The 12 Elements of a Merit Image
When defining a “merit image”, PPA’s International Photographic Competitions Committee (IPCC) applies 12 distinct criteria. PPA-approved judges are trained to be aware of these 12 elements when judging images to the PPA merit level. These 12 elements bring together both the historical and modern practice of our profession.
While every image will have traces of some of these 12 elements, only the best of the best will have them all.
Viewing an image for the first time always evokes some kind of feeling. Sometimes they can make us sad, happy or angry. Sometimes they force us to look inward at ourselves.
That’s called an impact, and the more powerful the image, the more powerful the emotional response of the viewer.
This is the print quality of the actual image itself as it’s presented for viewing. There are a lot of aspects that speak to the qualities of the physical print. These can include:
Your point of view is exactly that– yours. And it’s unlike anyone else’s.
This element speaks directly to that perspective. It shows your imagination and how you used the medium to convey an idea, a message or a thought to the viewer. This is how you differentiate yourself from others.
There are many, many ways to apply this element to your work. Maybe you use light in a specific way on a subject, or maybe you make a technical decision for the express purpose of underscoring desired impact.
When subject matter and style come together in an appropriate manner, the effects on an image can be spectacular. But remember, when subject matter and style don’t work together, the results can be, well, less-than-spectacular.
When all the visual elements of an image come together to express intent, that’s when the magic of composition happens. Good composition captures a viewer’s attention and directs it where you, the artist, want it to be. Depending on your intent, you can make something that pleases the viewer– or disturbs them.
How you showcase an image is just as important as how you compose it. Everything in the presentation should work to enhance your image and not distract from it. Keep this in mind when choosing mats, borders and everything in between.
Proper color balance can bring a sense of harmony to an image. When the tones all work together to support an image, the emotional appeal is that much greater.
But color balance doesn’t have to be used to bring harmony to an image. You can use color balance to evoke any number of feelings from a viewer. The choice in how to take advantage is entirely up to you, but no matter what, be sure your choice enhances rather than distracts.
This is where an image’s creator wants a viewer’s attention focused. Sometimes there can be a primary and a secondary center of interest. Sometimes everything in an image will work together to create that center of interest.
The use and control of light has an effect on every aspect of an image. It informs dimensions and shape, it sets tone and mood, and, like every other technique, proper lighting can be used to enhance your image while improper lighting can detract from it.
Even though it lacks words, your image is still telling a story, and your subject matter is central to that. So make sure that your subject matter is right for the story that you’re trying to tell.
How you choose to execute your image is key. It’s also a holistic decision. Technique informs everything in the creation of your image. From lighting and posing to printing and presentation, it all works to show off the techniques that you’ve mastered and applied to your craft.
What does your image evoke in a viewer’s imagination? What do you want your image to evoke in a viewer’s imagination?
Keep in mind: You are creating art. And while the act of creating is a personal thing, so too is the act of viewing. Your image is a story, and the one it tells your viewer may be one you never knew you were telling.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
interest, when the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest.
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
manmade or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image.
Matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in
is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing,
capture, presentation media, and more are part of the technique applied to an
Telling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination. One
beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or
read her own story in an image.