The annual Southern Exposures Youth Photo Contest is an oppportunity for children to share their best pictures of the Rio Grande Valley.
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the Contest

Children have a natural affinity with the earth. They have the capacity to see the beauty and wonder of all creation. Unfortunately, many lose that ability years before reaching adulthood. Increasingly, they become creatures of technology at the expense of enjoying the great outdoors and thus are losing their connection to the earth. For this reason, the Valley Land Fund (VLF) has made its annual Southern Exposures youth nature photo program a priority.

Southern Exposures allows us to expand our mission by reaching broader audiences in South Texas while enabling us to continue preserving native wildlife habitats and educating the general public about conservation. Nature photography has long been an important educational tool for VLF since 1994. Therefore, we believe that viewing the natural world through a camera lens provides a unique perspective, particularly for children.

6 Tips for taking the best nature photos with your kids

Be Observant

It’s not necessary to go to a national park to take beautiful nature photos. A simple forest trail or even a backyard contains plenty of interesting subjects to photograph. Encourage them to take close-up pictures of plants and bugs at ground level or to point the camera at the sky to capture birds flying overhead.

Use the golden hour

The right lighting is essential for taking a good nature photo. The best way to guarantee good lighting is to head out during the “golden hour,” which occurs just after dawn and before sunset.

Hold it steady

Perhaps the first thing that kids need to learn is to hold the camera steady when they take a picture. Start by holding the camera with two hands, bring the arms in tight to the body, and squeeze the shutter gently.

Compose photos carefully

If your kids have played tic tac toe before, then this should be easy to remember. There is a rule that photographers use to compose great images. It’s called the rule of thirds. Rather than placing the subject right in the middle of a shot, try placing it in the intersection of the tic tac toe grid.

Pay attention to textures & patterns

Look for interesting textures and patterns in tree bark, dead leaves, flowers, or even bird feathers. Sometimes, these seemingly everyday shots can be the most beautiful.

Be Patient

Nature photography can be a great way to teach kids patience. The best nature photographs can’t be forced. Kids who sit quietly might get a chance to photograph birds and small animals close up.

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Registering is Easy

Nature photography has been proven to bolster kids’ interests in ecology, science and conservation. Southern Exposures is a perfect way to bridge the seemingly great divide between the plugged-in world of gadgets and the natural world of critters and wilderness. Want to enter? It's easy.

Asked Questions

Who is eligible?

Southern Exposures Photo Contest is open to youth photographers who are between the ages of 5 to 18 years old and who have the consent of a parent or legal guardian. VLF reserves the right to verify, in its sole judgment, entrant eligibility.

How much does it cost to enter?

There is no fee to enter, it’s FREE!

What are the contest dates?

Southern Exposures Photo Contest begins on July 1, 2024. All entries must be received through valleylandfund.com by 5:00 PM Central Standard Time on July 31, 2024.

What images can be entered?

We are looking for striking color images of nature—on land or in the air within the eight (8) counties of South Texas: Brooks, Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Kenedy, Starr, Willacy, and Zapata. These images may show animal behavior, portraits of wildlife in natural habitats, plant life, natural landscapes, or patterns in nature. DO NOT include photographs of pets, domestic animals, captive animals at game farms or roadside zoos, or animals from such facilities photographed elsewhere with the handler’s control. Such images will be disqualified.

What are the technical requirements?

Only digitally uploaded images can be entered. Mailed or shipped entries will not be accepted.

Be no larger than 10 MB; ideally the images should be at least 3000 pixels wide (if a horizontal image) or at least 3000 pixels tall (if a vertical image) and be save in JPG or JPEG format.

For more details, see our rules.

What are the contest categories?

There are NO categories. Photographers can submit images of anything in our natural world.

For full details, see our rules.

What are the judges looking for in a photo?

Photographs will be judged on originality, technical excellence, composition, overall impact, and artistic merit.

For full details, see our rules.

What are the awards and prizes?

Every child is a winner! One winning image per contestant will be featured in an Outdoor Exhibit and Artist Reception, plus receive a free VLF tote bag that includes a t-shirt, nature photo book, and free entrance to Awards Ceremony, Saturday, August 17th at Quinta Mazatlan. Ten (10) finalists will be chosen, 3 winners from each age division, and 1 Grand Prize Winner.

  • Outdoor Exhibit and Artist Reception – 6:30pm
  • Special Guest: Sky Kings Falconry – 7:00pm
  • Top 10 Image Unveiling – 7:30pm

For full details, see our rules.

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