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Every year, hundreds of photographers submit their best work in the International Photographic Competition (IPC) to see how they stack up on the world's stage. It's an opportunity to showcase your creativity, skills and work, while learning and shining some light on areas you can improve (because we all get better when we know what we need to work on). 

(c) Professional Photographers of Iowa  _MG_4772_resize.JPG
The best way to learn is by ordering a critique of your image(s). An IPC judge will record a video of your image, reviewing every detail. They will explain your score, what you did well, and of course, what you need to work on for next year. There is no better place to get some one-on-one feedback on how to improve your work!

And this year, PPA's working on a solution to help the IPC judges going a step further. For the first time ever, judging will be streamed live from the comfort of your own home. Closer to the date, we'll release the access information and you'll just have to hop online during judging (August 4-7). You'll be able to see what images make it and which fall short. 

You'll even hear the judges' rebuttals and see how they challenge each other's evaluations of some images! Remember, the best way to improve your skills is to hear the judges' comments on your work, so you'll want to listen closely as they discuss your entry! And for those who entered images in IPC this year, you will even get an update via text message, as to when your image will be presented and judged so you'll know immediately if you merited! 

VPPA - 002 - (c) Jim Sanders Harrisonburg VA.jpg
If you're still hesitant to enter a professional photographic competition, checking out the live judging from your computer will be  great way to see what it's really like. In the meantime, below you will find some great PPAedu videos that will also help give you some perspective:

Or if you'd like a refresher on the 12 Elements of a Merit Image, you can get them here with some excellent videos from Michael Timmons, M.Photog.M.Artist.Cr., CPP, F-ASP, an IPC Judge. 

Entries for the IPC opened on May 26 and will remain open until next Thursday, June 26. But don't worry, if your images aren't quite there yet, late submissions will be accepted until July 10 with an additional fee. 

If you're still asking yourself why enter - here are the 10 reasons photographic competition will help your business.

And we should mention - if you're in the Atlanta area and want to see the judging live and in person, IPC Judging at Gwinnett Technical College

(Top Image © Professional Photographers of Iowa, Lower Image © Jim Sanders, Harrisonburg, VA)

On Monday, May 26, entries will open for the 2014 International Photographic Competition
 (IPC). PPA members that have entered the competition before know that not only can IPC help you earn merits toward your PPA degree; it can also help improve your photography business! 

While having your work judged can be intimidating, especially if it's your first time entering, we get tons of positive feedback on how entering IPC has made entrants better photographers. From keeping you inspired by seeing other IPC entries to being able to charge higher prices if you earn an award, there are many great reasons to enter IPC. Check out 10 of the ways competition can help your business here. 

As you're preparing your images for entry (digital or physical prints), it's important to keep in mind the 12 Elements of a Merit Image. These are the standards by which all photographs in the IPC are judged. By adhering to these standards, you are more likely to earn a high score so you can get those merits towards your degree. Practicing these elements will also help keep your photography at its best! 
If you're new to the IPC, or just need a refresher on the 12 Elements, check out our PPAedu video series on the topic with IPC judge Michael Timmons. In part one, Michael covers the elements Impact, Creativity, Style and Composition.  Part two covers Print Presentation, Center Of Interest, Lighting and Subject Matter and part three focuses on  the last 4 elements; Color Balance, Technical Excellence, Technique and Storytelling. You've got to be a PPA member to watch these videos, so join today! 

Once you've reviewed the 12 Elements and are ready to enter, you can read the rules and register for the competition at Here, you'll also find video tutorials covering topics like choosing the correct category for your images, setting profiles and calibration, entering albums and more. Make sure to review these videos before you enter your images to ensure that you are doing everything correctly! Oh, and if you're planning on mailing in physical prints, you can find a list of approved print cases for shipping to the competition. 

Be sure to enter by June 26 to avoid late fees! Entries will be accepted until July 10, but after June 26, an additional fee is required. 

Once you enter, watch the judging live in-person or streaming online
As we mentioned earlier, entering the IPC is a great way to improve your images and your business as a whole. However, the score you receive won't include all those great judges' comments about your work. You might be surprised by some of the things the judges pick up on!

So, to get the most out of IPC, you'll want to be present while your image is being judged so that you can absorb all of the judges' comments and ideas, and use these to continue to improve your photography. You'll also learn some great lessons while watching others' work being judged, and you may be inspired as well!

