Does a Bearded Subject Win You a Portrait Contest?

When Pictureline ran a photo contest every week of the summer in 2012, an interesting question came up when the winner of the PORTRAITS contest was announced.  A follower on Facebook mentioned, "Does every winner of a portrait photography contest have to have a beard?"  Having photographed many people around the world, I realized that I, too, was probably more inclined to photograph a bearded person, as it added to the character and overall interest to an international portrait.  Intrigued by the hypothesis put forward by the Facebook follower, I set out to investigate at least the other major portrait photography competitions that occurred in 2012 and what percentage of them had beards in the winners' circles.  Of course, to do a proper "literature review" (as this study would probably be classified in the scientific world), a researcher would need to collect as many portrait photography contests as possible and over as many years as possible.  I decided to stick with 2012, with the contests I could access, and with the more popular ones.  Please feel free to add some links in the comments to other portrait contests to add evidence for or against the hypothesis of our reader:  "Do bearded subjects win more portrait photo contests?"

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC (Travel Portraits category of the Travel Photo Contest 2012)

National Geographic Traveler runs a huge contest every year highlighting travel photography, and one of its categories is Travel Portraits.   This seemed liked one of the more specific contests where we might find more bearded portrait subjects, but alas, among the 100 images chosen directly by the editors over fourteen weeks leading up to the final winners, a mere six photographs had people with beards.  Assuming our math is correct, only 6 percent of these visually strong photographs displayed the facial hair presumed in the hypothesis from the reader that all portrait photography winners  sprouted facial locks.  One of our favorites for beards was Australian photographer Ingetje Tadros's photograph of a man holding up his beard as sort of a hairy smile.  Even the only photograph from the travel portraits section to make it to the final rounds ("Devotees" by Andrea Guarneri) was an image of three men resting after carrying a statue...and all clean shaven Italian men.

PHOTO DISTRICT NEWS (Faces Portraits Photography Contest 2012)

Photo District News is a premier source of photographic industry news and information across most genres, probably with a bent towards the commercial, editorial, and assignment fields of photography, as well as the artistic industry.  Each year, PDN has a portrait contest, called "Faces" and this year's gallery for professionals highlights forty winners total, but only two with beards, a photograph of Filippo Brancoli Pantera in Lucca, Italy and one of farmer milking a cow.  The first photograph was taken by Julie Glassberg as part of her personal work and features the Italian photographer in repose gazing upwards. (It is number 21 or 40 in the portfolio). The second was taken by photographer Tyler Jacobsen "Farmer Jerry" for some personal work where the Santa-like man is squirting milk from a cow's utter.  (Number 23 of 40 in this portfolio.)

Overall, however, only two out of forty professional category photographs with beards won a prize in this year's PDN "Faces" contest. The amateur category had a higher percentage of bearded subjects, with two out of nine winners here with beards.  Technically, the lion in the animals section probably had a beard, but this is difficult to differentiate as the lion has hair everywhere.  The people's choice award (a single image) of Kendo Sensei clearly was without facial hair. The combined totals for this contest yielded only about 8 percent of total photographs with a bearded subject.


Santa Fe Photographic Workshops also held a much publicized portraits photographic contest this year in 2012 called PORTRAITS, where fifty total images were chosen from 3,743 images submitted from 32 countries.  We like that the demographics of the participants were revealed, as this gives our informal review a bit more depth as to know who is submitted.  Four main prizes were given, a Grand Prize (no beards), a second prize (definitely no beards, in fact the gentleman in the photograph has a shaved head), a third prize (young child in a pool), and a Director's Award (no beard, but a cool photograph).  In addition, 46 honorable mentions were displayed and there were seven portraits there that included a good beard.  One subject has some serious stubble, but we decided not to include this in the parameters of a beard. All in all, only 14 percent of the 50 winners and honorable mentions in this contest had a beard.  Pretty low odds.


While dialing in on the wild facial hair of people around the world is fun and adds an extra element of interest, don't count on it putting your picture into the glorious realms of portrait photography contest winning circles.  If 2012 was any indication from some of the top portrait contests around the country, then you should just stick to the subjects you love, people in their environment, in special lighting, or in telling a unique story.  Somewhere between 8 and 14 percent of photographs getting any kind of recognition in these top contests have beards! As always, shoot what you love, and the quality will shine through your images.  Best of luck to you in winning your photography contests in late 2012 and 2013.

Stay connected to Ingetje Tadros: Website

Stay connected to Tyler Jacobsen: Website


Tamara Reynold's Photograph of Morgan Freeman
Street Portraits in Italy with Drake Busath
Sean Hagwell's Photograph of Group "Parachute"

National geographicPdnPhoto district newsPicturelinePortrait contestsPortrait photographySanta fe workshopsSeptember 2012