There are lots of great photography competitions to enter but Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY) is one of the biggest and most prestigious. It’s a long running and eclectic contest, with categories to suit landscape and portrait photographers as well as purist travel shooters.

Tim Bird, a British photographer now based in Finland, has been entering the competition for some time, but has done particularly well in the latest judging, being named a runner-up in the popular and fiercely competitive Landscape & Environment category.

As Tim explains, his shots from Obama Onsen in Kyushu, Japan, were taken on the hoof, and show that you don’t always need to carefully plan out images before entering them into competitions – go with your gut, as it’s always worth a try!

Travel photographer of the year Tim Bird

How Tim got to the finals of Travel Photographer of the Year

Obviously perseverance paid off – how many times have you entered TPOTY?
‘Travel Photographer of the Year has been going 21 years and I think I’ve entered at least 19 of those! I’ve had one previous single image runner-up and several commendeds and special mentions but this is the first time an entire portfolio has come out almost on top, which is very gratifying, especially when you think how many entries there are and the high quality of entries.’

Tim Bird Travel Photographer of the Year portfolio 1

What is the appeal of this competition?
‘I don’t enter many competitions but always make a special effort for TPOTY. I find the process of choosing the entries is very useful, the exercise of being really self-critical and comparing my entries with those by other entrants that have succeeded previously. TPOTY is the gold standard for travel photography I think. And I’ve made a lot of friends and contacts by attending its events over the year.’

We understand your winning portfolio was pretty spontaneous – please tell us more
‘Yes, there was no research, no planning for my runner-up portfolio! I was on an assignment for the Finnair inflight magazine Blue Wings in that part of Japan and I had no idea I would come across this scene – the magical combination of the classical Japanese gardens, the snow flurries and the mist from the hot springs.’

Tim Bird Travel Photographer of the Year portfolio 2

I had to be quick to get the shots because it seemed like a transient scene – and so it turned out.

How do you edit your images?
‘I quite enjoy editing RAW files in Lightroom Classic – it really is like a digital darkroom, but I try to get the best put of what’s in the shot rather than overdo it and end up with an over-exaggerated version of what I set out to capture. In the case of these four images, the editing was very light. Usually I slide down on highlights and maybe add some clarity – depends a lot on the shot, but nothing too elaborate.’

Tim Bird Travel Photographer of the Year portfolio 3

What tips do you have for readers intending to enter Travel Photographer of the Year?
‘Always read the rules and the advice for the competition. TPOTY’s are especially helpful. A portfolio needs to hang together as a complementary set, but each shot needs to be of equal quality. Spend time on choosing your entries and don’t be in too much of a hurry – what seems like a great shot today might not after a week or two!’

For more of Tim’s work, see Instagram @tim_bird_photo, and

Further reading
Win with your travel photos
Amazing images win through in Travel Photographer of the Year
Best photo-editing software in 2024