Judging will take place August 3 - 7 at Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville, GA. Judging is open to the public, so we encourage you to attend and watch  the judging live. Can't make it to Georgia for the judging? No worries, we've got you covered there too! For the first time ever, all of the judging will be streamed live on, so you can still watch from the comfort of your couch. Remember, watching the judging is the best way to learn at IPC, so we hope to see you there, in person or virtually. Stay tuned for more details about the streaming as we get closer to the judging. 

In the meantime, start getting those images ready and enter the IPC beginning May 26! 
Participating in photographic competitions can change your business, but only if you enter. How? Let us count the ways using the International Photographic Competition (IPC) as an example:

1. Get inspired! Take a good look at who else enters in the IPC--there are some pretty creative folks out there! See if any of their work trips your creative trigger and helps you produce even more out-of-the-box images. Nothing helps get the creative juices flowing like being exposed to fantastic works of art.

2. Define your style. The more you compete in photographic competitions, the more you'll be able to hone your personal style. As you fine tune your skill set, this signature style can become a great calling card for your business!

3. It will make you a better photographer. Opt to get an image critique and listen to an IPC Judge walk you through what you did right, what could use some improvement and offer suggestions on things you may have never considered. Even award-winning image makers can learn a thing or two from a fresh, professional set of eyes. Apply what you learn to your next client session and see your business grow!

4. Take on a personal challenge. You want to stay current, push yourself outside your comfort zone and stretch your artistic abilities? The IPC gives you an amazing opportunity to do just that! Set goals for yourself and keep entering year after year to continually improve your work. You can also work on projects that aren't in your typical client assignments. Broaden your photographic horizons! It might transpire into a new product line.

5. Prove you're the best. Let's face it, we all like a little (or a lot) of validation now and again. Entering in the IPC lets you put your best work up against photographers from around the world to see who reigns supreme. And you can see how you can improve year over year to improve yourself! Talk about a confidence boost! Your clients will see your swagger.

6. Charge higher prices. Being able to call yourself an "award winning photographer" gives you some serious clout over your local competition. You can now justify higher prices by letting your clients see the difference between yourself, an international award-winning photographer and that mom with a camera down the street. And if you continue to compete and earn your masters of photography, the designation of "M.Photog." behind your name will pack a punch.

7. Make connections. Even the best photographers can't do it alone. Make some life-long friends along the way as you compete. You'll bond over the thrill of victory (and the occasional agony of defeat). Connect on theLoop or the OurPPA Forums to get support from newbies or seasoned vets on anything competition-related. Still making edits hours before the deadline? They'll be right there with you. And there are countless mentoring opportunities--between the portfolio reviews done by PPA Judges at Imaging USA or finding mentors in your community before you enter, there are plenty of folks who are eager to help you!

8. Judges & clients want different things. Your clients probably don't come to you because they know you'll rock the 12 elements of a merit image by name--but they do come to you because of your style and brand. Competitions give you an opportunity to take risks your clients might be afraid to take with you. 

9. Rejuvenate your love of photography! Fall back in love with what you do. Get out of any mental rut you may be in, stretch your creative wings and do what you love! You have time to work on these works of art (early bird entries close June 26th), so you won't be as constrained by crazy turnaround times. You might be amazing what epiphanies you have with a little extra time on your hands.

10. It's the next step. You're an accomplished professional photographer. With earning high scores at the IPC, you'll earn merits that will set you on the path of earning your master of photography degree. You can also become a judge after earning 18 exhibition merits, taking the judges workshop and starting with local or regional competitions. Continuing your education is important to staying relevant and in tune with what your clients are expecting.

Have more reasons entering competitions will change your business? Let us know on theLoop! This year PPA's International Print Competition is open for entries from May 26 through June 26. It's a great way to be more!
The International Photographic Competition is quickly approaching! 

Participating in PPA's International Photographic Competition is one of the best ways for you to grow your craft and skills as a creative, professional photographer. It gives you a unique opportunity to engage with others who are just as passionate as you are about this crazy world of photography, along with a chance to improve on your finest work (your best will become even better--how exciting is that?).  

By pushing the limits of your creativity, you allow yourself to grow as an artist. 

