How to Win Our Photo Contest and a Trip to NYC

Our Transformed by Travel photo contest is now open to all current and former exchange participants and alumni. And this year, we’re sending the grand prize winner on a four day trip to New York City (airfare ✈ included)!

So what kind of photos will win such a high-stakes reward? We recently sat down with our panel of judges, all former photo contest finalists, to explain their perspectives on the judging criteria, describe the most important elements of travel photography, and give advice on what may give participants an edge in the competition.

“Glowing Santa Barbara” by Matthias Gass—the winner of the 2016 Transformed By Travel Contest.

Know your audience

The judges agree that there are many ways for a photograph to stand out and that the judging criteria of Creativity, Execution, and Story are important to the final product. Yet they also believe that participants should first focus on highlighting the travel aspect of the photo contest.

“Since this photo contest’s motto is Transformed By Travel, the story behind a photo becomes significantly more important,” says Matthias Gass, one of this year’s judges and the winner of the 2016 photo contest.

Xavier Lajoumard de Bellabre, another Transformed By Travel judge, agrees and demonstrates the importance of story in the contest with an example:

Xavier describes the execution in the above shot as “Clearly the work of a pro” (which, of course, it is) and praises its creative elements which “make the photograph unique.” But Xavier also notes that the lack of an evident story behind the shot means that the photograph would likely not be a contender for Transformed by Travel.

Valentin Stolbunov, another judge and two-time winner, sums it up nicely: “My advice for future photo contest entrants is to submit not just beautiful photos, but unforgettable moments. Ideally, you want your photo to accurately document an experience that you would love to share with those closest to you.”

Wait for the perfect moment… then execute!

Though the judges have different photographic preferences, they describe the crucial moments before clicking the shutter button in similar ways.

Years after taking one of his favorite pictures, Xavier remembers the seconds leading up to the moment of execution in minute detail. “I felt very focused during this shot because I really wanted to get the trails of the boats to fill my frame […] I didn’t have a timer so I could only go up to 30 seconds exposure. I had to release the shutter right at the moment when the boat was starting to enter my frame in the hope that it would go fast enough so that the light trails would fill the frame.”

Xavier relied on patience and execution to take this photograph of downtown Singapore

One might praise the blurred lights in the photograph and how they tell the story of a city constantly in motion. One could also argue that the shot demonstrates a great deal of creativity on the part of the photographer. Yet the creativity and story demonstrated in the photograph would not be possible had Xavier not executed the photograph as envisioned.

Valentin describes his experience taking the picture which won him second place in the 2016 Transformed By Travel contest in similar terms.

“I wanted the Milky Way to be lined up perfectly with a stretch of dark road. Because the shot was planned ahead of time, creativity was not something that was on my mind. I simply had to execute – get the right settings, take the right number of shots to later reduce noise, make sure the foreground was well-lit, etc.”

Valentin’s well-executed shot of the Milky Way was taken from the Florida Keys.

Ultimately, though the judges agree that they will be on the lookout for submissions which tell a story, don’t think that they will turn a blind eye to poor execution. “You need to be careful not to mess up a shot by being sloppy with the execution. Creativity is usually more intuitive [and] the story is not something that you can set up that easily. It is more of a by-product.” says Matthias.

The point about execution ties into the previous one about knowing your audience. With such high-caliber photographers judging this year’s photo contest, a poorly executed photo simply won’t cut it!

If at first you don’t succeed…

If you’ve read this far and are starting to worry about whether your photography skills are good enough to please our skilled panel of judges, I have good news for you.

Given the nature of the contest, our judges will appreciate photographs which tell a story. This means that your travels will be as important to winning the contest as your photography skills. Simply take plenty of pictures of your time abroad, and how it’s changed your life!

Liana Manukyan won last year’s photo contest with this shot of Aletsch Glacier. She says it’s her favorite place in Switzerland.

Not only does our contest have multiple categories through which you can earn a prize, there is also no limit on the number of submissions. Feel free to submit as many as you want until the contest closes on August 2nd. We truly enjoy reviewing all the submissions!

So, if at first you don’t succeed in getting a quality shot, don’t worry. Instead of focusing on the competition, focus on yourself and your own journey as you seek to be #TransformedByTravel. If you do that, you will definitely be rewarded—regardless of how you do in the contest.