2017 Season Opener


“12 Elements of a Merit Image”
Wednesday, September 27 – (Immediately Following Meet & Greet) by Brian Sherman

Critiquing Photographs is More Than a Technicality…
What catches your eye?
What is the photographer/artist trying to portray?
Does the image follow any compositional rules?



[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ur first two “competitions” this season are not competitions at all, but rather critiquing sessions to help guide you to improve your images. Of course, judging (and critiquing) are always a bit subjective.

But perhaps some general guidelines will help steer you in the right direction, and give you the confidence to enter a competition or two this season. Our first meeting is dedicated to discussing what makes an “award-winning” image, as compiled by the Professional Photographers of America Exhibition Committee. Let’s begin with a quick example…
[column size=”one-half”] So we are in the Louvre and looking at the Mona Lisa. A little more formal than our meeting room and our photo judging, but it’s the same process. To provide a worthwhile critique of someone’s photos we have to have a desire to help honestly and constructively. You should avoid phrases such as “I like it” or “oh cool”, “very nice” or “yuck.” Beyond the technical…

  • How does the photo make you feel or think? How does the photo make you feel or think?
  • What do you see first in the photo and is it the right thing the photographer is emphasizing? 
  • What about the photograph do you like or dislike?
  • What about the photograph do you like or dislike?
  • If the photographer shares the reason for the photo, does it do what he or she intended it to do?
[/column] [column size=”one-half” last=”true”] Then there is also the technical aspect of a critique:

  • Is the photo properly exposed, under or over?
  • Is the photo properly exposed, under or over?
  • Did the photographer follow composition techniques (like the rule of thirds or leading lines)?
  • If not, were the rules broken successfully?
  • Is selective focus or depth of field used to blur the background; if so, is it successful?
  • Is color used effectively, or would the image have more impact if it were done in black and white?
  • Does the background work well with the subject and is the horizon level? 
  • Speaking of focus, are all the elements that need to be in focus, in focus and sharp?
  • Is focus soft (selective) where it needs to be, such as in a close portrait?
[/column] And more… Are there elements that protrude into the frame that are distracting? What is unique about the image and why did the photographer want to capture this image? This is just a brief set of questions to get us thinking in the right direction to help each other.
[pullquote-left]Is it a bit mysterious as to what makes an “award-winning” image? Are the judges’ comments perhaps a bit mysterious as well? Immediately following our “meet and greet,” our season opener will discuss the “12 Elements of a Merit Image” and the art of critiquing photographs. The Photographic Exhibitions Committee of the Professional Photographers of America uses the 12 elements below as the “gold standard” to define a merit image. 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.[/pullquote-left]

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 Competition Elements, while a visually superior example will reveal obvious consideration of each one.

  1. Impact 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 is 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 physical print.
  3. Creativity is the original, fresh, and external expression of the imagination of the maker by using the medium to convey an idea, message or thought.
  4. Style is defined in a number of ways as it applies to a creative image. It might be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognizable as the characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject. It can impact an image in a positive manner when the subject matter and the style are appropriate for each other, or it can have a negative effect when they are at odds.
  5. Composition is important to the design of an image, bringing all of the visual elements together in concert to express the purpose of the image. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to look where the creator intends. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker.
  6. Presentation affects an image by giving it a finished look. The mats and borders used, either physical or digital, should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.
  7. Color Balance supplies harmony to an image. An image in which the 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 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 inter-est, when the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest.
  9. Lighting —the use and control of light—refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is man-made or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image.
  10. Subject Matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.
  11. Technique is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, capture, presentation media, and more are part of the technique applied to an image.
  12. Story Telling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own mes-sage or read her own story in an image.

Read Bob Hawkins’ article, “Elements of a Merit Image,” to learn even more: http://www.ppa.com/article.cfm?ItemNumber=1901