Why I Entered Print Competition

One of my goals this year was to enter a print competition. You can find photography competitions at all kinds of levels…from local camera clubs, to magazines such as Smithsonian Magazine and organizations like National Geographic and The Sierra Club. But the competition I wanted to enter was one offered by the Professional Photographers of America or PPA for short which I am a member of.

With over 29,000 members worldwide, and like most trade associations, PPA offers many benefits for photographers. From education, to resources, a community of like minded individuals and of course, print competition. Photographers can enter print comp, as it more commonly called, in local chapter competitions, state competitions, districts and international. All but the last level of competition are considered warm ups for the biggest one of all - International Print Competition or IPC for short. Most of us refer to it as the super bowl of print competitions!

All photographers, whether they are amateur or long time professionals, know that the art of a great image consists of a multitude of elements. These include composition, impact, story telling, and technical skills such as proper exposure and lighting. In IPC competitions, photographers can earn a merit based on the score that image received by the judges. To earn a merit, the artist (or maker) must successfully meet the criteria of 12 elements, some of which I've already mentioned. Merits earned during this competition are also applied toward a degree offered by PPA. 

I began my journey entering the Northeast district competition, which took place back in April. I had no expectations other than just to enter and get my feet wet. One of my images did very well and would earn a merit if I entered it at IPC. While I had no intention of entering IPC this year, I wasn’t going to pass this opportunity up! So I re-worked a second image I submitted at Districts and choose two new photos to round out my case of four (the maximum number of entries allowed in each category) and hit the send button. Judging took place earlier this week. 

Images are given a score anywhere from 67 – 100, with 100 being perfect. Any image scoring 80 or higher is awarded a merit. Images that score 85 and above move on to a second round of judging where they can earn a second merit, otherwise referred to as a loan image by PPA. If an image scores a 95 or higher, it is automatically awarded a loan - the best of the best. In 2016, almost 5700 photos were entered. Just under 2500 earned a merit and 1000 of these were awarded the loan distinction. That’s a lot of judging, don’t you think?

I’m proud to share that 3 of my 4 images merited. One of them was up for judging in the loan category, but did not make it. For my first time entering, I am beyond thrilled! I had no expectations and only entered because of how well I did at districts. But if I hadn't tried, I wouldn't have had this experience. 

While the merits are the icing on the cake, print competition for me was about pushing myself to grow as an artist. Photographers who enter competitions can choose to get a critique for an additional fee. This is an invaluable service especially for newbies like myself. It's an opportunity to learn what I did well, what mistakes I made and how I could have created a better image. Watching the judging take place is also a wonderful opportunity to learn from other photographers who entered. As judges challenge scores, there is always a discussion amongst them as they reach an agreement on what the final score should be. So not only do I learn from my own entries, I learn from my peers. Many photographers who have been competing in print comp will share that the fastest way to grow is by entering print comp. 

Already, I've learned so much and more than I ever imagined I would. I'm looking forward to getting my critiques and applying what I advice the judges have for me to my future work. Much like agility, once you go down this rabbit hole, there’s no turning back! I am now addicted and am looking forward to next year’s competitions. 

Here are the images I submitted for 2017's International Print Competition...


Terra Firma

This is the image that did well in Districts and is the reason I entered IPC. Scoring an 86, it was my highest score of the competition.


Sweeter Than A Hershey's Kiss - scored an 81


The Timeout Chair - scored a 79


My Hunting Buddy - scored an 81