Selecting your images

Top Tips Index

  1. What the judges look for
  2. Image quality
  3. Impact & presentation
  4. Themes & category briefs
  5. Image choice
  6. Right image, wrong category
  7. Selecting favourite not best image
  8. An inconsistent portfolio
  9. Underestimating The Judges

1. What the judges look for

The TPOTY judging panel gathers expertise from many different areas of the travel industry and photography. There are photographers, but also picture editors, picture buyers, photojournalists, digital imaging experts, printers, retouchers and lecturers in photography, but also a lay judge will assess images purely on their WOW factor. Each judge has his or her own approach and all look for slightly different things but this diversity of talents gives a balance to the judging process. They all, though, have two things in common; a love of photography and an eye for a great image.

The quality and impartiality of a judging panel defines any photography award or competition. At TPOTY all our judges are strictly unbiased and highly respected in their fields. We do not have any sponsors or other parties with vested interests on the judging panel, only people who love photography and give their time expertise because they do.

On the judging pages you can learn about the individual judges and their approach to images. All of them, however, look for the qualities listed below (in no particular order of importance):

  • Sharp focus and focal point
  • Use of light
  • Viewpoint
  • Accurate exposure, with good balance between shadow and highlight detail
  • Strong composition
  • Creativity
  • Consistency across a portfolio
  • Originality
  • Good colour balance and tonal range
  • Use of colour
  • Use of tone
  • Use of depth of field and shutter speed
  • Use of shape and form
  • Themes linking the images
  • Subtlety
  • Thoughtful picture selection and, for portfolios, images which fit together
  • Impact
  • Following the brief
  • Dynamism or movement
  • Interpretation of the category theme
  • Atmosphere
  • Engagement
  • An interesting subject
  • Compliance with the rules
  • Capturing the moment
  • That WOW factor

Editing and selecting the right images for each category is challenging but also crucial for winning a prize. Advice in this section of the website will help you to choose your images. Think about your selection carefully and if in doubt, ask someone else’s opinion.

2. Image quality

Pay attention to the technical attributes of your images. To compete for a prize they MUST be:

  • Accurately focused
  • Well exposed (with good shadow and highlight details where required)
  • Properly colour balanced for the desired effect

It doesn’t matter how good an image is, if it isn’t focused accurately it won’t win, unless it conveys a powerful mood or emotion without the need for pin-sharp focus.

There’s a difference between ‘out of focus’ and intentional blur caused by a combination of movement and a slow shutter speed. See Michael Matlach’s winning portfolio from 2003. When viewed as a large print/ high res image there is no doubt of their technical excellence.

Is your original transparency, negative or digital file sharp? Yes? Then don’t waste time and money – make sure your prints are equally sharp. High quality printing is readily available from photo labs or your own desktop, so there is no reason to submit poorly printed images!


Unless you are trying to achieve a special effect, exposure should be well balanced with good detail in both shadow and highlight areas. It is easy to spot badly exposed images and the judges will be looking for this.

Colour Balance

With good film or digital cameras, and readily available filters, there is no excuse for submitting badly colour balanced images. If you use a photo lab to produce your prints then they should automatically colour balance your image for neutral blacks and whites. Be aware when colour-correcting printed images. Unless properly calibrated, monitors and many inkjet printers produce a colour cast, usually magenta or cyan.

3. Impact & presentation

Composition is a vital element of photography and can make or break an image. Good composition is all about creating impact. It requires attention to detail. Sometimes the tiniest amount of reframing or cropping can make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary images but be careful not to overdue it.


The rule of thirds exists for good reason but it’s a guide not a hard and fast rule. In many cases the strongest composition can be achieved by following it, but knowing when and how to break it can be the difference between a good and a great photograph.


This is effectively a second chance to strengthen the composition of your images. Not every photograph can be taken with the strongest composition. Crop your images carefully where the best composition has not been achieved in camera, or simply isn’t the same shape as the full frame image. Good composition and careful cropping are vital tools in achieving maximum impact from an image.


A well printed, well colour balanced and well-presented image will create a greater impact than a dog-eared one. If images are printed properly, there is no need to mount them. Mounted or oversized prints are not permitted and will be penalised in the judging.

