Audubon Photography Awards

Audubon Photography Awards Frequently Asked Questions

Everything you need to know about our rules and submission requirements.

American Dipper. Photo: Marlee Fuller-Morris/Audubon Photography Awards

Audubon Photography Awards Frequently Asked Questions

Everything you need to know about our rules and submission requirements.

1. What are the requirements for submitting photos?

For online entries, each image MUST:

(i) depict “birdlife” and therefore must contain at least one bird;

(ii) be no larger than 35 megabytes; ideally the images should be close to 3000 pixels wide (if a horizontal image) or 3000 pixels tall (if a vertical image) at 72 dpi;

(iii) be saved in RGB mode (not CMYK!); and 

(iv) be saved in the JPG format.

For mailed entries, each print MUST:

(i) depict “birdlife” and therefore must contain at least one bird;

(ii) be at least 5 by 7 inches and no larger than 8 by 10 inches; do not submit framed prints.

Regardless of how you submit your photos, do not include watermarks or stamps because it’s important that the judges see the photos without knowing who took them. Entrants must not infringe on the rights of any other photographer or person, or submit images that involve the willful harassment of wildlife or damage to the environment by the photographer. Photos that do not conform to these basic requirements will not be eligible for the Audubon Photography Awards.

2. How should I name my digital files or mail-in prints?

For online entries: During the photo-upload process, you will be asked to fill in some information boxes. If you do so accurately, your digital images will be correctly named automatically.

For mailed entries: Label the back of each print with your name, address, the bird species (and if for the Plants for Bird division, the plant species), location where the photo was taken, and camera equipment used. You should also include the same information in the appropriate place on the mail-in entry form (or on additional sheets, if you need more room). Be sure to include the number from the entry sheet (or additional sheets) on the back of your photo so that we can be sure we know which information goes with each print. MAILED PRINTS WILL NOT BE RETURNED.

3. How much does it cost to enter?

In the Professional and Amateur divisions, and in the Plants for Birds division for entrants age 18 and older, the online entry fee is $15 per image. There is no fee to enter the Youth division, or the Plants for Bird division for entrants age 13 to 17, at any time. If you choose to mail prints, there is no entry fee for any of the divisions. The free-entry option is available for the duration of the contest.

4. What are the guidelines for photographing birds responsibly?

The underlying principle for responsible bird photography is a sincere respect for the birds and their habitats. When in doubt, the well-being of the birds and their habitats must come before the ambitions of the photographer. Read our guidelines for responsible bird photography here.

5. Are there any approaches to bird photography that are against the rules?

The Official Rules explicitly prohibit photographs depicting the following situations. If submitted, such images will be disqualified. The judges’ decision to disqualify a photo is final. 

·       birds (including chicks) that appear to be stressed or harassed by the photographer

·       birds at nests taken with wide-angle or macro lens

·       birds (including but not limited to hawks, owls, eagles, ospreys, roadrunners) lured with bait. “Bait” includes live animals (such as snakes, fish, mice, crickets, worms), dead animals or parts of animals, processed meat, and decoys such as fake mice.

·       nocturnal birds (e.g., owls, nightjars) taken with a flash at night

·       birds photographed by or with drones

·       birds photographed with a remotely triggered camera that uses a direct flash or for which bait or another lure has been supplied to attract the animal. Setting a camera trap around a fresh kill or cache is generally acceptable, as is the use of a flash with a filter that only lets through infrared light.

6. How do I know what division to enter?

There are four divisions. The Professional division is for individuals 18 years of age and older who have earned $5,000 or more on their photography (any photography, not just bird photography) in the past year. The Amateur division is for individuals 18 years of age and older who have earned between zero and $4,999 on their photography (any photography, not just bird photography) in the past year. The Youth division is for individuals who are 13 to 17 years old. The Plants for Birds division is open to any entrant 13 years of age or older whose images include bird life and identifiable plants (flowers, trees, bushes, grasses), all of which are native to the area in the United States or Canada in which the image was taken. All ages are to be determined as of the date of an entry’s submission. (See the Official Rules for more details.) 

7. What is the Plants for Birds division, and why is it only open to the United States and Canada?

The Plants for Birds division celebrates the critical role native habitat plays in supporting bird life. Audubon’s Plants for Birds program provides resources for identifying and finding plants native to zip codes in the United States, and because Canada and the United States share many of the same species of native plants and birds, Audubon has the in-house expertise to verify those in photographs taken in both countries. Unfortunately we don’t have the bandwidth to expand this important vetting step in the judging process to more countries at this time.

