When I first became a professional photographer, photography contests were mostly there for pros. After all, back then there was no such thing as digital photography. If you wanted to be a serious photographer, you needed to learn to develop your own pictures. It was a specialized skill which took a lot of equipment, time, and money. This meant that photography competitions were only for the best of the best – those who have made a life of taking photographs. You can actually see some of my entries on my website at jotolio.com
Nowadays, the field has broadened inconsiderably. They are photography contests for children, for members of various interest groups, for amateurs, for professionals, and for experimental photographers. Some of the photography contests involve photographic arts, while others have a more documentary focused. Matter what kind of photography you enjoy doing, there is probably someone sponsoring a contest in it.
One of the big keys to photography contests is to figure out what you like to do and what you have a chance at. A lot of cities have local photo competitions which are a pretty easy way to get a little bit of recognition. You can photograph local monuments, people of note from your community, or even cityscapes. The key is to make them recognizable, attractive, and give them popular appeal. If you can do all these things, you can win.
Nowadays, nature photography contests are also a very popular occupation for a lot of people. Some of these focus on getting spectacular landscape pictures, while others focus on capturing specific birds or animals. These can be a lot of fun for nature lovers who like to take pictures while taking hikes in the woods. Who knows – the photo you snap of that rare bird might win you a few hundred bucks!
My very favorite are the digital photography contests. Those are the ones that I am most apt to enter, because they emphasize my interests. I use a lot of novel photography techniques. I mess around with exposures, shutter speed, color composition, and other factors. Then I process the heck out of my pictures. Some of them are less photographs than collages by the time I'm done with them. This is just the kind of cutting edge, multimedia work that digital photography fans tend to like, so I often do very well. It all depends on the taste of the judges, of course, but you can usually you can get pretty good view of this by looking at past winners.