Smile! Photo Contest Marks 40 Years of Friends

The Chicago River system is teeming with life in, on, and along the water and there has been much success in cleaning it up and making it more accessible—and we want people to know it. To do that we need your help!

As part of our 40th anniversary celebration, Friends of the Chicago River is holding a contest for the best and most beautiful photos of people, wildlife, natural landscapes and our beloved gem of a waterway and what’s along its banks.

Ten first and second place winners will be featured in Friends’ newsletter and an October 2019 exhibition at our McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum on the bustling Chicago Riverwalk downtown.

Photos should be sent to

Please see the rules and guidelines below.

We’re looking for photos in these categories:


1. Wildlife

Got a great close up of a mallard duck or black-crowned night-heron? How about an egret or an osprey? We’re looking for turtles and frogs, and mammals, too, such as otters, foxes, beavers and bats. Even insects! First Prize: Two tickets to a Canoe and Clean paddling event.

2. Water

Get creative here. Perhaps a moonlight photo or one where the shadows and the sun are just right. First Prize: Two tickets to our annual After-Party Cruise, following our Big Fish Ball gala. 

3. People and Recreation

These might include canoeing, kayaking, rowing, or fishing. Photos of people enjoying tour boat rides or playing near the river’s edge would also fit into this category. First Prize: Two tickets to the annual After-Party Cruise following our Big Fish Ball.

4. Native Plants and Landscape

Avoid invasive plant photos but flowers, trees, and waterborne plants would be perfect. Close ups encouraged. First Prize: Two tickets to our annual Summer Cruise.

5. Urban scenes

These could include an artistic shot of a bridge, a barge, photos of a building that includes the river, skylines, riverwalks and trailside businesses. First prize: Two tickets for a Bridgehouse Breakfast at our McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum during a bridge lift.

Contest Guidelines


  • Anyone can enter the Chicago River photo contest.
  • Photos must be original work created by the contestant. The photographer must own the copyright to the image and must agree to allow Friends of the Chicago River to use the images in publishing without compensation to the copyright holder.
  • Only photos of the Chicago River system will be accepted. That includes the West Fork, Middle Fork, Skokie Lagoons, Upper North Branch, North Shore Channel, North Branch, Main Stem, South Branch, Little Calumet River, the Cal-Sag Channel, and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.
  • Acceptable digital alterations are limited to color, contrast, brightness, and sharpness. Cropping is also permitted. No composites or digitally deleting objects.

Submission Requirements

  • All photos must be received by 12 noon on Friday, August 16, 2019.
  • Submission must be emailed to
  • Images should be titled this way: “Your Name - Category”
  • Limit two entries per category with a maximum total of 10 photos.
  • Photos should be submitted in jpeg format with a resolution of 300 dpi.
  • Captions should include a description of the photo, including location where it was taken and the approximate date. For example, (Canoe on North Branch near Addison St., July 2018.)
  • No photographs of graffiti, garbage, invasives plants, or the river dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day, please. Friends reserves the right to disqualify any photographs deemed inappropriate.


  • The photographers retain the rights to their photographs but consent to allowing Friends of the Chicago River to use them to promote the Chicago River system including but not limited: posting it on our website and social media, publishing it in our thrice-yearly printed newsletter The River Reporter and other printed materials, and distributing to outside media for publicity purposes.
  • You must be able to provide proof of permission from any individual whose identity is clearly depicted in photo entries and be able to supply that proof upon request.


Entries will be judged by Friends of the Chicago staff on overall aesthetics.

Prizes, Reception, and Exhibition

  • Prizes will be awarded for first and second place in each category as well as an overall best of show.
  • All winning images will be on display at Friends’ McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum from October 1 through October 31, 2019.
  • An opening reception hosted by Friends’ Otter Society will be held recognizing the photographs and their work the evening of Thursday, October 3. Winning photographers will be invited.
  • One 1st place and one second place winner will be chosen for each category. Selected images will be printed for exhibition at Friends of the Chicago River’s McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum.

Photos should be sent to