How to use PPA's judging guidelines to improve your photography

5 Ways to Use PPA Judging Guidelines to Improve Your Photography

How to use PPA's judging guidelines to improve your photographyHave you considered putting your photography into a competition for judging? If you’re just starting out, you may need a bit more practice before you to start to compete, but even just sitting in on a print judging or understanding the judging guidelines will open your eyes to the many elements that go into an award-winning image.

No organization has done more for educating and supporting professional photographers and photography then the Professional Photographers of America. The judging of prints from state level and up will be based on the rules established by the PPA.

This led me to thinking about the guidelines that the PPA uses for judging a merit print, or in other words, an image that they deem worthy of showcasing as an example of exemplary work.

These principles can help serve as a checklist to consider when you review your own images or even when you start formulating a shoot in your mind.

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Using the PPA Guidelines to Improve Your Own Work

There are 12 guidelines. Some get into more advanced concepts and advice about the presentation of the actual print that is submitted; you can see the full list hereIn this post, I’m just going to show you some of the tips that focus more on what to look for or do when creating an image.

#1: PPA Guideline: Composition

“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” – PPA

My Tip- When you look through your viewfinder, be aware of not only your subject, but also what is around, above and behind them. Nothing screams amateur more than a stop sign sticking out of someone’s head. Would the image be improved by moving your subject to the right or left? Would it be better if you moved a little or raised or lowered your angle? Next time, try experimenting with different points of view.

#2: PPA Guideline: Center of Interest

“Center of Interest is the point or points on the image where the imagemaker 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 and the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest.” – PPA

My Tip- Before you click the shutter, take a moment to think of what the main thing is that you want the viewer to focus on. Is your composition conveying that point? Also, after you create the image, try experimenting with different crops to see if that can help draw the viewer’s eye to the area that is the most important.

#3: PPA Guideline: Lighting

“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 lighting should enhance an image.” – PPA

My Tip- This is maybe the area that can be the hardest to learn but will be the area once that better understood that will take your work to the next level and beyond. Many beginners will work in flat light, which does little to add drama or dimension to their subjects. Don’t be afraid of using light AND shadow; when used properly it can highlight your subject’s best features and can minimize their flaws. Look into off-camera flashes and reflectors to bring light into the right places.

#4: PPA Guideline: Color Balance

“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.” – PPA

My Tip- when I first started my photography career, someone made the helpful suggestion to pick up an artist color wheel. You can find them here: Color Wheel 9-1/4″.

I would the color wheel when planning a shoot. For instance there was a weathered old blue door that caught my eye one day. I planned on photographing my 2 year old daughter at the time there in her little jean dress, but I wanted to bring in another pop of color for impact. I took out the color wheel and found the complimentary color for that door was orange, so I picked up an orange flower and it really made the portrait sing.

#5: PPA Guideline: Storytelling

“Storytelling refers to the ability of the image 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.” – PPA

My Tip- When you’re working with your subjects, what is the story that you’re trying to tell? Are there items or scenery that you can incorporate to tell their story more effectively? Is there a way you can pose the subject to better express meaning?

What is the story you are trying to tell with your photography? 5 tips for improving your work: Click To Tweet

Ready to test your skills? Enter a competition!

One of the best ways to grow is to join your local state professional photographers association and to attend seminars and to begin submitting prints in their print competitions. It will be one of the most fulfilling/ terrifying/ educational/ nerve-wracking things that you can do to improve your skills.

As you progress and grow within your local state chapter, you can then go from competing statewide to competing regionally, and eventually country wide and then even internationally if you are so motivated.

To find out more about competing, click here.

Not quite ready to compete, but still looking for feedback?

We have a private Facebook Group you can join where other growing photographers are happy to provide constructive feedback.

Thanks to everyone who has been sharing their work on the Hobby to Pro site and to everyone for pitching in with tips and suggestions. It’s really nice to see a community of photographers helping each other improve their craft. With that in mind, I thought we would look at some tips for creating successful images.

Don’t forget to read up on best practices for getting feedback with your photography.

Whether or not you are ready to compete, the points outlined above will do you wonders when considered as you photograph and edit your next session. By simply being aware of these different elements, you will be become more conscious of the possibilities before you.

Remember, you are creating images, not just “taking pictures.” You are both the camera operator and the director of the stories that you tell for your clients.