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California Ocean & Coastal Amateur Photography Contest

Contest Rules  |   Prizes & Sponsors  |   Contest Terms and Conditions  |   Submit your photos  |   Galleries of Past Winners

Announcing the winners of the 24th Annual California Ocean and Coastal Amateur Photography Contest!

Contest prize packages have been generously donated. Check out the 2023 prizes and sponsors. For more information or questions about entries, contact the California Coastal Commission at

Below were the rules for the 2023 contest. Check back in summer for how to enter the 2024 contest.

Ready to participate? Here's what to do:

  1. Read the Contest Rules and Guidelines.
  2. Take pictures that feature any of the following subjects:
    The scenic coast and Pacific Ocean off California,
    People of the California coast,
    California ocean and coastal wildlife (native species)
  3. Submit your photos before 5:00pm on September 25, 2023.


Contest Rules and Guidelines

  1. An amateur photographer is defined as someone who earns less than 50 percent of their income from photography.
  2. A maximum of five photos per entrant may be submitted. Please do not submit more than five different images. If more than five photos are received from a single entrant, only five will be selected for consideration.
  3. Photographs must be taken from a public place.
  4. Photographing Wildlife:
    The Marine Mammal Protection Act makes it a violation of federal law to interfere with the natural behavior of marine mammals. The National Marine Fisheries Service recommends that photographers stay at least 100 yards away from whales; 50 yards away from dolphins; 50 yards away from seals and sea lions when they are swimming, and 100 feet away when they are on land. In addition, sea otters are protected by the Endangered Species Act which also prohibits harassment or interference with their behavior, and photographers should stay 50 feet away from otters. Photographers entering this contest must abide by these guidelines and maintain a safe distance from marine mammals and should not depict violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, even if conducted by other people.

    Other animal species are sensitive to human interaction as well. The website contains guidelines that should be adhered to when photographing wildlife. A general rule of thumb is to rely on telephoto lenses for close ups and always keep your distance – if an animal is looking at you, you are too close. Stop advancing and back up slowly.
  5. Plants and animals depicted in photos should be native species in their natural setting. Examples of non-native species include iceplant, pampas grass, calla lilies, and tropical fish. Examples of non-natural settings include a fish tank or public aquarium. Photos from an aquarium or those not taken in California will be disqualified.
  6. Photographs may be in color or black and white.
  7. Post-processing limitations: Images may be post-processed but should retain realistic color and sharpness. This should generally be limited to global adjustments of exposure, contrast, burning, dodging, cropping, sharpening, noise reduction, and tone. Minor cleaning of images is permitted, including the removal of dust or scratches. Converting a color image to black and white is acceptable as long as the subject remains represented realistically.

    High Dynamic Range (HDR), panoramas, focus stacking, and other techniques involving multiple images taken at the same time and place are also allowed. However, adding, removing or relocating subjects in a scene is not allowed.

    Images must not be manipulated beyond the reality you saw when the photograph was taken. Images should accurately represent the subjects depicted and those that appear overly processed can be disqualified at the judges' discretion.
  8. Original work: Photographs submitted must be the original work and exclusive property of the photographer.
  9. Eligibility: Commissioners, staff, and staff family members of the California Coastal Commission are not eligible to participate in this contest.
  10. If your photo is selected as a winner or honorable mention, you will be contacted and asked for the name, address, and phone number of any readily identifiable person in your photo. This information will be used by the Coastal Commission staff to obtain permission to publish their image. If when asked, you fail to provide the name, address and phone number of any readily identifiable person, the Coastal Commission reserves the right to disqualify your entry.
  11. For rules on photo use and licensing, please see the complete Contest Terms and Conditions.

A negative 45 degree crop of a foamy barrel, the bottom half of a surfer in view
-45 Barrel, by Kevin Kielty


Galleries of Past Winners:

2023    |   2022    |   2021    |   2019    |   2018    |   2017    |   2016    |   2015    |   2014    |   2013    |   2012    |   2011    |   2010    |   2009    |   2008    |   2007    |   2006    |   2005    |   2004    |   2003    |   2002    |   2001    |   1999    |   1998

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Support this contest by purchasing prints and other items featuring winning photography.

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Upcoming traveling photo exhibit locations:

  • San Leandro Public Library, Main Library: October 23 - December 1, 2023
  • Berkeley Public Library, Main Library: January 1 - February 29, 2024
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"Here's a central and obvious principle about photography that is sometimes overlooked even by some veteran photographers — that it's about light. Light makes the image. All cameras, whether film-based or digital are wonders of technology but they don't have a clue about subject; they're designed to transmit and register light and a range of its qualities.

It's true that the history of photography is filled with examples in which the subject and not the light is what the viewer's attention is drawn to and many of those images are powerful and memorable. In photojournalism, for example, when the urgency of an event takes precedence over art, the photographer may not have the time or the interest in waiting for the right light. But amongst the most memorable of those images, the ones that put a lump in your throat are those in which the light was a significant and descriptive player. So think about the subject but shoot the light."

  - Malcolm Lubliner, Photographer

Timothy Wong Photo of a photographer

Photo contest entries may be used in Coastal Commission web pages, publications, and products. Past contest photos have been used to produce a set of greeting cards; a screensaver; and coastal access guides.