"My fellow PPA friends have proven priceless in mentoring me to take my artwork farther so I can create art in a sustainable business," said Heather Michelle Chinn, M.Artist.Cr. "Print Competition alone has continually challenged me as an artist to grow and get out of my comfort zone. When we're uncomfortable, that's when the biggest growth occurs. Without, we stay stagnant or wither away."

And it's not just about you--it's about your clients too! 

"Image competition has made me strive to be a better photographer while challenging me to create better and more unique images for my clients," said Damon Fecitt, Cr.Photog., CPP. 

If you're curious to know or want to brush up on what the IPC judges are looking for, check this post on the 12 elements of a merit image. It's not easy as it might sound... are you ready for the challenge? You can also go full-on behind-the-scenes and see what motivates others to put themselves in such a vulnerable position. Read Christine Walsh-Newton's post about why she competes here.

So what are you waiting for?

The rules are currently online, and entries open May 26th and close June 26th (if you need a little more time, you can enter by July 10th, but there will be a late fee). 
The world of photographic competitions can seem like a tricky place to navigate. How can pieces of artwork be judged? Isn't it all up to aesthetics and personal preference? On the surface it would seem so, but overall there are 12 elements that have stood the test of time to make an art piece or image successful - regardless of personal taste. We're here to give you the road map (of sorts) to create the most successful images so that you can merit at your next competition!

Definition: the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder or another intense emotion. There can be impact in any of these 12 elements.
What it really means: This is the eye candy, the wow factor, the reason we love it. We enjoy art because it moves us. It makes us feel something--whether it brings us joy, sadness or anger (or any other emotion aside from blasé for that matter). What emotions does your piece make people feel? This can also be described as the "wow-factor," it draws a person in and captivates their attention.

2.Technical excellence: 
Definition: the print quality of the image itself as it is presented for viewing. Retouching, manipulation, sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting and correct color are some items that speak to the qualities of the image.
What it really means: This is the nuts and bolts of photography. Exposure, focus, lighting, Photoshop skills, and so much more! It's what makes you a pro. But you can take it too far--be wary of going too far with corrections. 
Each year at the International Photographic Competition (IPC), a panel of jurors votes on whether or not an entry will earn a merit based on the 12 elements of a merit image (read more about the elements on Why are merits important? Well, they're needed for you to earn your PPA degree, showing your dedication to professional photography. Beyond that, earning a merit at IPC is a sign that your image-making skills are improving, which can only help to improve your business! 

Once the jurors determine if an image deserves a merit, the next step is to take any merited images and decide if they become part of PPA's loan collection. Only a small percentage of all the entries to the IPC become part of the loan collection, so it's definitely a big achievement! Loan collection images are exhibited at Imaging USA in the International Photographic Exhibit. The Photographer of the Year awards are also determined by the IPC results, and the winners are recognized at the Award & Degree ceremony held during Imaging USA.

To show you how some past loan images were created, we'll be sharing some images from PPA's loan collection and how the photographer created them. This is "Bandit" by Mona Sadler. M.Photog., CPP, owner of Coastal Pet Portraits in Alliance, N.C. (

Mona created "Bandit" during a pet photo special on behalf of Spay Today, an organization that provides free pet spaying. 

"The look on the dog's face was as special as he is," says Sadler. "His owner suffers from MS, and he is a certified service dog. Although living with pain and disability, she and Bandit
give to others." 

1066-1.jpgCAMERA & LENS: Canon EOS 5D camera; Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
USM lens shot at 100mm
EXPOSURE: 1/200 second at f/8, ISO 200.
LIGHTING: Two Photogenic PowerLights, a 2500DR and a 1500SL, modified
by a 3x4 Aurora soft box and an Aurora Lite Bank; a Larson reflector
bounced in fill light
POST-CAPTURE: Says Mona, "Bandit was being held by his owner when I took
the photo. I painted her out and let the background go white. The painting was
done first in Photoshop then finished in Corel Painter to add texture and brush
strokes. It was my goal to make the portrait look very classical, soft and tender."

Stay tuned for more loan images and the stories behind them. In the meantime, you can view the 2013 results on Plus, look for an online gallery of IPC images coming to soon! 

And don't forget to stop by the International Photographic Exhibit at Imaging USA in Phoenix January 12 - 14, 2014 to see loan images from this year's IPC in person. 

