More than 470,000 photos have been submitted by readers to the Smithsonian’s annual photo competition over the past 20 years. These images have taken the world to remote regions of the planet, have recorded breathtaking, split-second moments, and have introduced intriguing people and extraordinary places. View stunning pictures that photographers from almost every nation in the globe have taken. For ideas, perform a location- and subject-specific search and peruse photographer portfolios.

The following six contest categories are drawn from subjects of special interest to the Smithsonian magazine:

  • 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.
  • Artistic Images: Visuals that use photography as a creative and imaginative platform to express an idea or concept. These images can be manipulated in any method, either through photo editing software or other techniques.
  • Drone/Aerial: Any photograph captured using an unmanned aerial vehicle, commonly known as a drone. Images shot from planes/helicopters are also accepted.

Any photograph taken by the participant after January 1, 2020, must be eligible for that category. The photographs in a composite must all include this date. The participant in the competition attests that they are the sole author and copyright owner of the image submitted. All categories accept cropped images. For all categories, light alterations are permissible, including dodging and burning, sharpening, contrast, tone, slight color modification, and conversion to grayscale. These techniques can also be used to remove sensor dust or scratches from scans of negatives. Only in the category of artistic images is it okay to add and remove objects. The judges reserve the authority to shift a shot to Artistic Images or to disqualify it if they find that the photographer made changes to the image that went beyond standard photography best practices. HDR and stitched panorama image composites will be evaluated as artistic images. Artificial intelligence (AI)–generated images are not allowed. You must be ready to give the Smithsonian a model release from the subject, or in the event of a minor, the subject’s parent or guardian, upon request for any photograph in which a person may be recognized. A sample model has been released and is currently available on the official website.

The Smithsonian may request a release from the rights holder from participants whose images include other people’s creations (such as sculptures, statues, paintings, and other copyrightable works) at any time. When shooting someone else’s creations, it must be done as an object in its setting rather than a full-frame close-up. You may see the sample art on the official website. The Smithsonian maintains the right, in its sole discretion, to disqualify the entry, make efforts to obtain the necessary releases or allow the submission to continue in the competition if the entrant is unable to submit all requisite releases. According to all applicable federal, state, and municipal legislation, photographs must be taken. Photos that infringe or violate another person’s rights, including copyright, are ineligible. All categories of this contest prohibit submissions that, in the Smithsonian’s exclusive judgment, contain sexually explicit, nudist, obscene, violent, or other undesirable or inappropriate content.

Judges will look at the creativity, quality, originality, reactivity to the prompt, and overall impact of the submitted photos. Out of the 60 finalists, the Smithsonian will choose 10 finalists for each category, a winner for each category, and a Grand Prize winner. In March 2024, the 60 finalists will be informed of their standing and will be listed on our website. The 60 finalists will then be put up for public vote on the Smithsonian website to determine the Readers’ Choice award. In the spring of 2024, the grand prize winner, readers’ choice winner, and category winners will all be announced online. These dates might be modified.




Eight prizes will be awarded, as follows:

  • Grand Prize: $2,500.
  • Category Winners: The winners of each of the six categories will receive $500.
  • Readers’ Choice: The winner of the online Readers’ Choice award will receive $500.

One cash prize per person; winners may receive additional non-cash prizes. Winners must sign a release and license, as well as a declaration of eligibility, and will be responsible for paying any fees or taxes associated with the prize. All prizes are awarded “as is” and are non-transferable.  In case applicable law prohibits the Smithsonian from awarding a photographer the cash prize and/or any non-cash prize, the Smithsonian may award the prize in name only.


  • The Grand Prize, Readers’ Choice prize, Natural World, Travel, People, The American Experience, Artistic Images, and Drone/Aerial category prizes are open to photographers who are 18 years old or older.
  • Individuals affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, including employees, emeriti, Regents, trustees, interns, volunteers, fellows, research associates, and their immediate families (children, parents, siblings, and spouses) and others living in their households are not eligible for any prize.
  • The Smithsonian will determine winners’ eligibility at its sole discretion.
Eligible Regions: Open for All.

Application Process

  • Submit photographs and requested information online through their website.
  • Click on the apply link.
  • Create your account to submit your photographs.
  • You may submit up to 15 photographs per category for a contest total of 90 submissions.
  • You must complete a separate form for each photo submitted.
  • Photographs must be submitted in .jpeg, .jpg, or .gif format, edited for the web in sRGB color space, at least 2,000 pixels wide and no larger than 10 MB.
  • Finalists must be prepared to submit an original, unedited digital file or an original negative, print, or slide.

Application Deadline: November 30, 2023

Application ClosedOfficial link

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