SPIE International Day of Light Photo Contest

Capturing the power of light

The contest and prizes

Shining a light on our global stage

The SPIE International Day of Light Photo Contest is held annually to raise awareness about the International Day of Light and to demonstrate the impact that light has on cultural, economic, and political aspects of our world. Amateur and professional photographers alike are encouraged to submit photos for a chance to win cash prizes.

The 2024 contest is open! This year’s theme is “The Power of Light,” which aims to showcase the transformative and awe-inspiring impact of light on our lives, communities, and planet. Two technology-specific divisions, “Technology-Made Images” and a “Technology Around the Globe,” are also available for entry.

Examples of content include, but are not exclusive to, artistic images that depict:

  • Various properties of light and how it interacts with the atmosphere, nature, and materials
  • Light technology such as lasers, LEDs, etc.
  • Images created with light technology such as telescopes and microscopes
  • People interacting with light and/or light technology
  • The betterment of the human condition with light

Help us capture the brilliance of our world!

By entering the International Day of Light Photo Contest, you are agreeing to the rules.

Have questions? Email us at CustomerService@spie.org.

Prizes and important dates


  • First Prize: US $2,500
  • Second Prize: US $1,000
  • Third Prize: US $500
  • Technology and Science Prizes: US $750

Important Dates

  • 16 May 2024: Photo Contest opens
  • 16 September 2024: Photo Contest closes
  • 16 October 2024: Winners are notified
  • 30 October 2024: Winners are announced

How to participate in the photo contest

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2023 Photo Contest winners

First Prize: Sergey Tolmachev for the image Water (US $2,500)

"What I enjoy most about being a photographer is experimenting and finding new ideas for photography, and I have always been inspired by the works of great artists. One such artist is Rembrandt, as he is considered the master of light and shadow. As for me, I have always wanted to create something that no one has ever shot before. I started to find my way to the world of water drops in 2014. Once, when it was raining, I looked at the drops and it seemed to me that they were falling in a special way, and that was the first time I saw crowns instead of just the drops. I was so fascinated by it that I read a lot of literature on the topic of water, its forms and states, and I decided to experiment with the "fall" of water, and to shoot this interesting process. Sometimes, instead of the drops, I saw various silhouettes and fantastic water sculptures and I wanted to re-create them. To do this, I had to add my own nozzles onto a 3D printer that helped me turn water drops into water sculptures. I also started to add other elements into my work, such as fire, gold powder, smoke, etc. There are always certain difficulties in the process of shooting: the main problem is to catch the right shape, so that the light is distributed over the entire area of the water drop. I like everything in this photograph, especially the way this falling drop forms its unique shape. I also like the resulting reflection on the water and the light falling on it, because together they add drama to my photo."

Second Prize: Steve Tambosso for the image The Lagoon Nebula (US $1000)

"I’ve had a fascination with astronomy since my early childhood. The small library in my elementary school had a huge astronomy book filled with incredible photographs of the planets, nebulae, and galaxies, and I remember spending my recess time flipping through the pages of that book, staring in awe at those images. I went on to study photography at Ryerson University in Toronto and began working professionally in photography in my early 20s. By then I had purchased my first telescope, but in those days film imaging with amateur backyard telescopes was impractical, so I only observed the night sky with it and after a few years I sold it. Decades have passed since then and it would not be an overstatement to say that digital photography has revolutionized the art of amateur astro-photography. A year ago, I decided to purchase the equipment necessary for deep-sky imaging and to venture back into my astronomical passion. What I didn’t know at the time was that, regardless of my education and experience working in photography, the learning curve would be very steep, requiring considerable study of how to properly capture the data and then process it on a computer. There was also the monetary cost involved in purchasing the needed equipment. However, given the results I have obtained so far, I consider these challenges to have been worth the time, cost, and effort.

This past June I attended a “star party” – a gathering of astronomy enthusiasts – near Likely, California, a perfect dark-sky location in the northeast part of the state. I chose to focus my attention on the Lagoon Nebula because it was a perfectly sized target for my Stellarvue SVX130T refractor telescope and ZWO 6200MC camera. This photograph is a single-image file composed of 23 individual five-minute exposures (just under two hours of total exposure time), stacked – or digitally compiled together – and integrated with the “darks,” “flats,” and “bias” calibration frames, and then post-processed in “PixInsight,” a dedicated astro-photography software program. I’m very happy with the result because of the amount of detail I captured in the hydrogen alpha and oxygen III gas and dust clouds. This is very difficult to do without the proper equipment, techniques, and a good dark-sky location. Fortunately, it all came together for me that night."

