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August 23, 2023

Improve Your Photography with the 12 Elements of a Merit Image

The journey toward creating impactful, visually striking images is not only an artistic endeavor but also a technical pursuit that requires a keen eye, skillful execution, and a profound understanding of composition, storytelling, and more. At the heart of this endeavor lies the 12 Elements of a Merit Image—a framework that not only serves as a guiding light for photographers entering the Merit Image Review (MIR) and the International Photographic Competition (IPC), but also as a blueprint for elevating one's photographic artistry to new heights.

The Merit Image Review: Taking Steps Toward Your PPA Degree

The Merit Image Review stands as a platform for photographers to present their work for evaluation by a panel of trained PPA jurors. Beyond the pursuit of merits for PPA degrees, the review process offers an opportunity for photographers to improve their craft. It's a chance to seek critiques, hone skills, and refine images for resubmission. The 12 elements serve as the bedrock for these evaluations. Read more about the entire PPA merit system explained


A Glimpse into the Past and Present

Historically, the 12 Elements of a Merit Image were integral to judging images submitted to the International Photographic Competition. Today, while the IPC assesses images based on just four of those core elements—Impact, Technical Excellence, Composition, and Style—the 12 Elements remain relevant and important, particularly for photographers entering in the Merit Image Review.


Interconnected Elements

On their own, each of the 12 Elements has individual significance, but their greatest lesson lies in their interconnectedness. It helps to view the elements all working together in harmony to shape the impact and quality of an image, instead of as a linear checklist. Each element contributes in its unique way and serves as a guide posts for photographers crafting images that resonate on multiple levels. The article, Photo Competition Prep: A Fresh Look at the 12 Elements, provides an excellent guide to the intricacies of each element.


The 12 Elements 


  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.

Elevate Your Artistry

For photographers embarking on the journey of image review, the 12 Elements serve as an indispensable roadmap. Whether you are considering entering the MIR to earn merits toward your degree, or submitting images to the IPC to win big prizes, understanding and embodying these elements will empower you to create the best images imaginable. 

Show us your best work! Submit to the MIR today.