Random Thoughts

12 Elements of an Award-Winning Photo

Written by Gail Bjork

The exhibition committee of the Professional Photographers of America uses 12 elements as their “gold standard” to judge photos. How many of these elements are in your best photographs?

Serious photographers and photo enthusiasts constantly strive to take that elusive “award winning” photo. But just what makes an award winning photo anyway?

Professional Photographers of AmericaTo gain insights as to how a professional photographic organization determines a meritorious a photo, consider what the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) has to say. The PPA is the world’s largest nonprofit association for professional photographers with members in 54 countries.

The exhibition committee of the PPA uses 12 elements as their “gold standard” to judge photos, which are displayed during their convention at the International Print Exhibit at Imaging USA. Here is a summary of the elements, listed in order of importance:

12 Elements of a merit photo

  • Impact – the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time.
  • Creativity – original and unique expression of the imagination to convey your message.
  • Technical Excellence – the print quality of an image such as exposure, sharpness, mounting and correct color.
  • Composition – use of visual elements that prompt the viewer to look where the creator intends.
  • Lighting – the use and control of light, whether natural or artificial, to enhance an image.
  • Style – characteristics that impact an image in either a positive or negative manner.
  • Print Presentation – mats and borders should support and enhance an image, not distract from it.
  • Center of Interest – the point, or points, on an image where the maker wants the viewer to stop as they view it. The entire scene may also serve as the center of interest.
  • Subject Matter – it should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.
  • Color Balance – use of tones working together to enhance the emotional appeal of an image.
  • Technique – the approach used to create an image such as lighting and posing.
  • Story Telling – the ability of an image to evoke imagination.

1st Place RibbonAccording the PPA, “Any image, art piece, or photograph will reveal some measure of all twelve elements, while a visually superior example will reveal obvious consideration of each one.”

Each of us, professional and non-professional photographers alike, can learn from Professional Photographers of America collective wisdom. Maybe, just maybe, that award-winning photo is the-next-click-of-the-shutter-button away!

Visit the PPA’s website for complete explanation of the 12 Elements of a Merit Image.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.