Travel photography is always a popular genre, as it encompasses so many different skills from landscape, street, wildlife, documentary and portraiture

A lot of photographers will be thinking about brushing up their travel photography skills as we come into spring, and a great way of motivating yourself – or seeing just how good your images are – is to enter a travel photography competition.

Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY) is the biggest and most prestigious, with the last competition attracting over 20,000 entries from all over the world.

How to win travel competitions
TPOTY founder Chris Coe

Chris Coe, the co-founder of Travel Photographer of the Year, was another top speaker at the recent Xposure International Festival of Photography in Sharjah, UAE, so we caught up with him for a chat to get some background to the competition, and his tips for doing well in the 2024 contest.

So what is different about the Travel Photographer of the Year categories for 2024?
The categories have changed a bit recently, with one on the natural world and one on conceptual, but because we are coming up to 21 years of the competition, we are also introducing a few other changes. We haven’t quite decided what they are yet, though.

Rhino and keeper from the portfolio the last two 33-year-old Najin – one of the world’s last two remaining northern white rhinos Photo: Matjaz Krivic, Travel Photographer of the Year 2022 winner.
Photo: Matjaz Krivic, Travel Photographer of the Year 2022 winner.

You get a lot of entries, are most of your submissions still from western Europe and the states?
No, entries are now spread right across the world. Every year we get new countries entering – the tally is now 156 countries.

The elephant in the room in the photographic industry at the moment is the impact of AI, and worries about ‘fake’ images. What is your policy on AI-generated images?
Yes, things have changed a lot with AI in the last year. We don’t accept AI generated images. As things become clearer with regards to AI, the distinction we make now is that if an entry is AI generated, it’s not photography, it’s an illustration.

Ours is a photography award at the end of the day, it’s not about illustration. So, it’s not about how good you are with the computer, it’s about how good you are with the camera.

TPOTY Matjaz Krivic
Credit: Matjaž Krivic/Travel Photographer of the Year

But a certain allowed of image editing is allowed right?
Yes, the way we define it on the website is that we allow what you could have done to a picture in the darkroom, whether it be a film darkroom or using photo-editing software. We are reasonably strict, but not extreme about it.

In the past we used to see the same old images being entered into travel photography competitions, for example, Buddhist monks in Asia or the old lady in Cuba with the cigar. Has this changed much?
Yes, its changed a lot in recent years. So certainly in the earlier days, we were getting a lot of those kind of images, reflecting how we organised the competition.

Nowadays, we’re getting images from all around the world, so we’re getting different people’s interests as they travel around. So the pool of images we are getting in is now much more diverse, and it’s much harder to spot trends.

Portfolio Paul Sansome 1
Credit: Paul Sansome/Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY)

Some of this relates to how the travel industry is changing, and the kind of places they are advertising. In terms of the topics, we deliberately try to make it as diverse as possible. We did this deliberately so we don’t see the same tranche of images being entered.

Is there a specific smartphone category?
We dropped the smartphone category in 2023. When we first introduced it, it was a different type of photographic medium and the images were different, and generally of a lower quality.

The quality of smartphone images is now getting closer to those from cameras, so we decided to stop making the distinction and see how that works.

There are still differences between smartphone and camera images, particularly when you start to print the images, but generally, there hasn’t been enough of a difference to justify a distinct smartphone category.

Travel Photographer of the Year, John Seager
Credit: Travel Photographer of the Year, John Seager

In terms of landscape and scenic pictures, are drone users at an advantage, as they can shoot from so many different heights and angles?
I don’t think so. We thought about whether we should have a separate drone category and we did have a category that specifically allowed drone pictures last year.

Drones are getting a lot easier to use, though there is still a lot of skill involved in using them, but an image taken from the ground, from lower down, stands as much chance of getting through as one taken from the air.

In previous interviews, we’ve discussed how a lot of entries don’t get through because people enter them into the wrong categories or don’t read the rules. Are you still finding this?
Some, but not too many these days though. One of the things I’ve noticed recently is that there is a tendency to over-process images, for example artificially boosting the saturation, and I would like to see entrants not do things to pictures just because they can.

The editing needs to suit the style they are trying to show. A lot of images don’t need a lot of processing anyway.

Travel Photographer of the Year
TPOTY 2022 Category Winner, Lorensz Berna

I have also noticed a lot of photographers are not very good with exposure, and rely on software to fix under or over-exposed images, for instance, which can create its own problems. So it comes back to how you take the picture in the first place. Get it right optically to begin with, and you save yourself a lot of potential hassle.

When will you start accepting entries for this year’s competition?
We will open early May and go through until early October. See here for full entry details as they are announced, and best of luck!

Further reading
Stunning lyrical landscapes take home top travel photo prize!
The best photography competitions to enter in 2024
The best photo-editing software in 2024