Here we are a year later. 2016 has arrived on our doorstep, and the photo competitions of last year have in the main been renewed.
Happily, it seems competitions are placing even more value on real photographs. Most of the pre-eminent photography competitions have been firmly grappling with the issue of photo manipulation, with World Press a particularly notable advocate this year of reality in photography.
Overall, in 2016 we can expect less image editing by major photographic competition entrants, and more transparency in that editing when it does happen. Contextual elements too have been targeted, with misleading captions, copyright infringement and false representations of staged photos as naturally occurring all under more scrutiny. Some of these changes took place mid-year, and not all photo competitions (Canon, National Geographic) have yet to publicly confirm 2016 competitions and their rules. I will update this post as news comes to hand.
First and foremost, hats off to World Press.
World Press Photography Competition
Estimated schedule: assume entries for 2016 due in December as they were in 2015
After the debacle of having to disqualify a crafty winner in their 2015 photo competition (World Press Photo Award Withdrawn), I was interested to see if World Press was going to make any changes to its competition terms and conditions for this year. I am very pleased indeed to see that they have taken this issue seriously. World Press conducted a global consultation within the press community not just to adjust rules relating to manipulation, but to create a Photo Contest Code of Ethics (Fig. 1).
Specifically, they noted in their consultation brief that:
“This review process is paying particular attention to the question of manipulation, and includes the drafting of a code of ethics for the contest, as well as clear guidelines and visual examples to inform contest entrants what is and is not acceptable.” 
They have done an admirable job in developing a well-considered Code. There are many welcome stances against mis-representative photographs including resistance to staged scenes, avoidance of misleading content, caption and context, and insistence on transparency in image processing. In effect the Code gives practical direction for competitors to keep it real:
“Entrants to the World Press Photo contest must ensure their pictures provide an accurate and fair representation of the scene they witnessed so the audience is not misled.” 
World Press, I am delighted!
Canon Photography Light Awards
Estimated schedule: to be confirmed but in 2015 they were themed monthly competitions rolling up into an annual judging event
As at 28 December 2015 Canon’s 2016 Light Awards competition had not been confirmed for 2016. However, at some point in 2015 Canon made the image manipulation rules for their Light Awards even more explicit, thus removing any ambiguity about their desire for entrants to submit unmanipulated photographs:
“Entries must be true photographs and not composites or digital manipulations. Basic editing such as cropping and basic colour adjustment is permitted. Selective colour adjustment is not permitted. Other than cropping, removal of pixels is not permitted.”
By ruling out selective colour changes and pixel removal, Canon has effectively ruled out most of the more harmful types of image manipulation. So another well done!
Epson International Pano [PhotoART] Awards
Estimated schedule: entries for 2016 open in April
As you can see, I have not given the Pano Awards the distinction of being photography awards but instead have named them as photoART awards.
This is because after a close examination of the rules, and a very detailed critique of the 2015 winning image, Max Rive’s The Ice Prison, I do not feel that this competition can be said to be judging photographs, but is rather a contest of photographically-based photoART submissions.
This is because the Pano awards actually encourage photo-manipulation, and reward images that have significant elements of photo-manipulation. As I noted in my critique, their statement about manipulation for 2015 says only that manipulation may lessen the photographer’s chances:
“Images may be from single capture or stitching software, film or digital capture, but must be 100% photographic in origin. Manipulation is allowed but excessive manipulation may be scored down by judges.” 
National Geographic Photography Awards
Estimated schedule: to be confirmed but in 2015 entries were accepted between 1 September and 16 November
Like the Canon Light Awards, as at 31 December 2015 National Geographic’s photography awards for 2016 had not been confirmed. However, at some point in 2015 National Geographic made the image manipulation rules for their Light Awards even more clear, tightening their definition of acceptable manipulations, with compositing having been removed from their definition of what is acceptable:
“Only minor burning, dodging and/or color correction is acceptable, as is minor cropping. High dynamic range images (HDR) and stitched panoramas are acceptable. Any changes to the original photograph not itemized here or in the NGS Your Shot Photo Guidelines are unacceptable and will render the photograph ineligible for a prize.”
Additionally, they have made stated that misleading captioning or statements of originality will not be tolerated.
“The caption must be complete and accurate, sufficient to convey the circumstances in which the photograph was taken. Disguising or misrepresenting the origin of your content is cause for disqualification.”
Smithsonian Photography Awards
Estimated schedule: to be confirmed but in 2015 entries were accepted from March to November
“Cropped photos are eligible in all categories. We do not accept digitally or otherwise enhanced or altered photos, except for those entered in the Altered Images category. Minor adjustments, including spotting, dodging and burning, sharpening, contrast and slight color adjustment or the digital equivalents, are acceptable for all categories. If the judges determine that a photographer has altered his or her photo, they reserve the right to move the photo to Altered Images or to disqualify it.”
These enhanced photo credibility-related terms and conditions in photographic competitions are welcome news.And as ever, I welcome the growing importance being placed on the relationship between the aesthetics and meaning of photographs and the real world they purport to interpret on our behalf.
Postscript: If you believe there is a competition I should include in my investigations into photo competition credibility rules, please don’t hesitate to let me know in a comment to this post.