Rules on Adjustments Natural Landscape Photography Awards

Rules and Permitted Digital Adjustments

On this page you can find our rules and other info related to digital adjustments. These rules are set up so that the images entered into this competition represent real places and moments in time. However, they are not perfect and the judges will be able to use their discretion. Submission requirements and Terms and Conditions are found on their relevant pages.

This competition aims to present the best of the natural landscape captured on film or digitally. Digital adjustments are allowed with the understanding that:

“The integrity of the subject should be maintained.”

t h e   g o l d e n   r u l e

This is our Golden Rule which you should always refer back to if you are unsure on any particular process. Another way to look at this would be to say that: A viewer familiar with the landscape and photographic process should not feel deceived if they were shown the original scene and raw file.

Most of the post-processing techniques photographers employ are permitted, including stitching and stacking; however,  the final decision on what is accepted for competition will rest with the judges.

We appreciate that this Golden Rule may be hard to interpret so to provide further clarity, below are a number of reasons why images may be rejected along with some examples of these techniques.

1.  Introducing new elements or “compositing” either from photographic sources or digital painting. For example, adding in skies, foregrounds, birds, mist, sun, moon, rainbows, sunrays, lighting effects, etc. to the original image. The most common type of disqualification in previous years of the competition was the use of dodging and color effects to paint in light that did not exist in a scene.

2.  Removing significant elements from the original scene. For example, cloning out a tree or electricity pylons. However, removing small and transient elements is allowed – for example a leaf, a small branch or a distant car. This should be done judiciously and with caution. Judges will penalize entries that rely heavily on removing objects to perfect a composition, and winning portfolios have been disqualified for heavy use of object removal. It is better to find other ways to de-emphasize these flaws in a photograph, or simply celebrate the chaotic properties nature offers. Entrants may also remove dust spots and flares.

3. Distorting existing elements. For example, stretching mountains to make them appear more dramatic. However, correcting lens distortions, perspective control (e.g. a digital version of tilt-shift lens) or performing distortions necessary for panorama creation are allowed. Very minor warping to correct lens distortion or to improve composition is allowed; however, it is ill-advised and will likely result in your photograph being penalized at later stages of judging.

4. Combining images taken at different focal lengths to create ‘best of both worlds” images. For example, shooting at foreground at 14mm and a mountain backdrop at 50mm and combining the two. Tip: you can acheive a similar effect using good field craft by stepping back and using a longer focal length.

5. Combining images taken at significantly different times. For example, shooting a foreground just before the sunset and combining it with clouds lit red after sunset or astro elements taken during the night. However, exposure bracketing is allowed.

6. Combining the best parts of an image sequence to create a ‘perfect moment’. For example combining 10 different images of waves breaking on the same scene to create one image where the waves are breaking everywhere simultaneously. Other examples of what would be disqualified exist, such as:
a. Combining several sequences of a waterfall to blend in the perfect texture and light at various shutter speeds or moments;
b. Combining various sequences of blowing sand on a cluster of sand dunes to maximize visual impact;
c. Combining a foreground lit by the setting sun at 6:00 PM with a sunstar of the setting sun at 6:15 PM with the clouds lit up by the already set sun at 6:45 PM. Any combination of these additive perfections are not accepted.

7. In-camera multiple exposure capture and digital multiple exposures that mimic that feature. A multiple exposure is a photo that is created by exposing the same frame of film (or digital sensor) two or more times. This technique allows the photographer to superimpose one image over another. While this technique is creative and evocative, it does not fit into the ethos of our competition and allowing entries created using this technique would open up a “Pandora’s box” for judging. NOTE: this is not a reference to the blending of multiple exposures (exposure bracketing), which IS allowed. 

Permitted Digital Adjustments and Exceptions

It is expected that common digital adjustments will be made by the photographer such as changes to: White Balance, Exposure, Color and Contrast as well as dust spot and flare corrections. These changes can be made across the whole image and/or  locally (such as dodging and burning) . Some of these changes may be significant as long as the ‘golden rule’ is met – “The integrity of the subject should be maintained”. We noticed that generally-speaking entrants were overly conservative in their interpretations of our rules in year one and we encourage entrants to reach out with questions if they are unsure.

Black and white conversions are allowed.

Heavy contrast and dodging and burning may be used as long as these techniques are not used to effectively ‘clone out’ image content by simply darkening it to black or brightening it to white, or to add light to a part of a scene where light did not exist

Cropping is allowed, even significant cropping just as long as the image remains sufficiently detailed to produce a high quality print at up to 24″ on the long edge. Keep in mind however that judges may penalize entries that rely too heavily on a crop to perfect the scene. We place a high value on field craft.