8. Can I enter more than one division?

You may submit Photographs to one of the first three divisions (Professional, Amateur, or Youth) as well as the Plants for Birds division. To enter two divisions, you must submit a separate entry for each (either by completing a second entry via the online platform or by filling out a second entry form for mail submissions). The same photograph cannot be entered in more than one division. 

9. What is the Fisher prize?

The Fisher Prize honors the legacy of Audubon’s longtime creative director Kevin Fisher. It recognizes the most creative approach in photographing birds—for example, highlighting an unexpected point of view—blended with technical expertise and an original composition. The Fisher prize pushes the traditional canons of bird photography to daring new heights, while never compromising strict ethical guidelines. Like the Grand Prize, it can be awarded to an image submitted to any of the four divisions.

10. What should I do if I have problems during the entry or payment process?

Email us at

11. How do I know that my entry has been successful?

For online entries: You will receive a confirmation email (a few domains block it). You will also be routed to a page indicating that a PDF document confirming your submission has been automatically downloaded to your computer. (Note that pop-up blockers on your browser may prevent this automatic download.) These confirmations will list each of the photos you entered and the amount your credit card was billed. Because entrants age 13 to 17 may enter the contest for free, youth confirmations (for both the Youth division and Plants for Birds) will not include billing information.

For mailed entries: If you include your email address on the entry form, we will email you a receipt of your entry. If you do not provide an email address, we cannot send you a confirmation (but please include a phone number in case we need to contact you).

Proof of receipt is not proof of eligibility or an indication of any photo’s chance of winning. If you have questions or concerns, contact us at

12. Is there a limit on the number of photos I can submit?

No, there is no limit on the number of photos you can enter. 

13. If I enter photos online, can I send additional photos by mail, or vice versa?

You may submit by only ONE total means of entry: online OR by mail. If you submit photos by two different means of entry, only the means of entry through which your photos are first received will be valid. Photos submitted through a second means of entry after photos have already been received through a first means of entry will be void.

14. Can I submit photos at different times?

For online entries: Yes. If you want to make additional submissions to the contest, you can simply return to the website and go through the entry process again. You will be billed separately and pay the entry fee in effect at the time of that entry. You have this option until Monday April 06, 2020 at 12:00:00 PM (noon) EST, the contest deadline.

For mailed entries: Yes, you may mail submissions more than one time as long as each mailed submission is postmarked by April 06, 2020, and received by Audubon no later than April 13, 2020, and includes a printout of the mail-in entry form (with the same contact information for each mailed submission) and the requested information on the back of each print. Failure to follow these requirements may result in disqualification.

15. Can I review my submissions?

No, you will be unable to review your photos after they have been submitted.

16. Will other entrants be able to see my photos?


17. Who owns the rights to my photos?

You own the rights to your photos. By entering the Photography Awards, you grant Audubon and our contest associate Nature’s Best Photography a non-exclusive license to your photos for uses related to the Photography Awards only. (For the text of the full license, see the Official Rules.) But even if you choose to allow Audubon to use your photos in support of its mission, you will remain the owner of your photos (see the following question).

18. Could you explain the optional request on the personal information page to allow the National Audubon Society to use my images in support of its mission?

First, it’s important to emphasize that opting in to this request is not a requirement for entry and will have no impact on the judging, which is done anonymously. By checking the opt-in box on the personal information page and agreeing to the request, you will grant Audubon broader, additional rights beyond those stipulated in the Official Rules. (Under the Official Rules, when you enter the Photography Awards, you grant Audubon the right to use your images in ways related to the Photography Awards.) By clicking the opt-in box, you grant Audubon the right to use, and to allow others to use, your images in support of the organization's mission, for example, in postal or email campaigns for fundraising or for raising awareness, including via social media. Your permission will help Audubon redirect valuable dollars that would otherwise be spent on acquiring photographic rights into other activities that support its mission. Regardless of your choice, you will remain the owner of your images. 

19. What if I have trouble with my digital submissions?

If you are having trouble uploading your photos, first make sure they meet the photograph entry requirements (see question No. 1). Then check that bulleted entry information (for example, entry category) has been ticked. Finally, try using a different browser, such as Google Chrome (this often does the trick.) And if that still doesn’t work, please take a screenshot of the error message and send it to us so that we can better troubleshoot:

20. How much can I manipulate my photos?

Photos may not be digitally altered beyond standard optimization. Normal processing of original file is acceptable, including:

  • cropping, but it is strongly recommended that you not crop more than 50 percent of the original image

  • minor adjustments to color, white balance, tone, lighting levels and curves, shadows and highlights, saturation, contrast, sharpness

  • moderate dodging and burning

  • removal of dust spots and reduction of image noise

Photographs that have been digitally or otherwise altered beyond standard optimization will be disqualified. That includes:

  • HDR frame stacking

  • stitched panoramics

  • images that have been manipulated by the addition, removal, or alteration (painting over, cloning, or blurring) of anything in the original subject and scene that were photographed

  • borders, signatures or watermarks

  • changes in color so significant that the processed colors are widely different from the original colors

  • changes in density, contrast, color and/or saturation levels and dodging and burning that significantly alter content by obscuring or eliminating information in the picture

Please be prepared to submit your RAW or original file if requested by the judges. 