Third Prize: Phuoc Hoai Nguyen for the image Fishing Boat (US $500)

"Five years ago, during a casual hangout with friends, I serendipitously came across fishermen engaged in nearshore fishing in Phu Yen, Vietnam. I used a drone to capture the scene as the fishermen cast their nets, and I was genuinely surprised when I saw the intricate forms of their colossal nets beneath the sea. From an aerial perspective, these nets resembled a "dance" of the open sea, swaying in harmony with the currents and the wind, forming various shapes. But most importantly, it showcased the joy of the fishermen as they hauled in nets brimming with a bountiful catch. It was these captivating images that consistently motivated and inspired me to document the beauty of this. The primary challenge in capturing this image was the geographical distance, as every time I wanted to capture these shots, I had to travel nearly 100 kilometers to reach the shooting location. Furthermore, the unpredictable weather conditions often posed challenges to this endeavor. I am most proud of capturing the moments of the fishermen's delight in retrieving their nets with a wholesome harvest. Achieving this task requires the fishermen to invest immense effort and navigate through various hardships while casting and hauling the nets. Each net teeming with a catch represents a source of income for the local fishermen. And with the enchanting patterns formed by the nets, I aspire to introduce a picturesque Vietnam to my international friends. For me, my journey as an amateur photographer is about exploring the culture, landscapes, and people I encounter. Every place I step foot in provides a unique experience, and capturing those beautiful moments is my way of preserving the extraordinary."

Technology Prize – Technology-made Images: Irina Petrova Adamatzky for the image Cordyceps (US $750)

"This lifeform appears to mimic a plant, but, in fact, it’s a fungus known as Cordyceps, renowned for its peculiar behavior. This “zombie” parasite achieves control over insects; it’s also believed to possess the potential to address various human health issues, ranging from muscle fatigue to diabetes. The inspiration behind this image holds a significant place in my heart: I captured it during the Christmas season, a time that was emotionally challenging for me as I had recently lost my father. Despite the grief, I decided to immerse myself in my passion for photography, exploring new lighting and shooting techniques. The Cordyceps specimen featured in this image captivated me, primarily due to its dual nature and the otherworldly forms of its fruit bodies. I was drawn to its unique characteristics and wanted to present it from an unconventional perspective. To achieve this, I employed five different vibrant LEDs, creating a photograph that resonates with the essence of an abstract painting. This image represents not only my exploration of innovative techniques but also a profound personal journey during a trying time in my life. Arranging the LEDs to achieve the desired image was a challenging aspect of the process, and I take pride in the fact that I achieved my goal of capturing an unusual photo of Cordyceps, showcasing its exceptional beauty. What I relish most about being a photographer is the opportunity to explore the world from new perspectives, unveiling the incredible hidden micro-universes that exist on our Earth, and sharing them with others."

Technology Prize – Technology Around the Globe: Richard Schmittner for the image Laser Cave Mapping (US $750)

"As a cave diver and photographer, I enjoy showing these amazing places to people who don't have the opportunity to visit them. My photography playground for most of the year is the underwater caves of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. I came here 14 years ago from my native Germany, and I've experienced the pristine beauty of these caves, as well as the decline of the underwater system in recent years due to unsustainable tourism and pollution.

This photo was taken as part of a research project aimed at protecting and better understanding the Yucatán aquifer. Scientists from GeoSphere Austria, as part of their Project Flowcast, have been conducting studies of the submerged cave system in Quintana Roo, the newest state on the Yucatán Peninsula. During the first dive with the cave laser mapper, I knew we had to take a picture of this because it creates a play of light that has never been seen before, at least to my knowledge.

By far the most challenging part of getting this image was capturing the ring of light produced by the laser. This laser is not on all the time; it actually works like a strobe and only lights up for a fraction of a second. Coordinating my cave-diver model to press the button at the exact moment my lens is open was by far the most difficult part of this particular photo. That said, without doubt, I am most proud of the fact that I managed to capture the full ring of the blue laser! Taking pictures in the cave can be a challenge because you can't just take a snapshot: You have to place lights in the cave before you start shooting to give a perspective of size or depth to the picture. On top of that, you must never forget to dive safely, and always keep an eye on your equipment! After all, you are diving in a flooded cave. Adding another light source that is not constant takes this photo shoot to a whole new level. As a photographer, I enjoy playing with light and showing scenarios that the human eye can't capture. I love long-exposure photography – where normal lights suddenly become light trails – or the opposite – hyperspeed photography like capturing the moment of a popping water balloon.

What I like most, especially when photographing in water-filled caves, is the fact that I can basically “fly” underwater. This allows me to get angles for shots that would be nearly impossible in a dry cave, and very difficult indeed outside of caves."


Youth Category: Ages 13 -17 years old (Gift boxes)

  • Shreya Jorasiya for the image The way to new life (Diya).
  • Dylan for the image Starlight Phonograph.
  • V.A.K.A. Samarawickrama for the image The psyche.

More favorites from the 2023 Photo Contest


Explore previous winning and top pick photos

2017 2018
2019 2020
2021 2022