Photo Contest FAQ's

When will the winners be announced?
The category winners, Grand Prize winner, and Readers' Choice winner will be announced on our website in spring 2016.

How about the finalists?
The 70 finalists will be announced on our web site in spring 2016.

What is the Readers' Choice winner?
Readers will select one winner from the 70 finalists by an online vote at The Readers' Choice winner will be announced in spring 2016 along with the Grand Prize and category winners.

What are the prizes?
Grand Prize winner: $2,500
Category winners: $500
Readers' Choice winner: $500
Mobile Photography winner: $500
United EcoSkies Sustainable Travel Leadership Award: Two economy round-trip tickets for travel between United States, Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. For full details, see our rules.

Will I be notified if I was NOT chosen as a finalist or winner?
No. Due to the large number of submissions, only the 70 finalists will be notified of their status by February 20, 2016. If you do not hear from Smithsonian by February 20, then you are neither a finalist nor a winner.

How many photos can I enter into the contest?
You may enter no more than fifteen (15) photographs in each of the seven categories with a total contest submission of one-hundred-five (105) photographs.

I share an e-mail address with another person. Can we both enter under the same e-mail address?
We accept one contestant per e-mail address. You can easily obtain a free e-mail address from a number of sites, including, and

How do I submit my photograph?
You can submit your photograph, or a high-quality scan of your photograph, online at We do not accept entries submitted through the mail.

Do you accept non-digital photographs?
Yes. We accept high-quality scanned images of non-digital photographs. We do not, however, accept hard copies of photographs.

Can I enter if I live outside the United States?
Yes, but photographs must be uploaded by 3:00 pm ET, Monday, November 30, 2015.

Can an old photo be entered?
Photographs that were taken before January 1, 2013 are not eligible.

Will negatives and slides, which will be requested of finalists, be returned?
All original negatives, slides and prints will be returned to finalists.

Do I need release forms for people in my photo?
If they are recognizable, and especially if they are children, you need a release form upon Smithsonian's request. A sample release is available at:

If you have a signed model release, please retain it in your personal files. If you are selected as a finalist, you will be asked to submit the release at that time.

I want to submit a photograph of a stranger(s), that was shot spontaneously or in another country. There is no way I will be able to get their signature for a model release. What do I do?

It is understandable that photographers taking pictures overseas or in public places may be unable to secure a model release form, so please feel free to enter your photographs in these types of situations. If you have any concerns about the eligibility of your photograph, please contact us at and provide a detailed description of the circumstances of your photograph and we will review your query.

Can I enter a photograph if I no longer have the negative?
If a photograph taken on film does not have a slide or negative, it cannot be entered into the contest unless you have a high resolution digital scan.

What if my digital photograph does not have a resolution of 300 dpi, or more, at least 3,000 pixels on the longest side?
Without this requirement, Smithsonian editors cannot consider your photograph as a possible finalist or winner in our contest.

Can photographs be cropped?
Cropped photographs are eligible in all categories.

Can photographs be manipulated or enhanced?
Only photographs entered into the Altered Images category can be digitally or traditionally manipulated or enhanced. 

What does it mean when you say photographs in four of your seven categories may not be "enhanced or altered"?
Contestants cannot construct photographs from pieces of other photographs. But minor adjustments, including spotting, dodging and burning, sharpening, contrast and slight color adjustment or the digital equivalents, are acceptable for all categories. If our judges see that the photographer has obviously altered a photo, they have the right to disqualify it or move it to the Altered Images category. Photos in the Mobile category may also be altered.

When submitting a photograph, you will have an opportunity to describe any adjustments made to the image. Please be as descriptive as possible. This information will allow the judges to decide if your photograph is best considered in Altered Images or one of the other categories.

Do you accept black-and-white photographs?
Yes. Also, color photographs changed to black and white are acceptable in all categories; however, please make sure that any additional adjustments you make to the image abide by the rules concerning enhancing or altering photographs.

May I enter the same photograph into multiple categories?
Please do not enter the same photograph into more than one category.

What size should my digital image be for uploading with the online entry form?
Files submitted may not be larger than 10MB. Photo contest images are judged on computer screens, which have a maximum resolution of 72dpi. When uploading an image, entering a low-resolution file should be fine as long as it is large enough in inches so that the visual integrity of the image is not compromised. For display on the web, we recommend a minimum width of 1200 pixels. Please retain a high-resolution version of your photograph(s) in your personal files. You will need to have a higher-resolution image on hand, at least 300 dpi at 3,000 pixels on the longest side, to be considered in the final rounds of the contest.

Will you change the category if you think I put my photograph into the wrong one?
Yes. If appropriate, Smithsonian judges will change the category of your submission. This will not affect your eligibility to win.

I entered my photo into another contest and it won. Can I enter it into this contest?
Photographs that have won other contests, either online or in print, are not eligible for submission. We define winning as having won a grand prize and having won 1st, 2nd or 3rd place overall.

Is it OK to enter a photograph that has been on my website?
Yes, your photograph is eligible for submission.

I am a Smithsonian Institution intern. Can I enter?
No. Smithsonian Institution employees, Regents, trustees, interns, volunteers, fellows and research associates are ineligible to enter the contest.

I'm 17 years old. Can I enter the contest?
We are sorry, but you will need to be 18 as of November 30, 2015—the final day of submission—to qualify.

What rights to my photograph do I retain?
You retain your rights to your photograph; however, by entering the contest, entrants grant the Smithsonian Institution a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual, non-exclusive license to display, distribute, reproduce and create derivative works of the entries, in whole or in part, in any media now existing or subsequently developed, for any educational, promotional, publicity, exhibition, archival, scholarly and all other standard Smithsonian purposes. Any photograph reproduced will include a photographer credit as feasible. The Smithsonian Institution will not be required to pay any additional consideration or seek any additional approval in connection with such uses.

Where can I send questions and feedback?
Please e-mail further questions to or use our feedback form.

Last updated: March 26, 2015.