Competition Details

​​Each year, the City of Bellingham and the Whatcom Museum sponsor the “Essence of Bellingham” photo competition. Entries 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. It’s a fun, free way to help preserve what life in Be​llingham is like for future generations.

Submitting Photos

  • Entries are accepted through May 1st for each year’s competition.​​
  • Use the online entry form ​to enter photos.


  • 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.​
  • Top winning entries are displayed in City Hall and included in a Downtown Gallery Walk event each year.
  • Past competition results​​ are available online

Jury Process

A jury of representatives from the Whatcom Museum, professional art community, and City of Bellingham staff evaluate submissions using the following criteria:

  1. How well the photo captures the “Essence of Bellingham”
  2. Classification of the photographer (K-4, 5-8, 9-12, college, amateur, professional)
  3. Category of subject matter
  4. Photographic quality including light, color, composition, resolution, capturing a moment, etc.

​Frequently Asked Questions

What awards are given?

  • Best of Show – 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place chose from the Best of Class winners.​
  • Best of Class – Top photo from each class of photographer
  • Best of Category – Top photo in each category within a class of photographer (K-4, 5-8, 9-12, Amateur, Professional)
  • Honorable Mentions – Photos the jury finds exceptional
  • Climate Action Award – Top shot that captures actions our community is taking to address climate change and its impacts.

When will submitters be notified of competition results?
Notification is usually sent out in June to all participants. ​

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 doesn’t 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. 

Photos may:  

  • ​Be cropped and dust spots removed
  • Be enhanced to compensate for technical quality and aesthetics, 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)

Photos may NOT:

  • Include added objects not present in the original photograph​


Email questions to about the photo competition.