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Photo Contest Review: Yellowstone Forever… Should You Enter?

Earlier this year, the folks at the Yellowstone Park Foundation announced they were teaming up with Nature’s Best Photography Magazine to hold the “Yellowstone Forever” Photo Contest.  From the contest website: “This competition will document and celebrate the world’s first national park through the art of photography and public participation.”

Should you enter the Yellowstone Forever contest?Photo competitions come in all shapes and sizes, from your local fair to large international contests that attract the best photographers around the globe.  What most folks don’t realize, while they’re busy eyeing the prizes and cash rewards involved, is that some of these contests are simply a veiled attempt to obtain image usage rights and expand a publication’s or organization’s stock library for free.  Without realizing it, you may be giving away the rights to your photos that not only grant free usage to the organization holding the contest, but also prevent you from licensing your images to other organizations in the future.  So it’s always important to read the competition rules when considering any photo contest.

With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at the Yellowstone Forever competition and see whether it’s a fair contest or just another call for free photos.

First, a disclaimer: I have been making donations to the Yellowstone Park Foundation for over a decade now.  However, that had little effect on my opinions about the competition.  In fact, I was skeptical at first, even though both the YPF and Nature’s Best are respected organizations.  Nature’s Best runs what is generally considered the second-most-prestigious photo contest in the world, the annual Windland Smith Rice contest (whose winning entries are displayed in the Smithsonian).  It’s a competition I entered a few times years ago, and may enter again at some point.

So the pedigree of the Yellowstone Forever contest is a good one.  But there was still a question of whether this new competition presented sound rules and restrictions, and is something that any photographer could safely enter without any major concerns.  I started by looking at the basic contest setup:


Categories & Entry Levels

Yellowstone Forever has four main categories: Wildlife, Landscape, Yellowstone Adventure (“People enjoying nature. Adventurers, hikers, backpackers, campers and other outdoor activities like horseback riding, river rafting, climbing, and even other photographers in action.”) and Mobile.  These are all pretty straight-forward.  I’d have no chance in the Mobile category even if I entered, because I’m terrible with the cell phone.

This contest is truly open to all park visitors, as there are separate entry levels for Professional (made more than $5000 from photography last year), Amateur (less than $5000) and Youth.  So everyone has a fighting chance.  The entry fee for Pro or Amateur is $25, for Youth it’s $15.  Mobile is free.  Each entry fee covers up to 20 images.


General Rules

The entry deadline has been extended to October 28th, in part because the winning images are to be featured with the Windland Smith Rice honorees in the Smithsonian!  Photos must be taken within the boundaries of the park, obviously, and there’s no time limit as to when the photos were taken.  All pretty straight-forward stuff.  But what about…


The Fine Print

Here’s the really important stuff, the part that usually helps me decide whether to enter a contest or not.  You should be sure to read the full contest guideline document (particularly Page 4).  Here’s the most important section regarding usage rights:

By entering the Contest, you hereby grant to each Party a nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to publically display, reproduce,
distribute, modify, transmit, and sublicense the photographs submitted for the Contest in any manner related to the Contest, including
all associated reproduction, distribution, derivative works and commercial and non-commercial use in all media including, but not limited
to: YPF websites, social media channels, blogs, presentations, brochures, newsletters, articles, calendars, and other printed or digital
publications; Nature’s Best Photography publications and all Nature’s Best websites and blogs, print and digital presentations,
brochures, newsletters, articles, calendars, and published works related to the Contest; solicitations by YPF and Nature’s Best for the
Contest; promotions and ongoing communications in connection with the Contest; and physical and digital galleries and exhibitions
of all submissions for, and winners of, the Contest, including, but not limited to; exhibitions of Contest submissions and/or winners
displayed at museums and galleries, government centers, conferences, trade shows, and Contest sponsor offices. This license shall
remain in place for a term of 2-years (2017) without further compensation, notification, or permission, unless prohibited by law.

So your images could be used to help promote the contest by either YPF or Nature’s Best, for a period up to two years.  Which is okay in my book.  But I wanted to be sure that I was interpreting this correctly (and that they couldn’t go ahead and use the images for other foundation or magazine-related marketing).  So I contacted the Yellowstone Park Foundation for clarification.

Matt Ludin, YPF’s social media manager, responded quickly.  He stated that the Foundation would contact photographers prior to use in most cases even if the usage was related to contest promotion (as described in the terms), but that they would certainly contact photographers to discuss non-contest usage.  If, for example, YPF loves the bison image you submitted to the contest and wants to use it in their newsletter, they’ll get in touch to discuss usage rights.  Which is pretty much in line with the way many other large, legitimate contests work.  I’ve submitted images to contests that didn’t win anything, but a couple years later prompted a phone call and a paid licensing agreement.  So there are other potential benefits to entering these competitions aside from the listed prizes.

So should you enter?  By all, means, I think it’s “safe” to do so.  The segregation of images into professional, amateur and youth categories gives more photography enthusiasts a chance to win, and the entry fees are within standard range.  I’m not sure yet if I will enter the contest–time constraints have prevented me from entering any of the major competitions in recent years–but I would certainly encourage other Yellowstone visitors to do so.

Learn more and enter the Yellowstone Forever photo competition here.


  1. Michael Lauer March 12, 2016 Reply

    Hello Max,
    as I could see, you have entered the contest and made it to a real bunch of Honorable Mentions!


    • Author
      Max March 12, 2016 Reply

      Thanks Michael. We’ll see if they get published anywhere. I’d hate to see so many Honorable Mentions from friends and former clients (and my wife!) go unseen.

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