each contest. For me, during the early years, I found out that I could allocate about $1,000 a year. This amount allowed me to enter a good number of the most prominent contests that are suitable for my work.

Of course, non-professionals or those just starting out may probably be better off investing that money into creating actual work, especially if budget is an issue. This amount can vary depending on whether you have more or less history in business, or whether the themes of this year’s contest actually match the work you need to submit—as this is not always the case! But no matter what competition you enter, if you don’t include this in your marketing, there is only so far you can get by word of mouth and organic growth.

In the same way that professionals all put together promo mailer campaigns, photo competitions are a key component of letting ad agencies see your work, making your way into the professional photography world, and gaining credibility as a working professional.

We hope you found Max Riche’s article helpful to moving forward in your professional career as a photographer. For inspiration, we collected some of his stunning work—scroll down!

License this image at 500x Prime

License this image at 500x Prime

License this image at 500x Prime

License this image at 500x Prime

License this image at 500x Prime

License this image at 500x Prime

To view more of his work, visit his website or follow him on 500px.

Got questions for Max about his experiences in photo competitions, his work, or his process? Leave a comment for him below!