Thoughts About Print Competitions - part 2 of 1 2 3 4

by Michael J. Ayers Published 01/06/2010


Often when we score a beautiful photograph, we as judges ask, "Where is the photograph?" In this image, the sky and the boats are spectacular, but the viewer is left asking for more because there is nothing to hold our interest.


1. CENTRE OF INTEREST - The viewer can be attracted into the printwithout any distractions.

2. Colour BALANCE - Shades of colour are selected carefully for proper viewing under the judges' spotlights.

3. COMPOSITION - All items of interest in the image must be placed in visually ideal locations.

4. CREATIVITY - An imagination on the part of the photographer often uplifts and excites the viewer.

5. CROPPING - Consider the shape and size of the print relative to the composition and mat board.

6. FINISHING - It's the little things that get higher scores; for example, are the edges of the mount-board darkened?

7. IMPACT - The judges will give any competition print a silent, preliminary score in the first second that they view it.

8. LIGHTING - Ratio of light areas to dark areas as well as the direction of the light directly affect scoring.

9. MATTING - Coordinate the mat's colour and style to the photograph; don't forget about underlay mats too.

10. POSING - Is the shoulder too high, does the hand look like a claw, will the expression match the title, are they in a static pose?

11. PRESENTATION - Each competition print should look like "a million bucks" as the judges critique it; no stone should go unturned.

12. PRINT QUALITY - There should be no question as to proper density, contrast, and other features of superior printing.

13. RETOUCHING - Exceptional retouching, by definition, should be invisible or specifically added as necessary for enhancement.

14. STORY-TELLING - Can the photograph tell a story to the viewer through the use of the title and actions within the print?

15. STYLE - A distinct way of creating and showing the idea or subject that is memorable and recognisable.

16. SUBJECT MATTER - The subject and secondary subjects must convey a definite purpose in the print.

17. TECHNIQUE - Sometimes, extremely unusual methods can go a long way in conveying ideas to the viewer.

18. TITLE - An excellent print will go much farther with an unbelievable title, but a good title alone will not make a bad print acceptable.


Here the viewer has a definite subject to look at, but no impact or storytelling. The subject is also cropped very tight and dead centre - without more information or a secondary subject, the overall image lacks interest.

As to the scoring that the Societies' judges utilise, the numbers are designed to make great prints stand out and allow the maker to also realise that a lower-scoring image needs some work in different areas. Newer photographers often ask me: "Will this print score an 80?" Because the score of 80 is seen as an award-winning threshold, this is often the target number for many who enter competitions. My best advice is to aim higher - go for a score of 90! If your goal is 90 and you fall short with a score of 87, you are still thrilled. But if you always aim for 80 and don't quite reach it, you will be disappointed. Most trophies and merits are not awarded for any print scoring 79 or below.

The current scoring chart for the Societies has been designed to be easy to understand and be as fair as possible to the makers of the images. Our scoring banner looks like this:
95 to 100 Exceptional
90 to 94 Superior
85 to 89 Excellent
80 to 84 Merit-worthy
75 to 79 Above Average
70 to 74 Acceptable
69 & Under Unacceptable

There is no better educational opportunity in the Societies than to enter the International Print Competition and watch the images being judged by the print jurors. In years past, attendees to the Convention have stated that it was the greatest learning opportunity they have ever had, even if they weren't able to view their own prints being scored. Check the SWPP website for next year's competition dates and plan to arrive early to watch the judging. See you there.

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1st Published 01/06/2010
last update 06/11/2019 11:08:02

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