​Photographers of all ages and experience levels are invited to participate.​<br> image

​Photographers of all ages and experience levels are invited to participate.​

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition Details

​​​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.

Current Competition

The 2018 competition results are available online. 

Start taking photos for the 2019 competition now!  
Entries will be accepted Mar 1 - May 1, 2019.​​

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. Category of subject matter.
  4. Photographic quality (note: a minimum resolution of 2000 pixels wide is recommended but not required​).

Application Instructions and Requirements

  1. Entries should be appropriate for all ages to view
  2. Entries must be of subjects within or related to the City of Bellingham
  3. Photos must have been taken between Jan 1, 2018 and May 1, 2019
  4. Entries will only be accepted between March 1st and May 1st of 2019.
  5. Entries must not have been entered in any previous Essence of Bellingham competitions
  6. 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).
  7. Do not include photographer signatures or logos on the images submitted to facilitate an unbiased jury process.
  8. A minimum resolution of 2000 pixels wide is recommended but not required.
  9. 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)
  10. Agree to the competition terms when filling out online entry form​
  11. 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.
  12. Submission of an entry to the competition automatically constitutes the acceptance of all conditions set forth in the above rules.
  13. Incomplete entries will not be included in the competition
  14. Winners will be notified in June.
  15. Complete an online entry form for each photo.

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. 


Samantha Frost
Mayor's Office
(360) 778-8110​