IMAGE © Mona Sadler

Each year at the International Photographic Competition (IPC), a panel of jurors votes on whether or not an entry will earn a merit based on the 12 elements of a merit image (read more about the elements on Why are merits important? Well, they're needed for you to earn your PPA degree, showing your dedication to professional photography. Beyond that, earning a merit at IPC is a sign that your image-making skills are improving, which can only help to improve your business! 

Once the jurors determine if an image deserves a merit, the next step is to take any merited images and decide if they become part of PPA's loan collection. Only a small percentage of all the entries to the IPC become part of the loan collection, so it's definitely a big achievement! Loan collection images are exhibited at Imaging USA in the International Photographic Exhibit. The Photographer of the Year awards are also determined by the IPC results, and the winners are recognized at the Award & Degree ceremony held during Imaging USA.

To show you how some past loan images were created, we'll be sharing some images from PPA's loan collection and how the photographer created them. This is "Moon Light Dance" by Frank Salas, M.Photog.Cr., A-ASP, of Frank Salas Photography in Irvine, California.


"Moon Light Dance" was taken minutes before the end of the wedding couple's reception at the St. Regis Hotel, Monarch Beach Resort, in Southern California. Wedding day time constraints typically test the photographer's creativity, Salas says. "By offering to stay until the end of most events, I'm able to spend a few more minutes looking for new scenic spots where I can create something unique not only for the couple but for myself as well."

CAMERA & LENS: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens
SETTINGS & EXPOSURE: f/2.8 for 1/80 second, ISO 1600
LIGHTING: Available light only
POST CAPTURE: Processed and retouched in Adobe CS6 and Lightroom 4; enhanced with filters in Nik software

Stay tuned for more loan images and the stories behind them. In the meantime, you can view the 2013 results on Plus, look for an online gallery of IPC images coming to soon! 

And don't forget to stop by the International Photographic Exhibit at Imaging USA in Phoenix January 12 - 14, 2014 to see loan images from this year's IPC in person. 


The International Photographic Competition was earlier this month and the results have been in for weeks

Now, it's time to dish out some medals. Well, not actually dish them out, that doesn't happen until Imaging USA, but we can at least tell you who won!

So yes, there be SPOILERS AHEAD!

PPA members receive these medalist designations by earning a merit--a mark of quality and honor--for each of the four images included in their entry case to the International Photographic Competition. This is the most prestigious competition of its kind, where images are judged based on a standard of artistic excellence, not against each other. 

After going 4/4 at the merit level, these images went to another round of judging. The level of the award is determined by how many of those four images receive the highest possible honor: acceptance into the PPA Loan Collection, which is displayed at photographic exhibitions, conventions and other photography events. 

The scoring rundown is as follows:

Diamond - 4/4 accepted into Loan Collection
Platinum - 3/4
Gold - 2/4 
Silver - 1/4 
Bronze - 4/4 merited, no Loan

And here is the spread of our 224 winners:

Diamond - 12
Platinum - 32
Gold - 59 
Silver - 66 
Bronze - 55 

"These photographers have reached a prestigious achievement," states Randy McNeilly, PPA's Photographic Exhibition Committee Chairman. "It takes dedication to achieve the consistent quality and creativity necessary to earn the title of Silver Medalist in one of the world's most celebrated photography competitions. While they will be receiving this award at Imaging USA in Phoenix, the real winners will be their clients who have commissioned the work!"

Make sure you check out the full list of IPC medal winners, ranging from Diamond to Bronze.

Here are a few of the winner images which will be on display at Imaging USA, January 12-14 in Phoenix. 




By: John Owens, Communications Specialist, PPA

I've always been a "believe it when I see it" kind of guy.

As I boarded the bus with the rest of the PPA staff for our field trip to Gwinnett Tech, I wasn't sure what to expect from my first photographic competition. I'd written about the 12 Elements of a Merit Image and felt I had a firm grasp on them, but I hadn't seen them in action. They were just a list.

On the ride over I kept envisioning an American Idol-esque judging panel, or a Gordon Ramsay-type screaming at a helpless puppy in a photograph. My competitive background is in hockey, and I felt fairly certain that no one would drop the gloves, but who knows how heated the judging might get? What if someone attended and disagreed (strongly) with not earning a merit? If an image doesn't merit, does it get shipped off to an island of misfit images?

So yeah, I was excited for the International Photographic Competition, if a little misguided.


