Twelve Criteria Used to Judge Print Competitions | LexJet Blog

Twelve Criteria Used to Judge Print Competitions

In the cover story of the Jan/Feb issue of Great Output, award-winning photographers Tina and Michael Timmons of The Portrait Gallery in Vassar, Mich. wrote about some of the benefits of entering print competitions. They point out that entering print competitions can truly be one of the best forms of photography education: “All phases of the process can change how you think about your work.”


The article, entitled Demystifying Print Competitions, can be downloaded here.

The Timmons also presented some practical advice for selecting which images to enter. There wasn’t room in the magazine to print the full sidebar describing some of the criteria used to judge prints, so we’re publishing the information here. 


Below are the 12 elements that the Photographic Exhibitions Committee (PEC) of the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) provides as guidelines to print-competition entrants. Based on fundamental precepts for judging a photograph or other piece of fine art, these guidelines are meant simply to give entrants a basic understanding of what constitutes a good image.  

  1. Impact is the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder or another intense emotion. 
  2. Creativity is the external expression of the imagination of the maker by using the medium to convey an idea, message or thought.
  3. Style is defined in a number of ways. It might be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognizable as the characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject.  It can impact an image in a positive manner when the subject matter and the style are appropriate for each other, or it can have a negative effect when they are at odds.
  4. Composition is important to the design of an image, bringing all of the visual elements together in concert to express the purpose of the image. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to look where the creator intends. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker.
  5. Print Presentation affects an image by giving it a finished look. The mats and borders used should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.
  6. Center of Interest is the point or points on the image where the imagemaker wants the viewer to stop as they view the image. There can be primary and secondary centers of interest. Occasionally there will be no specific center of interest and the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest.
  7. Lighting (the use and control of light) refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is manmade or natural, proper use of lighting should enhance an image.
  8. Subject Matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.
  9. Color Balance supplies harmony to an image.  An image in which the tones work together effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Color balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.
  10. Technical Excellence is the print quality of the image itself as it is presented for viewing. Sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting, and correct color all speak to the qualities of the physical print.
  11. Technique is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, paper selection and other elements are part of the technique applied to an image.
  12. Storytelling refers to the ability of the image to evoke imagination. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or read her own story in an image.

The deadline for entering PPA’s 2009 International Print Competition has already passed.  But if you familiarize yourself with the competition rules now as well as the criteria upon which prints are judged, you can start setting aside images now that you might want to consider entering in next year’s competition.

Since 1994, LexJet has helped tens of thousands of business owners, photographers, artists, and designers prosper by helping them select the best digital-printing equipment, materials, software, and finishing systems for their operations.


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