2021 Photo Contest

The 2021 Sierra Club Photo Section Contest runs from Saturday, October 16 to Saturday, November 20 at 11:59 PM. See below for categories, rules, and the submission process.

Information For Participants

  • Submit your very best photos. Photos do not have to be new. Go deep into your archives and pull out the gems!
  • Consider the category you submit to carefully, and whether your photos really fit into it.
  • Each category will feature ribbon winners in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place.
  • The judge can also select additional images for Honorable Mentions.
  • Category winners will be part of the feature program and announced at the December Meeting.

I. Contest Rules

  1. Only current, dues-paid 2021 SCPS members may submit.
  2. Members are allowed to make three (3) individual image submissions per category. Make a careful selection; it is FINAL. Only the first 3 images submitted per category are accepted (the submission day & time counts).
  3. Later substitutions are not allowed and any submitted images beyond 3 will be deleted, no matter the quality.
  4. Submitted images must meet the requirements described below.
  5. Images in past SCPS contests that were not winners or honorable mentions are permitted; we encourage you to submit re-imagined or reprocessed images as your skills have improved.
  6. Submissions are to be sent via the Dropbox submission links for each category. Submission by any other method will not be considered.
  7. Do not watermark your images
  8. Do not add digital “framing”, mattes, stroke-borders etc.

II. Submission Requirements

A) File size, format, color space

  • Minimum resolution for submissions is 3000 pixels on the long side: larger images show better quality and will be better judged (while our contest is digital-only, this size would allow you to produce a 10″ print at 300 ppi)
  • JPEG files only:  suggested quality ~85% for efficient transmission
  • sRGB color space only: no AdobeRGB, ProPhoto, etc.

B) File names

  • DO NOT include your name, initials etc. in the filename!!! (Dropbox will add it for you when you submit.)
    It’s A LOT OF WORK to remove them manually!*
  • If your photo has a title, use it as the filename; it will be visible to the judge.
    • Example: “Sunrise at Hospital Point.jpg”
    • Example: “Milky Way over Bodie Ghost Town.jpg”
  • If your photo has NO title, use the category, and number the files.

    • Example: “Landscape 01.jpg”, “Landscape 02.jpg”, etc.
    • Example: “People 01.jpg”, “People 02.jpg”, etc.

Behind The Scenes


  • Your submissions will be fully anonymized (EXIF/IPTC data and filenames will be cleaned before images are sent to the judges)
  • Judges will get access to private high-resolution online image galleries via Dropbox
  • We’re tracking your photographs internally and will re-associate them with contestants after judging has finished
  • Honorable mentions and ribbon winners will be revealed at the Holiday Party and will be placed in winners galleries in low-resolution on the photo club website after the Holiday party.
  • Requests to delete images after judging is completed will be honored. Contact us if you wish for your winning image to not be featured.
  • If you wish to replace your winning image on the gallery with a watermarked version, you will need to contact us as well.

Judging Criteria

Once more, a number of well-respected photographers from the photographic community are volunteering as our judges this year. The judges have been instructed to evaluate submissions based on the following criteria:

  • Composition: No matter the type of photograph you are making, it needs to have a strong composition. Edward Weston said: “To me, composition is the clearest and strongest way of seeing a subject.” — this is the most important aspect of a photograph.
  • Faithfulness to the category: Each category demands different ideas, skills, and fundamentally, a finished image that represents it. When submitting your images, think about how they relate to the category.
  • Level of skill and technique: A powerful image that shows skill in its craft will stand out:
    • Refer to our guide “Technical Considerations” on image quality
    • Photos should withstand critical inspection at 100% magnification
    • Think about proper focus, depth of field, sharpness, noise
  • Careful processing: Today’s photographer has more tools and techniques easily available than any time in history. While our editing programs and tools help us turn a flat raw file into a powerful image, when taken too far, they also can produce noisy, garish, or uneven results. Be judicious in your editing and processing. Ask yourself, is this scene recognizable to your eye, or is the method of editing calling attention to itself? Seek a result that is edited but natural.
  • Your image should stand out and be unique. For most of this decade, there were more photographs made in a single year than had been made in the entire history of humankind before it. Many of your fellow photo club members are making photographs similar to yours. Select images that stand out in the crowd and it just might catch the eye of the judge.

Last not least… have fun! This contest is a value-add for our members, a chance to have a low-key way to compete in a photo contest. Enjoy your images as you submit, and congratulate your fellow club members when they place or receive honorable mentions.

If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


New in 2021: there is no separate “catch all” black & white category. Black & white images go into the regular categories now (this was already an option in previous years that led to winning black & white images).

To get an idea of which images go best into which category, and what kind of image is recognized, please look at past winning images from our previous contests: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017.

Architecture, Structure, Manmade (Color/Black & White)

  • Images of buildings, structures, and other man made subjects; can include abstracts as well
  • Think of “cityscapes”, “urban landscapes”, “the built environment”
  • Judge: Andrew Szikla


Birds (Color/Black & White)

  • Portraits of birds: in flight, at rest, as well as birds in the landscape or a natural settings
  • Both birds in the wild and birds in captivity (zoos, aviaries, etc.) are permitted
  • Judge: Sandra Zelasko


Landscape (Color/Black & White)

  • Landscapes, open spaces, scenics, vistas, natural outdoor elements
  • if a body of water plays a MAJOR role in the image, consider the Waterscapes category instead!
  • Judge: Gary Crabbe


Macro & Close-Up (Color/Black & White)

  • Photographs taken near 1:1 or greater than 1:1 magnifications, as well as close-ups (details of flowers, plants, insects, etc.)
  • Judge: Todd Henson


Night & Astro (Color/Black & White)

  • Any photograph made at night, such as:
    • Night sky and astro photography
    • Others photographs clearly made under dark conditions
  • Judge: Stephen Bay


People (Color/Black & White)

  • This category combines several photo subjects:
    • Travel photographs with people as the primary subject
    • Street photographs with people as the primary subject
    • Traditional studio or environmental portraiture.
  • Judge: Andrew Szikla


Waterscapes (Color/Black & White)

  • Outdoor images where oceans, lakes, rivers, and other water-based elements are the primary element of the photograph.
  • Judge: Gary Crabbe


Wildlife-Captive (Color/Black & White)

  • Photos of wild animals in captivity or captive environments. If you went to the zoo or have other images from the San Diego Safari Park, this is the best category. Do not submit bird photos. Use the “Birds” category instead.
  • Judge: Sandra Zelasko


Wildlife-Non-Captive (Color/Black & White)

  • Photos of wild animals in natural environments. You are on your honor that submissions are non-captive, and the judge reserves the right to request additional verification or disqualify images that are not obviously non-captive. Do not submit bird photos. Use the “Birds” category instead.
  • Judge: Sandra Zelasko


Wild (Color/Black & White)

  • This is an open category. Do you have images that are unique or not a natural fit in other categories? Submit them here. There are no limits and nothing restraining you from submitting “different” images here. Have fun and find something that stands out!
  • Judge: Alexander S. Kunz


*) if you have your name or initials in the filename, a fee of one burrito, payable directly to the club’s president, will be due and in addition, you will also be held responsible for any resulting weight gain.