We arrived at Gwinnett Tech after a 30-minute drive from PPA HQ in downtown Atlanta. We entered the cafeteria where staff member and former PPA board member, Rich Newell, M.Photog.Cr., and chairman of the Photographic Exhibition Committee (PEC), Randy McNeilly, M.Photog.Cr., MEI, API, gave us the rundown for the IPC.

"For some members, this is why you're involved," began McNeilly. "I think you're going to see this event grow quite a bit in the next few years."

As they started to rattle off some numbers, it seemed like the growth was already in full-effect. At this year's IPC, nearly 5,000 images would be judged during the week. In the first year of IPC, eight images were judged.


For the first time this year, participants could sign-up for text message alerts to be immediately notified when their image was judged. The new feature was so popular, 1,200 text messages were sent in the first day, which was no doubt also a credit to the judges' efficiency.

In addition to the judging of the images, a record 1,500 images also requested individual critiques--a 250% increase over last year. Needless, to say, the IPC judges were in for a busy few days.

Then we learned that on top of the judging and critiques there was also a Judges Workshop taking place, where 38 students were taking the program to join the prestigious ranks of an IPC judge. So there was plenty going on! After our briefing, the staff was released to (quietly) roam the halls and pop into rooms to soak it all in.

I first headed into the large lecture room where the Judges Workshop was taking place. The room was dark, save for the light of a half-dozen Mac computers in the far right corner and a lit canvas in the left corner. The student judges were split into two groups, the left practicing the judging of print images, while the group at the Macs was mock-judging digital images. The 38 prospective judges was an impressive number, because as I learned from McNeilly, they can't exactly just show up. Even just being a student judge is actually years in the making.

They are entered into the program after they take the 40-hour Judges Workshop. But no, this doesn't mean they are a judge yet. Before they can become a judge, these brave photographers must earn their Master Photographer degree. It takes 13 merited images to achieve a Master's degree, and with a maximum of four submissions per year (none of which are guaranteed to merit), it can easily take six years or more.

Next they must start seeking out state competitions and tell them beforehand that they would like to be a judge. They spend three years judging at affiliate competitions and are evaluated by the existing judges. A committee then looks at the evaluations and votes on who can enter the fold.

Prospective judges must meet the minimum of three state competitions and have received five critiques, but no one gets in with the minimum. There are currently 114 total official judges. About two make the cut to join them each year.



But it's not just about becoming a judge for those attending. It's just as much about gaining an inside perspective to the competition.

New Jersey photographer, Mike Dill, CPP, was among those who, more than anything, came to improve his own photography.

"I wanted to see and learn what goes into the judging process so I could do better in future competitions," said the action and sports photographer. "I've watched competitions live before, but this gives me the opportunity to go behind the curtain and learn what goes into a winning image.

"It'll be a huge help to my photography to be able to evaluate my own images as well as become a judge in the future."

After a few more rounds of mock judging, the group took a break, as did the rest of the judges who were scattered in classrooms around the school. I immediately got the sense that they all knew each other, it almost felt as if they were attending an elite photography summer camp.

They wore matching black, short-sleeve, button-down shirts and gilded medals hung from their necks. Some had just a few pinned to their lanyard, but others had medals going all the way up the ribbon to their necks. They were the rewards of years and years of competition and merit earning, and the judges wore them proudly (in fact, I learned later they are required to). I could see them eyeing each other's tally, much like myself and the rest of the staff were, to see who among them was the best.

That's right, at the IPC, there's even competition amongst the judges--each striving to fill their lanyards to the brim like the lifetime members among them. But for these few days, they volunteer their time and fly out from all over the country to name the best of the best, and to push those who ordered critiques to be better.

After the short break, the judges went back to their respective rooms. I followed a group to a room for print submissions. I guess you could say submitting a print image is the old school method of competition, since printing and mailing four images can cost up to $800 versus just emailing some high-res JPEGs. But certainly from a spectating standpoint, the print submission room gave a better feel for what the competition was all about.

This batch of images was in the first round of judging, and would either merit or not merit. That means their brave owners decided to skip their district competition and submit directly to the IPC. Those images that earned an electronic seal (80 or above) at their respective district competitions go straight to loan judging. The difference in the judging is, at the IPC, there is no numerical scoring like there is at district competitions. Here it's either a yes or a no.