You can submit a print up to A4 size (approximately 21cm x 30cm). This will display your work better than a small postcard sized machine print.

The judges are assessing your images not your presentation, but a little care can make the difference between two closely matched portfolios or images.

4. Themes & category briefs

Many amateur photographers feel that they can’t compete with the professionals but this is quite simply wrong. TPOTY has been won by both amateurs and professionals. Many of the images on this website were shot by amateur photographers. Can you tell the difference?

Category Themes

Each category in the competition has a theme designed to cover different aspects of travel photography – from landscapes to people, from luxury to adventure, and so on. These categories change each year. Clues to what the judges are looking for are all in the category descriptions, so follow them closely. Make sure your selected images fit the category themes/briefs.

Follow the brief

If there’s one difference between the amateur and professional entries, it’s that the pros tend to be better at selecting the images for their portfolios.

If you can, shoot images specifically to fit the brief.

It is often useful to follow a theme within a theme. For example, look at Martin Breschinski’s 2003 runner-up Spirit of Adventure portfolio in the Previous Winners’ section. Martin used the theme of ‘an adventure on a bike’ to interpret the theme ‘Spirit of Adventure’. As a result he scored very highly on his portfolio marks. It also proved that you don’t have to travel to the ends of the earth or some expensive destination to get great travel shots.

When you choose your images also remember that this is TRAVEL Photographer of the Year not Wildlife Photographer of the Year or Portrait Photographer of the Year etc. so make sure they relate to the travel experience.

5. Image choice

Be creative with your image selection. Choose different and original images that stand out. If you plan to submit an image or a portfolio of Buddhist monks, Maasai warriors or Peruvian women in a market then they’ll need to be photographed very well and creatively to catch the judges’ eye. Hundreds of each have been submitted in the past ten years and few stood out. We also see a dozen or more pictures of the same cigar smoking Cuban woman every year. She must be earning a good living from modelling!

Portraits are another good example. We see lots of sombre, expressionless portraits. Some are very powerful, but most would be much more interesting had the photographers engaged with their subjects or their cultures.

Best, not favourite

Take time to really assess your images when you’re compiling your entry. Choose your best image(s), not simply your favourite image(s), because favourite photographs can often carry personal memories so you associate these with your image. For example, they may have been taken just before the most glorious sunset, or when your partner said they loved you. That’s fantastic, but those memories are unlikely to be visible in your photograph and the judges don’t have the benefit of these experiences – smells, sounds, emotions – when they assess your entry

A good tip: If you’re not sure about a particular image, ask someone else’s opinion. It could make the difference between winning and not getting on the shortlist.

Useful Tips

Every year there are many great images entered but they don’t all win. There are several reasons for this:

6. Right image, wrong category

The category themes are important when selecting images to enter. These are criteria which judges use to choose winning entries. You may have some great images but don’t be tempted to enter them simply because they’re great images if they don’t fit the category theme.

7. Selecting favourite not best image

Photographers are often poor at editing and selecting their own images, primarily because we tend to associate our own experiences with our images, giving them an added dimension which is not evident to the casual view or the judges. It can be a mistake to choose your favourite images for this reason. Ask someone else’s opinion as to whether your favourites are also your best images.

8. An inconsistent portfolio

A portfolio is a set of images which fit together to tell a story in pictures. We often see entries that have three really strong images plus a weaker one added to make up the numbers. All the images should be of consistent quality, telling a different part of the same story. Portfolio presentation is important. An ideal portfolio will have four images in the same format and orientation. Mixing image orientations can still work if you have two landscape and two portrait format images. Be careful mixing black & white images with colour. If you do this then make sure it is clear why you’ve done so. Does your portfolio still fit together visually?

9. Underestimating the judges

Finally, it’s a mistake to underestimate the judges. They are all highly respected in their professions, highly visually literate and see many, many images both in their daily work and during the course of the judging. They know images and they know great photography!

Our sponsors and partners

It would not be possible to run Travel Photographer of the Year without the support of our sponsors and partners, and we are hugely grateful for their involvement each year. Click the logo to learn more about each of Travel Photographer of the Year’s sponsor and partners.