Compositing or other techniques are permitted for reasons such as:

  • Creating panoramas
  • Exposure bracketing
  • Improving the technical quality of the image (image stacking/averaging, focus stacking)
  • Removing lens flare
  • Removing dust spots

Post-processing remains a critical part of realizing the potential of an image and the vision of the photographer.

Please see our Terms and Conditions for a full break-down of rules for entries!

    Special Considerations for Night Photography

    What type of techniques and edits are allowed for night photography?

    Night photography introduces various technical challenges which are commonly solved through processing so we have given additional consideration to this category. Two of the founders of the competition are experienced night photographers and understand the nuances involved in creating compelling nightscapes.

    At the heart of our rules is what we consider to be our golden rule – “the integrity of the subject should be maintained.” This should be the very first thing to consider when thinking about what techniques are allowed for this competition; however, let’s get into some specifics:

    What about use of Star tracking mounts?

    Images made using tracking devices are acceptable as long as the golden rule is met. We recognize that using a star tracker requires the use of compositing techniques to blend the tracked night sky with the landscape; however, the section of night sky should be the same in both shots (obviously within reason, we’re not going to compare the pixel location of stars!). If chosen as a finalist for the competition, your RAW files will be requested and if they resemble the scene you were capturing, we are good to go!

    What about Blue Hour blends?

    If more than one image is taken, they all must be taken within moments of each other without the camera or tripod moving.

    What about “Deepscapes?”

    “Deepscapes” are essentially the combination of deep sky objects such as nebulae and galaxies, which are combined with a landscape element and require special techniques and processing to create. If the “Deepscape” was created using allowable techniques above such as with a star tracking mount, they are allowable as long as they adhere to the golden rule of the competition.

    Additional Guidelines

    Does your competition allow for the inclusion of man-made objects or people?

    Yes. We recognize that humans are part of the natural environment as we have a relationship with nature. Photographs may include people (for example to demonstrate scale) as long as it is not the main subject. Images should be of and about predominantly natural subjects. Man-made objects are permitted; however, they should not be a major part of the image. For example, Palouse is all farmland but the rolling of the hills the farmland occupies is all natural. Hence a close up of just the farm crop on a flat bit probably wouldn’t be applicable but a wider section showing the rolling land would be perfectly acceptable. To reiterate, subjects should be of and from nature and should be substantially of a natural feature or natural phenomena, which does include artificial landscapes such as parks, gardens, or farmland.

    Can I enter images into both the Project part of the competition and into the main part of the competition?

    Yes. However, images only submitted as part of a project will not be considered for the other part of the competition, so you will need to purchase submissions for both sections.

    Can I enter the competition if I won prizes last year?

    Yes. However, previous winners of the Photographer of the Year Award are only eligible to win this prize once in their lifetime; however, they are eligible to win the other awards in subsequent years.

    Can I enter images that I made in 2001?

    Yes! Entries may have been captured at any point in time; however, in order to be eligible for the Photographer of the Year prize in the main competition, greater than 50% of your submitted images must have been captured in the past 5 years or less. There is no time limit on images captured for the Project submissions, as projects tend to take longer to curate and create.

    How do I enter my image to qualify in the Special Awards? 

    All of the special awards are based on a subject or theme. To enter your image into a Special Award, simply check the box next to that award in your entry. You can select more than one Special Award for each image. 

    Is there a limit to how many images I enter into the competition?

    Yes. There is a maximum of 18 entries per person (plus two projects). This is to prevent someone from significantly increasing their odds of winning by submitting more images.

    Can I clone objects out or use the healing brush to remove distracting elements from my photograph?

    Yes, with limitations. The keyword here is transient, which is defined as lasting for a short time (like a small leaf, small twig, candy wrapper, distant parked car, person, etc.). This would then exclude things such as power lines, boulders, tree branches, fallen trees, buildings, fence posts, etc. If your transient object occupies a significant portion of the photograph, our judges may also disqualify removal of the object. Remove objects at your own risk. We would typically say only remove if the item doesn’t affect the picture and if it doesn’t affect the picture there isn’t really a need to remove it. It is nearly always a better option to reduce the contrast of an item, soften its edges, desaturated it, etc. instead of removing it. 

    If you have further questions about our rules, please see our FAQ or contact us at

    Can I enter images that have won other competitions?

    Yes – this is allowed.

    Can I enter images this year that I entered in a previous year?

    Yes – this is allowed and not a bad strategy considering our judging panel changes year-after-year.