Am I the only one having a problem with Audubons 2021 photo competition rules?

This is just a rant…

The link to the rules is at the bottom of this post.

First, none of this is a surprise but it seems to just get worse. I admit it is their contest and they can do whatever they want with it. It is up to the photographer to enter or not! I get that! it just seems they are taking advantage of some photographers with some great photos.

I first noticed several groups over in the facebook area where there are some discussions about the positive merits of the competition. I on the other hand condemn Audubon for the typical photographers loss of rights just by entering a photo and having to pay to do it.

The photographer just by entering a photo gives up ALL rights to that photo with no compensation. This is in the rules, General conditions, paragraph 4. You can find some quality photos all over the internet for next to nothing so why rip off somone that wants to enter?

What appears as new this year (unless I missed it last year.) Is the disqualification for photos that have been subjectively “digitally or otherwise altered beyond standard optimization.” This includes; addition, removal, or alteration (painting over, cloning, or blurring) of anything in the original subject and scene that were photographed". In addition it also includes “AI and machine-learning-based software used for upscaling, sharpening and significant noise reduction” see rules Eligible Photographs.

Audubon photo rules

Just my opinion.


Well, I certainly don’t have many images that would satisfy their restrictions. The cloning, etc. restriction is old, I think, but the AI may be new.

The use appears to be limited to their contest and related activities, so I don’t think it’s a complete ceding of rights, but it does seem a bit much, especially if you don’t win anything.

Hi Greg, the cloning/altering restriction has always been there and is in most major nature photography competitions. I think the idea is they want it to be a photography contest not an editing contest and I agree with those rules.

As far as rights, if it is like it has been in the past, you can opt out of letting Audubon use your images for anything except the contest and promoting the contest. I do not opt out as they have used images of mine that didn’t win awards in their magazine and articles. They always credit me and I feel the recognition and publicity are worthwhile. In addition I would consider Audubon which is very much involved in the conservation of birds a worthy cause.

The AI rules are interesting and I think new, I am not sure which plug ins and software that would cover. But I think the objective is for example they don’t want to reward an image that is actually out of focus but can now be fixed with AI software to be sharp, in that case really it’s not an image that was executed well in the field. My biggest issue with the contest is that the cost is $15 per image which is much higher than most contests, again I just consider it partially a donation for the conservation of birds.

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Thanks Dennis, I am probably to suspicious.
Nate, you have some good things to say about them. Thank you for that information. Yes I also read into the rules as they relate to the competition. But there is also a clause …“and commercial and non-commercial exploitation rights in any and all media now known or hereafter invented, including, but not limited to…” I think that would be a big loop hole to use if they saw fit.

Thanks a lot for tyhe response.

It looks like they may have changed the rules since last year with respect to usage. In the past you could opt out of their ability to use it except for with respect to the photo competition.

I can see why they would enforce the no manipulation rule because some wildlife contests in the past have been won by photos that misrepresented what it was supposed to. Incidents like that get natural history contests and other types of editorial publications bad PR.

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So far, I have just been entering the Denver Audubon contest and skipping the one you talk about due to the rights grab. Nate had a good comment about them but as a former attorney, I am always suspicious of releases like this.

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I valid point for sure

Thanks Kathy for your view on it.

There is no way in which I’d ever consider relinquishing all rights to a photograph unless there was a substantial payment involved – forget about paying them to give up my rights to an image. On the other hand, I regularly submit photos to a regional magazine and give them the right to use it for their use in print and on-line but I retain all other rights.

Images manipulated by AI to me are “fakes” pure and simple, so I fully understand why those would be unacceptable. The only problem is, what is unacceptable manipulation ? Cloning out a branch, slight sharpening, improving exposure or contrast, increasing saturation … ?