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

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.