21. Does it matter when or where my photographs were taken?

Photos taken at any time are eligible for the 2020 Photography Awards. There are no geographic restrictions beyond a prohibition on game farms, where photographers can photograph captive animals in what appear to be wild and natural settings. Audubon does not publish photographs taken at game farms. Photos taken at zoos, animal-rehabilitation centers, or nature centers are fine as long as you disclose that information in the submission process in the box called Location of Shot. You can read more about the ethics of photographing at zoos and other facilities and truth in captioning here.

22. Who will judge the contest?

There will be six judges: Sabine Meyer, photography director for Audubon; Steve Freligh, publisher of Nature’s Best Photography; Melissa Groo, wildlife photographer and 2015 Grand Prize winner; Allen Murabayashi, chairman and cofounder of PhotoShelter; John Rowden, director of community conservation for Audubon; and Jason Ward, bird expert and host of “Birds of North America”.

23. How will the entries be judged?

Entries will be judged on the basis of technical quality (30 percent), originality (30 percent), and artistic merit (40 percent). The judges will not know the name or professional affiliation of entrants until the judging is completed and the high-resolution photos are requested.

24. What are the judges looking for in a photo?

  • The photo should be either tack sharp or intentionally out of focus (slow the shutter speed to show motion, etc).

  • Proper exposure and good lighting are critical. It doesn’t matter how wonderful the behavior or activity in the photo—if the lighting is poor, we will eliminate the picture.

  • Take time to compose the image. The bird (or birds) doesn’t have to be in the center of the frame. The off-center subject creates more dramatic tension. Also be aware of other elements in the photo, especially the background.

  • Send us something we haven’t seen before. Look for the unusual, the whimsical, the dramatic. Surprise us! We have seen thousands and thousands of bird photos, so show us something new.

25. What if there’s a tie?

The photograph’s artistic merit, judged on a scale of 1 to 10, will be used as a tiebreaker.

26. How many winners will there be?

There will be a total of six (6) winners: one (1) Grand Prize winner, one (1) winner in the Professional division, one (1) winner in the Amateur division, one (1) winner in the Youth division, one (1) winner in the Plants for Birds division, and one (1) Fisher Prize winner.

27. When will the winners be determined? When will they be notified?

The awards winners will be determined and notified on or about May 21, 2020. Winners will be publicly announced in a 2020 issue of Audubon magazine and simultaneously on Audubon's website ( They will also be published in a 2020 issue of Nature’s Best Photography.

28. Who is eligible to enter the 2020 Awards?

All residents of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Canada (except Quebec) are eligible to enter.

29. Are there age restrictions?

Entrants must be at least 13 years old as of the date of the entry’s submission.

30. Why are there residential restrictions on who can enter the contest?

Audubon does not have the capacity to comply with the contest laws outside of the stipulated eligible locations, for example those in Quebec.

31. Are there other restrictions?

Employees of the National Audubon Society, its officers, directors of its national, state, and center boards, judges, and their immediate families, or those living in the same household, and employees of Nature’s Best Photography, its officers, directors, parents, affiliates, and advertising agencies associated with the Audubon Photography Awards, and their immediate families or those living in the same household, are not eligible to participate. Volunteer Audubon chapter leaders are eligible.

32. Can I submit a photo I submitted in another photo contest?


33. Can I submit a photo that’s been published in a magazine or book?

Yes, as long as it was not published in Audubon magazine or on any portion of Audubon’s website. Any photo previously published in Audubon or on the Audubon website (except photos published by you on Audubon’s social media platforms) is not eligible for the 2020 Awards.

34. If I withdraw from the awards, can I get a refund?

No, once you have officially entered your information and we have accepted your payment, we cannot offer you a refund.

35. What if I’ve read the Official Rules and I still have questions?

For questions, send an email to

No purchase necessary. Contest begins at 12pm (noon) EST on 01/13/20 and ends at 12pm (noon) EDT on 04/06/20. Must be at least 13 years of age and a legal resident of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Canada (excluding Quebec) to enter. Entrants under the age of majority must get permission from their parent or legal guardian to enter the Contest. See Official Rules for complete details and how to enter without paying the entry fee. Void where prohibited.

Stay abreast of Audubon

Our email newsletter shares the latest programs and initiatives.