Stumbled across this thread and found it very interesting! Thhis is my first ever forum post so forgive me if im doing it wrong!
I got into SL photography a while ago. I had a friend who took amazing shots and once I saw what he could do I was hooked. Im a beginner and just do it for fun.
I agree about the in world contests being rigged and for popularity. A lot of the ones that give away big prizes too I found out give them to their friends and just do it for publicity.
If you guys or anyone else who comes across this is interested, I admin a group on facebook that is very active with great people. It's called " Second Life photography and chit chat" on facebook if yall would care to peek in some time. Some are proffesionals, some beginners, but we all just post our photos in there for the sheer love of SL photography. We all make sure to like and comment. Its kind of cool we've kind of become a little family and can even identiry each others work without even looking at the names haha.
Every month I also run a contest with 2 prizes of 1000L each. I do 2 prizes for this very reason. One of the winners is picked by a judge, and the other winner is most likes on the photo. The "most likes" option is nice because even if the person isnt very skilled, if they get their friends to like their pic they still are encouraged to pursue their passion when they win. (And my group members grow ) And the one picked by a judge is so that a winner can yes be chosen through talent and creativity. I pay the prizes out of my own account just because I like it so much and love others to like it too.
Good luck with the photo contests and a great hobby!