Photo by AJ Bar

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

Each year, the City of Bellingham and the Whatcom Museum sponsor the "Essence of Bellingham" photography competition. Digital or scanned entries gathered over the previous year that capture the "essence" of Bellingham are showcased and added to a collection documenting Bellingham and the diverse nature of life in our city and county. 

Entries may appear in Whatcom Museum and City of Bellingham publications and in various places such as print, TV, and the Internet.


As we transition from film to digital cameras in our society, there are countless images being created digitally.  This competition aims to help preserve these images before they are lost.  The average citizen’s idea of what the "Essence of Bellingham" is will be an invaluable historical asset to this and future generations.


All residents of Whatcom County are eligible to participate with the exception of those called upon to jury the competition.

Past Competition Results

Jury Criteria

A jury comprised of representatives from the Whatcom Museum, professional art community, and City of Bellingham staff will evaluate all eligible submissions received by the deadline. Winning entries will be selected on the basis of the following criteria listed in order of emphasis:

  1. How well the photo captures the “Essence of Bellingham”
  2. Classification of photographer (e.g. K-4, 5-8, 9-12, college, amateur, professional)
  3. How well the photo captures a City Council Legacy (PDF)
  4. Category of subject matter. Categories are decided by the jury during the jury process. See previous competition results for examples.
  5. Photographic quality (note: a minimum resolution of 2300x1840 pixels is recommended but not required).


Best of Show - Top three photos of all entries.  They receive a certificate and special recognition by the Mayor and Bellingham City Council.

Best of Class - Top photo from each class of photographer. They receive a certificate and special recognition by the Mayor and Bellingham City Council.

Best of Legacy - Top nine photos of all entries that best represent one of the nine City Council Legacies (PDF).

Best of Subject - Top photo in each subject within a class of photographers.  The subjects are chosen by the jury each year. For examples of potential subjects, see previous year results below. For example, Best of Subject (Environment) - Amateur.

Honorable Mentions - Photos the jury finds exceptional.

All entries - Will be added to the Museum’s photo archives and may appear on BTV10, the City of Bellingham website, and in other City publications.

Current Competition

Start taking photos for the 2016 competition now! 
Entries will be accepted Mar 1 - May 1, 2016.