This room is much like the left side of the Judges' Workshop. The only thing illuminated is a large canvas, with a rectangle cutout in the middle to display the image. Images are clipped onto a three-sided rotating easel by white-gloved volunteers. The dark, the quiet and the lack of fingerprints gives a real weight to the competition.

The panel of six judges sits in a row maybe five feet from the displayed image. A seventh judge, sat to the side, announces the name of the image before it is displayed and oversees the scoring. As an image rotates into view, judges take turns approaching the image, getting within inches to examine every corner, every detail of the frame. Glasses on, glasses off, and then return to their seats to record a yes or no on an iPod.

The first two images do not earn merits, and then a third. A pattern starts to form as a fourth does not merit, but then it happens.


Total game changer. If a judge voted against the majority decision, they have the opportunity to challenge the result and argue their position, either for or against the image earning a merit. Then each judge says how they voted and why, highlighting details in the image they love or elements they find lacking. It might be the tiniest detail that they love or hate, every aspect of the image must have meaning and must be perfect. A judge might love a particular image, but that still might not be enough for them to vote in its favor. Their respect for the industry outweighs their passion for an image they're seeing for the very first time.

After they've all taken another look and discussed their thoughts, the judge who offered the challenge gives his or her rebuttal. Then they re-vote.

The constructive debate format takes the judging to another level. Their careful care examining each image is part of the reason only 30 to 40 percent earn merits each year. After about 20 minutes, the judges rotate to be sure they are seeing images from every angle. The judges complement each other on strong challenges that reverse the group decision and always offer thoughtful descriptions of what they're seeing. Color, texture, focus, exposure, depth, light, sharpness, technique, presentation, impact, tonality and design were all used in the discussion for a single image. 

Those complete images that earn merits move on to another round of judging for the Loan Collection. This round, the finals, if you will, is even more tightly scrutinized. Here, a great image is just that, it takes more to enter the Loan Collection. The challenges are even more passionate, and discussions even more in-depth. In the end, only 682 images entered the 2013 Loan Collection and will go in the Loan book and be on display in Phoenix at Imaging USA.

From the print competition I headed over to the critique room. Patty Geist, M.Photog.Cr., a little Nebraskan photography sparkplug, was one of a few judges scattered in a Mac lab reviewing images. Wearing a headset, she told the image creator what she liked and didn't like about the image. Where it excelled and where it needed improvement. She offered suggestions and showed the image owner specifically what she was talking about with her cursor. It might not be her favorite part of being a judge, but Patty appreciates the value in the critiques and offered an easy answer to anyone thinking about getting one in the future.

"If you haven't submitted an image to competition before--of course!" she said. "If your image didn't merit, it's the only way you're going to learn why."

Judges giving the critiques are generally seeing the images for the first time unless they were on the panel by which the image was judged. If they were, this gives added value to the critique, because they have already seen it and judged with the help of five others.

"That way my individual paradigm isn't the sole influence," said Patty.

At the end of each critique, the judges encourage the image owner to go to Imaging USA for one-on-one sessions with an official judge.

"Here it's just a one-way critique, but there we can answer the specific questions they might have about their image. We told them what to fix, but there we can tell them how."

After another morning of judging and critiquing upwards of 1,000 images, everyone took off their judging caps and once again became friends at camp as they broke for lunch. One hundred-some photographers brought together in the same room by the great unifier--pizza.

Although I'm not a photographer, I can sense when I'm around greatness, and they had the medals to prove it. The International Photographic Competition is the past, present and future of photography all at once, and judging by the passion and camaraderie of those esteemed photographers, they all seemed to be aware of it. You'd have to see it to believe it.

So why enter? Why get a critique? Why attend? To get better. To be a part of the present and the future. And hey, maybe it will inspire you to be more.

For my part, maybe the 12 Elements extend beyond just photography. Did I touch on them all?


The International Photographic Competition just wrapped up, and since the next image submission deadline for the Certified Professional Photographer is this Friday, August 16th, we thought this would be an excellent time to explain the difference between these two types of judging. 

At first thought, you might think that all judging is the same: some (extremely dedicated) PPA Jurors get together and give your work a thumbs up or down (based on a set of serious evaluation criteria, of course!). The principle is similar between the two, but depending on if it's for IPC or CPP, what they are evaluating is completely different!

