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HomeImage Competition: PPA 12 Elements of a Merit Image

The 12 Elements of a Merit Image:

In all aspects of life, first impressions are usually lasting impressions; good or bad. So, it goes in image competition. When a photograph is first seen, that impression can make or break the image. Therefore, many photographers agree that this is the most important element in subjective analysis of judging photography. Since everyone has his or her own personal opinions, likes and dislikes, there must be some sort of standard on which judges can determine the merit of prints. The Photographic Exhibition Committee established the 12 Elements of a merit quality photograph. These elements are endorsed by the International Print Competition Judges.

PPA also produced a video "Life of a Merit Image"

Listed below are these 12 elements, along with a brief discussion of each. 

Click here for the PPA extended definitions, and here for a more in-depth discussion and a unique mind-map of 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: 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.
  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, posing, 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.