New Contest Model

Shifting to a regional model for the annual World Press Photo Contest

The imbalance in representation among entrants, stories and winners in our contest is something we–and I, as Contest director–have been concerned about for a while now. In 2021, only 7% of entrants came from South America, 5% from Southeast Asia and Oceania, and 3% from Africa. This is in no way representative of all the incredible talent in photojournalism across the world.

We needed to look at the contest from a different angle–to change the format of how it is set up, and how it is judged, in order to improve representation from regions that have been historically underrepresented in our contests. The contest model should provide a platform where a multiplicity of voices can be heard–and stories can be seen–so that we can become an organization that reflects that world. 

Adopting a regional approach 

As a step towards increasing the level of international representation, the 2022 Photo Contest will work with a regional system that includes six regions:

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Europe
  • North and Central America
  • South America
  • Southeast Asia and Oceania 

Why these six regions?

These regions were chosen for a number of key reasons:

  • Diversity: Having six regions allows us to present a greater range of stories and therefore holds the opportunity for more global representation amongst the entrants and winners.
  • Geographic: This model is closest to the division of continents in the world. It is based on the classification of countries and regions according to the UN M49 standard.
  • Tried and tested: This division has already been used in the 6x6 Global Talent Program, Joop Swart Masterclass and the jury selection, and worked well in those contexts.

There are a couple of "hybrid" regions:

  • North and Central America: Combining these regions into one gives more opportunity to highlight stories from Central and South America respectively - by better balancing the number of countries across regions
  • Southeast Asia and Oceania: We decided to group these regions together as Oceania does not constitute enough of the world's population to be its own region. This same grouping was used in our 6x6 Global Talent Program and with it, we saw a greater diversity of stories and photographers.
When entering the annual World Press Photo Contest, photographers will enter their photographs and stories to the region in which they were shot. So, for example, stories/photographs shot in Canada will be judged in the North and Central America edition of the contest, by a regional jury. To see which countries fall under each region, find out more here.

Of course grouping the world's countries into regions is complex, and no division is perfect. At the end of the day, our core goal is to increase the diversity of voices and stories amongst our winners, and we hope that this regional model will enable this.

A shift to format-based categories

Having settled on a regional model, we turned our attention to the categories. We realized that we don’t need to determine themes for the jury. We know the themes that are important to people will come out regardless, and many stories touch on more than one theme.

In my time as part of the Contest team, I have sat through countless judging sessions in which the jury has shifted entries from one category to another, sometimes because they were struggling to decide to which theme a story most belonged to, and mostly because the thematic categories were mainly a process that facilitated the selection of the winners in a structured way. Now that we are working with regional contests, we have a new process in place.

Per region, entrants can submit their work to four format-based categories:

  • Singles: single exposure photographs;
  • Stories: a story made up of 3-10 single exposure photographs;
  • Long-Term Projects: projects on a single theme containing between 24-30 single exposure photographs;
  • Open Format: a new category that welcomes a range and/or mixture of storytelling mediums in which the main visual content is still photography. Entries can include but are not limited to: polyptychs; multiple exposure images; stitched panoramas; photographic collages; interactive documentaries; short documentary videos.

These categories welcome entries that document news moments, events and aftermaths, as well as social, political and environmental issues or solutions.

These format-based categories encompass all thematic categories from previous contests–such as general news, spot news, contemporary issues, environment, nature, sports, portraits. Therefore, entries on a wide range of themes may be submitted to the appropriate format-based category.

Focusing on photography

As you can see with the format-based categories, the 2022 Contest focuses on still photography, while including a category open to a wider range of techniques. Therefore, to keep our focus, we’re sad to say goodbye to the Digital Storytelling Contest after a very successful 11 years. We understand this may come as a disappointment to some, but with the new Open Format category, we still offer an opportunity to enter work that can be presented in combination with (but not limited to) video, animation, graphics, illustrations, sound or text. However, the main visual content of the project must be still photography.

How will this affect the judging process?

In each region, a selection of entries per category will be chosen by a regional jury, composed of professionals from and/or working in that region, with a range of expertise. With the knowledge of the region that each jury member will possess, they will be well equipped to judge the stories and be able to put them into a cultural, political and social context.

Once the regional juries have made their selection, a global jury will decide on the regional winners and from those, the global winners. This is because we want to avoid similar stories being awarded in each region. For example, in the 2021 Contest, the COVID-19 pandemic was a recurring theme all over the world. With the new model, there would be a risk that each regional jury would pick photos depicting the pandemic, and therefore the winners would not portray a diverse range of stories. For this reason, the global jury will select both regional and global winners.

Having a regional contest model aims to ensure the results balance stories from around the world. However, for this to truly be representative of the world, it is key that a percentage of photographers are local to the region they are photographing in. Having both local and external viewpoints are valuable, but there was not enough balance between the two in our previous contests.

We have, therefore, decided to provide the jury with a limited amount of information about the photographer, to tackle the issues of regional and gender representation. In 2015, the percentage of entrants identifying as female was 15%. In the 2021 Photo Contest, this increased to 19%–an improvement, but not enough.

By providing the jury with extra information about the photographer, we want to give them the tools they need to understand a photo within its context, and enable a better representation across the winning entries. The quality of the photographs and the stories is still very much leading–and only the best photojournalism of the year will be awarded–however, we want our juries to better understand the bigger picture. This additional information will be disclosed after the initial judging rounds, when the jury starts to consider the context of the photo. The photographer’s name will not be disclosed at any point during the jury process.

The shift to a regional contest is part of a longer journey

Our new strategy is a step towards seeing more diversity in our contest entrants and winners, as well as the beginning of a learning process that we are excited to embark on.

Since 2015, we increased transparency surrounding our contest by publishing diversity statistics each year (see here for 2021 numbers). Our contest juries include 50% of people who identify as female and members from all six of our global regions (where relevant). While these are important steps, we must continue the work to achieve a more inclusive and diverse photojournalism industry, and to offer an accurate representation of the world.

To support our new model, we will recruit regional partners to work with on a strategic level. We have hired a regional partnership manager and are in the process of finding potential partner organizations and institutions. This part of the strategy will develop further over the coming years.

We’re aware that this new strategy may raise questions, and there are several elements of it that we’re still defining. You can find more information in our FAQ and in the statement by our executive director, Joumana El Zein Khoury.

How to stay up to date with our changes 

If you’d like to be kept updated about any upcoming announcements regarding the World Press Photo Contest, sign up here for our newsletter. We will also update our Contest page–which will include all the entry rules, more details about the judging process and category descriptions etc.– and social media platforms to give you the latest information.

Entries for the 2022 Contest will open on 1 December 2021 until mid January 2022. We are excited to welcome a multiplicity of stories and a diverse range of photographers from all over the world to enter the contest, and are looking forward to announcing the winners. We believe in this new contest model and hope it will bring needed change. It is a system we are enthusiastic about working with, and we welcome constructive debate and engagement with regards to this new set-up.

Anna Lena Mehr
Contest director
World Press Photo Foundation