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April 12, 2021

Improve Your Photography with the 12 Elements of a Merit Image

There's no better way to hone your craft and improve your images than by entering your work into PPA's District Competitions! Put your images to the test and receive constructive feedback from trained jurors, so you know exactly where and how to improve. PPA jurors evaluate your work based on the 12 Elements of a Merit Image. Submitted images are graded on a 100-point scale, and each photographer is awarded one, two, or zero merits for each image they submit.

Keep scrolling to learn more about the 12 elements that make merit-worthy images! 

The 12 Elements of a Merit Image


  1. Impact 
    Compelling images evoke emotion—laughter, sadness, anger, pride.
  2. Technical Excellence
    The quality of the actual image as presented for viewing. Aspects such as retouching, sharpness, printing, color, and exposure should be spot on.
  3. Creativity
    The image is original, fresh, and an external expression of the maker’s imagination.
  4. Style
    The subject matter meshes with the presentation. Style can also include the characteristic ways that an artist applies his or her specific lighting, posing, or compositional style to underscore the desired impact.
  5. Composition
    The visual elements of an image come together to express intent, whether that’s to please the viewer or otherwise. The viewer’s attention is captured and directed where the artist plans it to be.
  6. Presentation
    The way an image is showcased gives it a finished look. Everything in the presentation—mats, borders, color choices—should work to enhance the image.  
  7. Color Balance 
    Colors work together to evoke feelings in the viewer. For example, it can bring harmony to an image and enhance the emotional appeal. It can also be incongruous to arouse diverse feelings.
  8. Center of Interest
    This is where an image’s creator wants a viewer’s attention focused. There may be primary and secondary centers of interest. Sometimes all the elements in an image work together to create the center of interest.
  9. Lighting
    The image demonstrates excellence in the use and control of light, whether natural or additive. Light informs dimensions and shape, sets tone and mood, and enhances the image.
  10. Subject Matter
    The subject matter is central to the story being told, so the subject should sync with the story.
  11. Technique
    The approaches used to create the image—lighting, posting, capture, presentation—work together to be effective.
  12. Storytelling
    The image evokes the viewer's imagination. While the act of creating is a personal thing, so too is the act of viewing. Each image is a story, and the one it tells a viewer may be unique to that person.

For even more information about each of these 12 Elements of a Merit Image, check out this article from Professional Photographers magazine


These videos on PPA's education platform are taught by Michael Timmons, M.Photog.M.Artist.Hon.M.Photog.Cr., CPP, F-ASP, and explain the 12 Elements of a Merit Image in more detail:

Enter District Competitions!
Submit your work now through April 29