In many regions of the world, there are multiple fairs happening every weekend starting in the spring and continuing through summer and into autumn. From North to South, East to West, annual fairs bring people together to delight in the defining characteristics of their hometown. There are rows of booths for arts and crafts, decadent or homegrown foods, animal exhibits, and often a contest that gets every photographer reaching for their camera. Yes, many fairs have photography contests! It only takes a little bit of research to discover which ones your region offers, but you can also set outside of your hometown to take part in a contest far away. All of these contests are a great way to build up both your prize money and your ribbon-display board.
Most state or regional fairs post everything that you would need to know on the Internet. So if your local fair is hosting a contest, then the information, entry forms, and sometimes last year's winners will be available via your Internet connection. Simply, do a search for "[your region] fair" and "photography" and "contest." You'll discover some contests, in which the entry requirements are broad and others, in which your picture must fall into a very narrow theme. For instance, South Dakota's "Barn Again" contest is looking for, you guessed it, photographs of barns. While this contest may not be for you because there are no barns in a 500-mile radius from your home, don't despair yet. There are many other contests, and many of them do not have rural themes.
The rules for photography contests sponsored by state fairs vary greatly. The rules are as different as the states are to one another. And there are little to no connections between the many different contests. There's no reason you cannot enter a handful of different ones from many different regions. Just because you live in Wisconsin, doesn't mean that you cannot enter the contest in Florida that is accepting entries of orange trees. If your picture fits the guidelines, enter it!
In the same vein, the prizes also vary greatly from ribbons to a few dollars to hundreds of dollars. State fair photo contests are a wonderful way to get in at the ground level. Build a name for yourself either through your own community or the communities of others and then move on to bigger things.
By diving in and entering as many contests as you can, you'll gain a different perspective of your photography and others. And of course, winning them is an excellent way to uplift your confidence and improve your work.