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Saturday, 11 February 2012
12 Elements Of A Merit Photograph
Mood:  sharp
Topic: Photography

The season of photographic print competitions will soon be upon us.  In fact the annual print competition of the Vermont Professional Photographers is now only a few weeks away.  Ugh!  I still have to do some final edits and get my entries printed and mounted for exhibition.  I always plan to start early, but somehow the time seems to slip away; and before I know it, I am facing the possibility of needing expedited shipping to get them back in time.   

Within the various affiliates of the Professional Photographers of America, you will always hear one common refrain - entering print competitions will make you a better photographer.  Sure, there will always be a photograph here and there that you may have thought should score better than it did - and with some justification, since it is a subjective judgment after all!  But there will be many more that you will agree could have been better - and picked up a few clues as to ways to do just that.  Sometimes the clues relate to how to take the image differently, and other times it is how to post process it for better effect.  At the very least, when you look through the lens to take a new picture after having been through print competition, you do tend to "see" a little differently, a little more critically, a little more aware of the light, and a little more aware of what translates to a print better.    

It is always helpful, as I contemplate which images to enter, to go back and remind myself of what the judges will look for.  It is not necessarily the same things with the same priorities that a wedding customer would look for, but they do have significant overlap.   

Within the Professional Photographers of America affiliates and their various print competitions, there are 12 elements that the judges look for in an image to determine whether it rises to the level of being "merit worthy."  That is, worthy of recognition at a national level.      

The twelve elements are subjective and you will rarely find even five judges with similar backgrounds who will give the same score.  In observing a few competitions, there are always a handful of images that will garner a 15 or more point spread from highest to lowest individual judge's score.  For most prints, however, while they will rarely agree on an exact score, there is usually a pretty strong consensus for whether a print is a merit contender or not.  Interestingly, it seems that if a print is a good example of most of the 12 elements, it will score high.  If it seems to miss the mark on most elements, it will score low.  It is usually where the image scores high on only one or two elements, but low on others that the judges will be widely split - depending on how they personally tend to prioritize the different elements.  

The twelve elements have been defined and used within PPA to describe what is necessary for the success of an art piece or image.  While other organizations will have their own lexicon, you usually find they are looking for the same things - just defining them a bit differently.  The presumption is that any image, art piece or photograph will reveal some measure of all twelve elements, while a visually superior example will reveal obvious consideration of each one.  The elements as defined within PPA are:

The Photographic Exhibitions Committee (PEC) of PPA uses the 12 elements above as the “gold standard” to define a merit image.  They believe that the use of these 12 elements connects the modern practice of photography and its photographers to the historical practice of photography begun nearly two centuries ago.

Happy shooting!     

Posted by Warren

Ayer Photography of Vermont              

one of our galleries ...


Posted by ayerphoto at 6:34 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, 18 February 2012 10:38 AM EST
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