I've entered a number of high profile photographic competitions this past year, with very little success. It's impossible to know why a particular photograph is either accepted or rejected by a jury, but looking at the photographs that were chosen can offer some clues.
Jurors for these prominent shows overwhelmingly chose images that are what I'd consider “conceptual” or “avant-garde”. In each case, straight photography such as street, portrait, or especially traditional landscape, were grossly under-represented. In fact, it appears as if photographs in these traditional genre had virtually zero chance of being accepted into the shows. A majority of the jurors came out of the MFA system, and I'm guessing their preferences reflect their educational background as well as the current state of the fine art gallery scene.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with avant-grade photography, but I have to admit to being frustrated by the fact that so many shows seem to include predominately the same type of photographs (edgy, conceptual, avant-garde), regardless of the subject matter stated in the prospectus. For photographers like myself working within a traditional genre (in my case, the Western Landscape tradition), the opportunities appear to be somewhat limited. I've had some success within the few staunchly traditional shows I've entered, and I've had a number of opportunities to show my work locally, but the effort to get my work out to a broader national audience has been frustrating.
I suppose the answer is to be very selective and make 100% sure the shows one enters are sympathetic to traditional work. It may also be prudent to remember that most shows are market driven and the preference for avant-garde work has to do with money, the collector’s market, and the current climate in the MFA photography programs in our universities. Keeping this in mind might save one a bit of frustration and a lot of wasted entry fees.