Some people like the idea of photo contests and some don’t. Personally I think photo contest are fine and I’ve entered in quite a few, some local and some international, and I have been fortunate to win places in many of the contests. I think it helps you to see how your images are stacking up to the other photographers.
Now the fact that judging is very difficult and subjective, many photographers will tend to feel their images were better than the winning images. That’s something you have to deal with when submitting to contests, that you may feel that the judges picked the wrong winners.
There are tons of contests going on now a days, and many photographers are now offering contests on their websites or blogs. I have macro contests occasionally that I offer prizes from my sponsors for the winners.
Some contests charge a fee to submit and some are free to enter. Some contests may give away prize money to the winners, and some like mine are sponsors giving away prizes.
For the larger contest like Nature Best’s magazines – Windland Smith Rice International contest or the BBC wildlife magazine yearly Wildlife Photographer of the Year, these contest carry great prestige if you win.
When a photographer advertises as an “award winning” photographer, that means that he or she as won awards through contests.
I have not applied to any contests in a few years as my newer images are starting to become to overly processed for the bigger contests. The big name contests will ask for the original file if you are being considered as a winner, as they want to see that the image has as little processing as possible, other than the standard processing of sharpening, adjusting the colors and exposure.
You have to read the fine print on all contests as some will want full rights to use your winning image for advertising without any compensation for using your image. Some photographers are fine with this and some are not, so read all the contest rules to decide if you are are okay with these conditions.