Frequently Asked Questions About the Smithsonian.com Photo Contest

When will the winners be announced?
The category winners, Grand Prize winner and Readers' Choice winner will be announced on our website in spring 2020.


When will the finalists be announced?
The 60 finalists will be announced on our website in spring 2020.


What is the Readers' Choice winner?
Readers will select one winner from the 60 finalists by an online vote at www.smithsonian.com/photocontest. The Readers' Choice winner will be announced in spring 2020 along with the Grand Prize and category winners.


What are the prizes?

Grand Prize winner: $2,500, plus a trip to Casa Ybel Resort on Sanibel Island sponsored by The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel.
Category winners: $500
Readers' Choice winner: $500
For full details, see our rules.


Who selects the winners?

The Smithsonian will select 10 finalists per category, a winner for each category and a Grand Prize winner from the 60 finalists. Readers will select the Readers' Choice winner from the 60 finalists by an online vote at www.smithsonian.com/photocontest.


Will I be notified if I was NOT chosen as a finalist or winner?
No. Due to the large number of submissions, only the 60 finalists will be notified of their status by spring 2020. If you do not hear from the Smithsonian by then, you are neither a finalist nor a winner.


How many photos can I enter into the contest?
You may enter up to 15 photographs in each category for a total contest submission of 90 photographs.


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


Can I submit a photo on someone else’s behalf?
No. You may only submit a photograph if you are the sole creator and copyright owner.


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


What category should I select for my photograph?
Use your best judgment, but here are the guidelines we suggest you follow when selecting the category:

  • Natural World: Animals, plants and landscapes; geological or climatological features; and scientific processes and endeavors.

  • Travel: Locales, peoples or activities in the United States and abroad that convey a sense of place.

  • People: Portraits and photos of groups or individuals.

  • The American Experience: Events, objects or activities connecting the American people to their history or their cultural heritage; photographs that tell us what it means to be an American and provide a sense of what it is like to live in this country.

  • Altered Images: Photographs manipulated for artistic purposes by applying digital and/or traditional special effects.

  • Mobile: Any photograph taken with a mobile device (phone or tablet).


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 5:00 PM Eastern Standard Time on November 30, 2019.


I took a photo five years ago. Can I enter it?
Photographs that were taken before January 1, 2017 are not eligible. This date applies to all images used in a composite.


Will negatives and slides 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 must be prepared to obtain a release form and provide it to the Smithsonian upon request. A sample release is available here.

Similarly, entrants whose photos depict other people’s work (such as sculptures, statues, paintings, and other copyrightable works) must be prepared to obtain a release from the rights holder and provide it to the Smithsonian upon request. When photographing the work of others, it must be as an object in its environment and not a full-frame close-up of another person's creation. A sample art release is available here. 


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.


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


Can photographs be manipulated or enhanced?
We do not accept digitally or otherwise enhanced or altered photos, except for those entered in the Altered Images category. Photographs manipulated for artistic purposes by applying digital and/or traditional special effects are eligible for the Altered Images category.


What does it mean when you say photographs in five of your six categories may not be "enhanced or altered"?
Minor adjustments, including the removal of sensor dust or scratches on scans of negatives, dodging and burning, sharpening, contrast, toning, slight color adjustment and conversion to grayscale are acceptable for all categories. The addition and subtraction of objects and/or people is not permitted except in the Altered Images category. If the judges determine that a photographer has altered his or her photo, they reserve the right to move the photo to Altered Images or to disqualify it. Image composites including HDR and stitched panoramas will be judged as Altered Images.

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 converted to grayscale 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?
Yes. You can enter a photo in up to three categories, selecting one as a primary category. 


What size should my digital image be for uploading with the online entry form?
In order to be displayed in our online gallery without being stretched or distorted, photographs must be submitted in .jpeg, .jpg or .gif format, edited for web in sRGB color space, at least 2,000 pixels wide and no larger than 10 MB. Photo contest images are judged on computer screens, which have a maximum resolution of 72dpi.

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, a minimum of 300 dpi and 3,000 pixels on the longest side, to be considered in the final rounds of the contest. Mobile photographs are exempt from this size requirement, but must be submitted at their highest resolution.


What if my digital photograph does not have a resolution of 300 dpi and is not 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. Mobile photographs are exempt from this size requirement, but must be submitted at their highest resolution.


Will you accept photos with watermarks?
We will always display a credit alongside your photo as it appears on the site. We do not accept photos with watermarks or descriptive text.


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.


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, 2019—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, you grant the Smithsonian Institution (and those authorized by the Smithsonian) a royalty-free, world-wide, perpetual, non-exclusive license to publicly display, distribute, reproduce and create derivative works of the entries, in whole or in part, in any media now existing or later developed, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and promotion of the magazine and its website, exhibition, and commercial products, including but not limited to Smithsonian Institution publications. 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.

Entrants who submit photos in the Travel photo contest category also grant these rights to the category sponsor, The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. All releases required by these rules must grant The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel the foregoing rights.


How do I report a complaint about an image?
If you believe a submission is in in violation of our contest rules, please use our “Report This” function located on each photo page and follow the instructions. Our staff will review your report and take necessary action.


Where can I send questions and feedback?
Please email further questions and feedback to photocontest@si.edu. Due to the high volume of emails that we receive, we may not be able to respond to each individual email. Please do not contact us about the status of entries or judging.

Last updated: March 2019