Think of the CPP image submission as your best portfolio work (like your day-to-day, how you pay the bills type of work). On the other hand, the International Photographic Competition is where you can get crazy, artistic and creative. Submit what you do out of love versus what your portfolio is based on - sometimes they can be the same thing, but often times the work a photographer submits to one is not suitable for the other. Why? Let's dive in.

For the IPC (and related District Competitions):

The Photographic Exhibitions Committee (PEC) of PPA uses the 12 elements below as the "gold standard" to define a merit image. PEC trains judges to be mindful of these elements when judging images to the PPA merit level and to be placed in the International Photographic Exhibit at Imaging USA. 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.

Twelve elements have been defined as necessary for the success of an art piece or image. 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 Twelve elements listed below are in accordance to their importance.
  1. Impact - This 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. There can be impact in any of these twelve elements.
  2. Technical Excellence - The quality of the image itself, as it is presented for viewing, is taken into consideration. Retouching, manipulation, sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting, and correct color are some items that speak to the qualities of the image.
  3. Creativity - This relates to the original, fresh, and external expression of the imagination of the maker by using photography medium to convey his or her idea, message or thought.
  4. Style - There is a number of ways, or styles, as it applies to creating an image. Style might be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognizable as the characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject.
  5. Composition - This is important to the design of an image, as it brings all of the visual elements together and contributes to expressing a purpose. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image while leading the viewer to follow the direction intended by the creator. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker.
  6. Presentation - This is the finished look that affects and contributes to the impact or intent of an image. The mats and borders used, either physical or digital, should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.
  7. Color Balance - The color harmony and the way 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.
  8. Center of Interest - This is the point or points on the image where the maker 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, when the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest.
  9. Lighting - There is no image without light and judges evaluate the use and control of light, how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is manmade or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image.
  10. Subject Matter - An image's name should always be supporting the story being told.
  11. Technique - The approach used to create the image is reflected in the technique used. Printing, lighting, posing, capture, presentation media, and more are part of the technique applied to an image.
  12. Story Telling - This refers to the image's ability 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.

For the Certification's image submission:

CPP image submissions are judged by a group of 5 jurors who rotate each submission period. The judging pool consists of CPP Liaisons, Certification Committee members and active Certified Professional Photographers. 

As a CPP candidate, you are required to submit a portfolio of 15 images. The first six images must fit within the compulsory guidelines showing a standardized technical proficiency that all professional photographers, regardless of specialty, should know. Of those six, three must include the following:

  • Broad lighting 3:1 ratio
  • Selective focus, with minimum depth of field
  • Short lighting 3:1 ratio
The other three mandatory images must fall into one of the following categories. Choose any 3 of these image types to use as your fourth, fifth, and sixth image submission entries.
  • High Key Image - This image should demonstrate the proper technique in lighting a subject for a high key result. Note: 'Key' in an image describes the overall tonal range in which an image is created. This includes background, props & clothing. Therefore, a High Key image is an image where the predominant tones in the image are brighter than the mid tones. High Key images are typically lower in contrast than Low Key Images.
  • Low Key Image - This image should demonstrate the proper technique in lighting a subject for a low key result.
  • Rule of Thirds - This image should demonstrate subject placement and organization.
  • Use of Shape, Form, and Texture - This image should demonstrate these basic elements of art.
  • Balance (symmetrical or asymmetrical) - This image should demonstrate the principles of balance achieved through subject size, placement, weight or color.
  • Color Harmony - This image should demonstrate the harmonious relationship of color to create focus on your point of subject. Note: Color harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order. In portraiture, color harmony can help draw the viewer's eye to the point within the image which is most important.
  • "S" Curve Line - This image should demonstrate the "S" curve or feminine posing.
  • Assertive, Angular, or Masculine Line-This image should demonstrate an assertive, angular or masculine pose.
  • Architectural - This image should demonstrate the commercial application of architectural photography.

The remaining nine images must be representative of paid client work from nine different job assignments in the last 24 months. If you are a wedding photographer, that means nine different weddings, same with portraits or families. If you do multiple types of photography, then your portfolio can include a little of all that you do.

At the end of the day, the CPP image submission is a about entering technically excellent images that portray the fundamental basics of photography, whereas the IPC allows you to focus on the creation of the art. 

Interested in becoming a CPP or participating in future photographic competitions? Check out for all the details! 

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the PPA Competitions category.

PPA Communities/theLoop is the previous category.

PPA Council is the next category.

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