The PPA (Professional Photographers of America) publishes 12 elements of a merit image.  These 12 elements are used by PPA judges to rate competition photographs.  Bri Thatcher gave an excellent presentation to the NAPfS membership on these 12 elements and the benefits of the PPA on September 19, 2019.  You can see the complete recap of her presentation here, including the links to the PPA websites and some interesting facts on the way that PPA judges operate.

So, when you submit your next photos for NAPfS competition consider the PPA 12 Elements of a Merit Image:

  • Impact – Viewing and image for the first time always evokes some kind of feeling. Sometimes they can make us sad, happy or angry. Sometimes they force us to look inward at ourselves. That’s called an impact, and the more powerful the image, the more powerful the emotional response of the viewer.
  • Technical Excellence – This is the print quality of the actual image itself as it’s presented for viewing. There are a lot of aspects that speak to the qualities of the physical print. These can include: retouching, manipulation, sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting, and color correction.
  • Creativity – Your point of view is exactly that – yours. And it’s unlikely anyone else’s. This element speaks directly to that perspective. It shows your imagination and how you used the medium to convey an idea, a message, or a thought to the viewer. This is how you differentiate yourself from others.
  • Style – There are many, many ways to apply this element to your work. Maybe you use light in a specific way on a subject, or maybe you make a technical decision for the express purpose of underscoring desired impact. When subject matter and style come together in an appropriate manner, the effects on an image can be spectacular. But remember, when subject matter and style don’t work together, the results can be, well, less-than-spectacular.
  • Composition – When all the visual element of an image come together to express intent, that’s when the magic of composition happens. Good composition captures a viewer’s attention and directs it where you, the artist, want it to be. Depending on your intent, you can make something that pleases the view – or disturbs them.
  • Presentation – How you showcase an image is just as important as how you compose it. Everything in the presentation should work to enhance your image and not distract from it. Keep this in mind when choosing mats, borders and everything in between.
  • Color Balance – Proper color balance can bring a sense of harmony to an image. When the tones all work together to support an image, the emotional appeal is that much greater. But color balance doesn’t have to be used to bring harmony to an image. You can use color balance to evoke any number of feelings from a viewer. The choice in how to take advantage is entirely up to you, but no matter what, be sure your choice enhances rather than distracts.
  • Center of Interest – This is where an image’s creator wants the viewer’s attention focused. Sometimes there can be a primary and secondary center of interest. Sometimes everything in an image will work together to create that center of interest. A good way to measure this is to turn your photo upside-down; if your eye still goes to the center of interest, then it is probably correct.
  • Lighting – The use and control of light has an effect on every aspect of an image. It informs dimensions and shape. It sets tone and mood, and, like every other technique, proper lighting can be used to enhance your image while improper lighting can distract from it.
  • Subject Matter – Even though it lacks words, your image is still telling a story, and your subject matter is central to that. So make sure your subject matter is right for the story that you’re trying to tell.
  • Technique – How you choose to execute your image is a key. It’s also a holistic decision. Technique informs everything in the creation of your image. From lighting and posing to printing and presentation, it all works to show off the techniques that you’ve mastered and applied to your craft.
  • Story Telling – What does you image evoke in a viewer’s imagination? What do you want your image to evoke in a view’s imagination? Your image is a story, and the one it tells your viewer may be one you never knew you were telling.

Almost everyone agrees that the most important element is Impact; what impact does the image have on the judge? Other merit elements include: Technical Excellence, Creativity, Style, Composition, Presentation, Color Balance, Center of Interest, Lighting, Subject Matter, Technique, and Story Telling. The image’s title can also be quite important to judges’ reactions.



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