Sony World Photography Awards under fire for age limitations in Student contest

Nov 30, 2023

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Sony World Photography Awards under fire for age limitations in Student contest

Nov 30, 2023

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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Sony World Photography Awards student contest age

Sony World Photography Awards (SWPA) is undoubtedly one of the world’s most prestigious photography contests. However, it recently got under scrutiny for age limitations regarding its “Student” category. Even though you can be a student at any age, the contest only recognizes those up to 30 years of age, which recently stirred up the community. As a mature student myself, in this article, I’d like to offer my own view on the matter.

Student category rules of submission

SWPA’s Student competition invites photography students from any country, shooting with any type of camera, to submit between five and ten images for free. They need to be enrolled in a full-time photo program, either BA or MA, and submit photos taken during the current year. The age limitation is what caused the issue: these students must be between 18 and 30 years old. The very first rule of the competition lines this criterion:

“The Competition is open to all students of photography from World Photography Organisation’s selected Universities. All Entrants must be aged between 18 and 30 years of age at the time of Competition’s deadline. All entries must confirm, on application, their acceptance of the rules of the Competition and these Terms and Conditions. Entries must be submitted by 13.00 GMT on 30 November 2023. By entering the Competition, each Entrant agrees and acknowledges that World Photography Organisation is permitted to receive his/her registration data. All personal information will be used by the World Photography Organisation in accordance with its privacy policy.”

The problem with this limitation

As FStoppers’ Kim Simpson points out, “Not all students are recent high school graduates or young adults starting their academic journeys.” And that’s absolutely true! Not all of us have walked the same path through life. I myself enrolled in my second college earlier this year – and I’m turning 35 next week. And in my class, there are many students over the age of 30, even over 40.

When I was a regular student, after high school and two years of break, I had certain benefits until I was 27, or in some cases, 30. After that, it’s as if you don’t exist. No benefits for you any longer, my friend! This is why I have a problem with age limitations for older students. I was a brilliant student in my first college, earning almost all As. In my second one, I’m even more motivated and interested in what I’m learning. And yet, I have no benefits whatsoever.

However, it’s the academic benefits I would like to have now. I could use scholarships for studying or enrolling in MA or PhD abroad; or discounts on various education programs. It’s something like getting a raise for being an above-average employee. When it comes to cheaper transportation, theater tickets, healthcare, and photo contests – I actually get the point of age limitations in some cases. But let me get to that.

When might we need the age limit in the Student category

There’s no doubt that a 35-year-old student is just as much of a legitimate student as her 19-year-old colleague sitting next to her in class, scrolling through Instagram. Maybe even more. This goes for photography students just like any other, of course. However, I think we need the age limitations are two things: possibilities and finances, with the latter not referring to SWPA as there’s no entry fee for either of the contest categories.

As a young photographer still in college, you don’t have as many chances as someone who’s established themselves as a photographer. You still don’t have connections and maybe don’t even know where to start with the social and commercial aspects of your journey. This is why contests like this can be helpful for younger photographers and give them a chance to promote their work to wider audiences.

Then again, you’re also not established as a photographer when you’re over 30 and just enrolled in college. However, you do have more life experience, stronger social skills, and connections in other fields. You know more people to begin with, and probably know how networking works. Finally, you’re more comfortable in your own skin and with your own choices (at least I hope you are).

And then, there are finances. As I said, this doesn’t refer to the Sony World Photography Awards: neither 18-30-year-old students nor older photographers pay the tuition fee. However, students do get discounts for plenty of things. I’m not saying you automatically get rich when you turn 30. Heck, I sure didn’t! However, in our 30s and later, most of us already have jobs and can pay for more stuff than young students.

sony world photography awards student age limitation

But what about older students who are now spending money on their college tuition fees? What about those who are completely changing their career in their 30s, 40s, or even later, starting over in a completely different field? When you start reinventing yourself and switch careers, you’ll earn less in the beginning no matter how old you are. Well, let’s discuss the possible solutions next.

Possible solutions

For those older students with younger ones’ finances, I have a solution in mind. I have two great examples I used myself, even after turning 30. The first one is Coursera, the famous platform for online courses. They offer “scholarships” to those who can’t afford their paid courses. You need to submit your yearly income, why you’re taking the course, and how you believe it will help your career. I got a scholarship for all the writing courses I attended. This means I enrolled them, finished them, and got my certificates for free.

Another example I personally used is my favorite yoga app, Down Dog. It’s a paid app, but you can reach out to them after the free trial in case you can’t afford it at the moment. I couldn’t afford it when I started using it, and they gave me six months for free.

I’m sure there are plenty of examples like this. These were just two at the top of my head, and I had experience with them. But what am I trying to say? Photo contests that charge tuition fees could implement similar policies.

And what about the social and commercial aspects I mentioned above? Well, this may be a bit more complicated. It’s difficult accommodating everyone, but perhaps there’s a solution. Other than the regular Student and Youth, Open, and Professional contest, they could create a dedicated category for older students who want to enroll. Or, they could just remove the age limitations and allow every photography student to enroll under the same conditions.

Which of these options sounds more reasonable to you (if any)? Do you have any possible solutions in your mind? Let’s hear them!

[via FStoppers]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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