Season's Greetings! 'Tis the season once again where we are visited by the print competition god and his 5 soul crushing jurors. Print competition is an expensive but vital part of my routine of growing as photographic artist. All year long I work on a new "case" - a series of 4 photographs that are supposed to knock the socks off of the jurors and leave them going on a break after scoring the infamous "100!". In reality this case causes me more scrapped images, banging the head against a wall, long nights of crossed eyeballs, and a steady 365 day caffeine buzz from the exuberant amounts of coffee tossed down the hatch. You'd think a 4 teeny, tiny little images would be a piece of cake to make. Well folks, those 4 teen tiny little images are the devil.
"But your work is great!" people say - until those people are a jury panel.
"See that fleck of speckle in that corner under the chair, behind the leg, and around the corner - cloning error the maker should have caught" "79!"
"NOOOOOOOOOOO! 79! ARE. YOU. FREAKING. KIDDING. ME." - Club 79 is a fictitious club reserved for those special photographs that were so close to earing a prestigious Merit but had some minor little detail knock them down. Allow me to go to add my tears to the river of other's 79'ers.
So how does a photograph score as a "Merit" Print; earning a score of 80 or higher?
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.
CREATIVITY: The image is original, fresh, and an external expression of the maker’s imagination.
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.
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.
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.
COLOR BALANCE: Color 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.
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.
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.
SUBJECT MATTER: The subject matter is central to the story being told, so the subject should sync with the story.
TECHNIQUE: The approaches used to create the image—lighting, posting, capture, presentation—work together to be effective.
STORY TELLING: 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 a photograph to earn a Merit "the maker" (aka... me in this thought) has to effectively demonstrate these 12 Elements in an excelling way. No one element out weighs another. A Merit worthy photograph that is print competition is one that is ABOVE above-average. There's something special about them - their quality is impressive. They keep you looking around the image for details; appreciating what is being presented. A Meriting image makes the viewer feel an emotion - joyful, fearful, in suspense, happy, sad, proud, heart warming, nostalgic, etc. It has a strong title which supports or explains the story being told; before the jurors see the image the title is read out loud. The importance of a title is add more strength to the impact as it can make or break the image's score. They showcase the makers expertise in control of lighting, posing, composition, and retouching - the stronger these skills are presented the higher the scores will be.
Many of my competition images have a nostalgic Americana theme. I didn't realize this until I started looking for images to include in the this post. I must connect with the vintage feelings of "back in the day" - jurors seem to as well as all of these images have received a Merit either at State, District, or International levels (Nationals is rolled into Internationals with PPA because of our world wide membership).
We're lucky to live in Georgia where all the judging takes place for all 3 levels I compete. I have the opportunities to go to the PPA Headquarters in Atlanta and Savannah to watch the judging in person. This is incredibly valuable in my education of not only doing well in competition but also improving my studio client work. I learn what details really make a portrait better. I love hearing what other people see in each entry. The most nerve wrecking but exciting thing about it is when I'm lucky enough to be sitting in the room when mine come around to hear about what their eagle eyes see. It's the rollercoaster of silent cheering for positives and really silent booing of the details I missed that really make me a better artist. Once a mistake is made and it's pointed out, it's something you remember to never do again.
What I compete for...
Print competition is a chance to get 5 educated, highly scrutinized critiques. This feedback is valuable and appreciated. But it is a competition; they say we're really competing against our own scores from last year but let's get real. We want Merits, we want high scores, we want shelf worthy hardware to display our accomplishments. No one competes just to get feedback - competition is expensive. It's an investment into my art and my education. The entry fees can get up to a few hundred dollars, if I submit physical prints instead of just digital entries they can get up to about $100 each (a case can have anywhere from 1-12 prints), there's buying a specialty case to ship them, and then the shipping costs to get the entries to the headquarters, and not to mention the hours of time devoted just to creating the pieces. It's not cheap and it's not required, but it's incredibly important to me and the improvement of my skill sets.
It all starts at the state level we're judged by PPA approved jurors and jurors in training. It's a great place for a print to start it's journey as a print comp piece and for photographer new to competition. We're awarded plaques, statuettes, a couple of specialized awards for being the highest scoring Certified Professional Photographer and/or the highest scoring member of the American Society of Photographers, as well as things like scholarships for more education. State Merits are awarded towards state level degrees - Fellow Degree and Service Degree.
The next step is PPA Districts to get more detailed feed back for IPC. There are awards rewarded for being in the Top 10 in the District and an image can "Seal" at Districts for an automatic Merit at IPC (if that image is entered in the case).
Then at IPC comes the big awards:
Merits are collected to earn Degrees within the PPA - Photographic Craftsman, Master Photographer, Master Artist, Master of Wedding Photography. Then there's awards for earning a set number of Merits per competition - when all 4 images Merit in a case it's awarded a Bronze medal. There's a second level to the competition known as the Loan Collection - an image scoring 85 or higher is separated into a second round of judging deciding if it's worthy of "Going Loan". A Loan Image is a Meriting Image that is an over achiever; it's one of the best of the best. It's called a Loan Image because there use to be a tour it would go on - the artist would "Loan" the print to the PPA to be shipped all over to be on display. Loan Medals are given in addition: 1 Loan Image receive a Silver Medal, 2 Loans receive a Gold Medal, 3 Loans get a Platinum Medal, 4 Loans earn the title of Diamond Photographer of the Year. Then there's being selected for the Grand Imaging Awards (Top 10 in each category in the IPC), and the chance to compete in the Photographic World Cup.