Beware of Photo Contests

Entering a photo contest is a great way to see how your skills stack up against other photographers. However there are some important things you need to look out for in the terms and conditions of every contest before submitting your photos.

Here’s my photo contest experience

A big skateboarding pop-up event rolls into my city. It’s put on by one of the world’s biggest skate brands. Everyone is stoked! They’ve even built a skatepark for it. The 3-day event has skateboarding clinics, girls skateboarding lessons, trick contests, bands, craft market,…. and…. a photo walk workshop with a well-known skateboarding photographer.

What’s not to like about this?! Especially after a very long and snowy winter.

Of course I wanna go on that photo workshop! If only just to meet the photographer and learn some of his tips.

As part of the photo walk workshop, there is a photo contest.

Participants can win a Leica camera! Now I’m not really into photo contests, and not really in need of another new camera right now. But I don’t want to miss this chance to have a critique of my work.

I filled out my entry form, and then just before agreeing to the Terms and Conditions, I read them. What I read shocked me!


This is some of what I read:

“Any Submission will be treated as non-confidential. Any Submission also will be treated as non-proprietary, except as specifically set forth herein. By making a Submission, you hereby grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, Vans, its affiliated entities, vendors and licensees a nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, sell, assign, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display any Submission, as well as your name, Instagram, Twitter, or Vine handle, Facebook ID, profile picture, image, likeness, comments, posts, statements or other information, in any manner, and in any and all distribution channels, venues, forms, media, or technology, whether now known or hereafter developed, alone or as part of other works, without further notice or any compensation to you. You also acknowledge that your Submission may not be returned and we may use your Submission, and any ideas, concepts or know how contained therein, for any purpose including, without limitation, developing, manufacturing, distributing and marketing products. Subject to the licenses granted in these Terms of Use, you retain ownership of any copyrights and rights of publicity you may have in your Submissions.”

So what the heck? You agree to basically hand over your images for them to use however they want!

Sure it’s good for the ego to win or get featured in a photo contest. But at what cost?

I was okay with my name and my social media handles to be posted, and my submitted photos to be used (with photo credit) for some online promo of the company and the photo contest. But what I didn’t expect was the full-on rights grab.

The transfer of rights and selling of the images is what really got my hackles up.

Even if you don’t win the contest, your images can be used.

Here are the words that jumped out at me

  • the company’s affiliated entities, vendors and licensees
  • nonexclusive, royalty-free
  • worldwide
  • transferable
  • irrevocable
  • fully sub-licensable right
  • license to use
  • reproduce
  • modify
  • sell
  • create derivative works from
  • distribute any Submission
  • use your Submission, and any ideas, concepts or know how contained therein
  • for any purpose including
  • developing
  • manufacturing
  • distributing
  • marketing products

So any submission, even the ones that don’t win the contest are subject to these terms.

So what does that mean to you as a photographer?

  • They can sell your photo to anyone or any company — without compensation to you
  • They can transfer rights or sell them to a stock photo company — without compensation to you
  • They can use your photo for marketing their products — without compensation to you
  • They can use your photos in a negative way to ruin your reputation. Example: Look at what a crappy photographer “Joe” is. He can’t even capture the decisive moment.
  • They can Photoshop your images to create a message that you didn’t intend

Maybe this doesn’t bother you. But it sure bothers me.

Maybe you think the risk is worth it. I don’t.

This is a blatant photo rights-grab

I really want to meet this photographer, participate in his workshop, and mostly get feedback on my photos.

But on principle, I can’t even go on this photo walk. If I do, I’m saying it’s perfectly okay to do this kind of rights-grab. And it’s not.

So before you enter any photo contest, photo workshop or photo walk, make sure you read the Terms and Conditions. And don’t let the prize or your ego get in the way of common sense.

p.s. I never use my student’s or photo walk participant’s photos without their permission, and I never ever sell them!