About the 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.
All residents of Whatcom County are eligible to participate with the exception of those called upon to jury the competition.
Prizes and special recognition by the Mayor and Bellingham City Council for the following awards:
- Best of Show - Top three photos of all entries from all categories and classes of photographers
Recognition by the jury and announced on the City's website and news release for the following awards:
- Best of Class - Top photo from each class of photographer
- Best of Category - Top photo in each category within a class of photographer (e.g. K-4, Amateur, Professional, etc.)
- Honorable Mentions - Photos the jury finds exceptional
All entries will be added to the Museum’s photo archives and may appear on BTV, the City of Bellingham website, and in other City publications.
The 2018 competition results are available online.
Start taking photos for the 2019 competition now!
Entries will be accepted Mar 1 - May 1, 2019.
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:
- How well the photo captures the “Essence of Bellingham”
- Classification of photographer (e.g. K-4, 5-8, 9-12, college, amateur, professional)
- Category of subject matter.
- Photographic quality (note: a minimum resolution of 2000 pixels wide is recommended but not required).
Application Instructions and Requirements
- Entries should be appropriate for all ages to view
- Entries must be of subjects within or related to the City of
- Photos must have been taken between Jan 1, 2018 and May 1,
- Entries will only be accepted between March 1st and May 1st
- Entries must not have been entered in any previous Essence of
- Photos may be enhanced to compensate for technical quality and
esthetics but should not be “doctored” (e.g. adding objects that were
not originally in the picture).
- Do not include photographer signatures or logos on the images
submitted to facilitate an unbiased jury process.
- A minimum resolution of 2000 pixels wide is recommended but not
- A limit of 10 photos may be submitted for each competitor with each
photo only being entered under one photographer classification (e.g. you
can enter a photo under amateur and one under professional but not the
same photo under both)
- Agree to the competition terms when filling out
online entry form
- Photographer must own all rights to any photographs entered in this
competition as well as have model releases when appropriate. Model releases do not need to be included in your submission. See
guidance on model release forms below.
- Submission of an entry to the competition automatically constitutes
the acceptance of all conditions set forth in the above rules.
- Incomplete entries will not be included in the competition
- Winners will be notified in June.
- Complete an
online entry form for each
The deadline for entries is 4:30 p.m. on May 1st, 2019 (post marks
will not be accepted, all entries must be received by deadline).
Entry Forms and Publications
Frequently Asked Questions
How much "altering" is "too much"?
There is a line that falls somewhere between eliminating red eye and adding
a building into a street scene where one does not really exist. Finding and
describing that line is challenging! Photos submitted should be a truthful
representation of whatever happened in front of the camera during exposure.
Of course, photos may be cropped and dust spots removed. They may be
enhanced to compensate for technical quality and esthetics, such as through
filters, adjustments to color, brightness and contrast. Multiple exposures
that have been combined to produce a single "High Dynamic Range" image are
acceptable. Photo stitching and stacking are also allowed (e.g. to create a panorama). But there comes a point when too much processing changes the
photo into a painting or graphic art. That's not what this competition
seeks. You also should not add objects not contained in the original
photograph, both to retain its historic value and its connection to reality.
When you compare your original to your altered photograph, if it looks
completely different, or if the cool blue sky is now hot pink, or if it was
a picture of Lake Whatcom at sunrise and now it has people or a full moon in
it…we're sure it is lovely but you have gone too far for this competition.