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Twelve Elements of a Merit Image

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.

 

IMPACT

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.

 

TECHNICAL EXCELLENCE

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:

  • Retouching
  • Manipulation
  • Sharpness
  • Exposure
  • Printing
  • Mounting
  • Color correction

 

CREATIVITY

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.

 

STYLE

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.

COMPOSITION

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.

 

PRESENTATION

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.   

 

COLOR BALANCE

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. 

 

CENTER OF INTEREST

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.

 

LIGHTING

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.

 

SUBJECT MATTER

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.

 

TECHNIQUE

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.

 

STORY TELLING

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.

4. Style 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 odds.

5. Composition 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.

6. Presentation 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.

7. Color 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.

9. Lighting 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.

10. Subject Matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.

11. Technique is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, capture, presentation media, and more are part of the technique applied to an image.

12. Story 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.


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