The Viewfinder

2019 Print Competition Judges Workshop Recap by Armando Chacón

17 Nov 2019 12:18 PM | Theresa Campbell, CPP (Administrator)

Back in the 80’s when I started entering prints, we were required to enter 16x20 prints. Sometimes, these could become very expensive especially if you needed retouching done. Today, it is a lot cheaper because all you need to do is enter a digital file, therefore making it more affordable

My first entry was as an Aspiring PPGH member. Once I saw the entries that I was competing against, I felt like asking for my print back. I received a 73 and that was second place. Frank Chrichio was judging that evening and said the subject is too static. His feedback was: "What’s with the hat? Why is she holding her toes?" It was a picture of my youngest daughter sitting on top of a card table in my living room. I felt bad, but that was my daughter he was talking about. I listened and worked on correcting my mistakes. My scores slowly improved, but plenty of 78’s.

I started doing my own color printing at HCC, and my black and white at home. I tried to be more creative by mounting prints on paper, then trimming the paper close to the image to achieve a key line, etc. My print scores were higher and merits started to come in. I strongly felt if photography was going to be my career, then I needed to do it right. I went for my CPP first, then my Craftsman degree, then finally my Masters.

In 2019, PPGH was offering a Judging Scholarship so I decided to apply and was awarded the scholarship. I wanted to go to judging school to experience more of what goes on behind the scenes. With all the new technology in the digital era, we were able to see the setup of the actual IPC judging panel in Atlanta, which was quite exciting.

We were referred to as Jurors in Training “JIT." If you want to become an IPC approved Juror, you have to follow a set of requirements. Carl, our instructor, went over the instructions for the panel and explained some of the commonly used technical terms. We then sat on mock judging panels. As the prints went by, scores were given. We experienced some challenges (when one or more judges requests a review of the scores), as well as automatic challenges (when one score affects the image's ability to achieve the next highest category). An important takeaway was that it all depends on the make up of the panel. It’s all subjective, as everybody has a difference of opinion. Some judges see faults in the images, but sometimes they can be overlooked.

Following the 12 elements of print competition is very important. Do not give the judges a reason to give you a lower score because you overlooked something, because you were in a hurry, or because you waited until the last minute to enter your prints. Pay attention to the details and don’t rush it! 

There are 2 ways of looking at the 12 Elements of print competition. Either in the list form (Chart 1 below), or by groupings (Chart 2 below). Either is fine; just pay attention to each item individually.



Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to enter print competition. Remember, it’s your image and you love it! What they see in front of them takes only a few seconds to score, so unless the print is challenged and talked about you will not know why it received a 79. The judges can change their minds, scores go up or down, and you always hope that the score goes higher, sometimes it works against you and scores are lowered. However, it’s all a learning experience… there is no magic formula.

Here are the 12 Elements again:

  • Does it have Impact? Wow the judges!
  • Are there any Technical details that the judges might object to? Is it Creative enough or just a plain image?
  • Is the Style new or is it the same thing they see every day? Be unique!
  • Is the subject in the right place; does the Composition follow established rules?
  • Did you work on the Presentation, the key line, the matting; does it help or hinder your image? Is the Color harmony there? Does it help the image or not?
  • Center of interest… can you focus your eyes on it, or is it hard to find?
  • Lighting is the lighting pattern there? Is the image flat? Did you use separation lights? Indoors or out the same rules apply. In studio you set the lights, outdoors the lighting is already set. Be sure to use it to your advantage.
  • Subject matter: what are you trying to convey? Much depends on what type of subject you are using.
  • Technique: Did you over do it? Are there any signs of what you did left on the image?
  • Storytelling: It is very important to bring the judges in with a good title.

If you study Chart 2, and look at the 12 elements in the groups shown, it makes it easier for you to understand. *You only have to remember 5 groups which encompass all 12 elements.

I have sat in many judging rooms throughout the years, and I especially like it when you get to hear judge’s comments. I have judged many times before locally, at State Convention, and numerous times in Mexico, especially when I was the guest speaker.

What was reiterated to me is that there is no magic formula to print competition. There are still rules that you need to follow to improve your chances at receiving a merit. Remember, judging still is very subjective. Print competition is like playing a game; you just have to learn how to play it. Green merits $$ are the ones that are most important. Enter prints, get recognized, and create images that define who you are. Always follow your dreams and good luck!

Thank you PPGH for this exciting opportunity.

By Armando, Chacón, Master Craftsman Photographer, PPA and PPGH Life Member, PPGH Past President 1998


  • 13 Jan 2020 8:41 PM | Karen Butts, M.Photog.Cr., CPP
    I enjoyed reading the story of your journey and your take on what you learned at the IPC judging school! Thanks for sharing.
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