Photo by Judy Graham

There are many factors that influence a judge in awarding one image while rejecting another. Judges have biases, likes and dislikes just like anyone else. And, given the almost infinite number of images that can be produced, it is hard to predict how a judge might react to your image at any given competition. Getting an award will also depend on the other images submitted. Competing is a learning experience to help you improve your skills as a photographer. All members are encouraged to participate in the monthly competitions. Even if you don’t compete, hearing the judge’s critique for other images may provide valuable tips for when you do.

Here are a few general tips which might increase your chances in winning an award in a photo competition. Please note – this is only a partial list.  The suggestions are subjective and do not apply to every image.

What Judges Look For:


Strong Initial Impact   (Possibly one of the more important factors in creating compelling images.)

    • Has the WOW factor!
    • Something new, different, creative, unusual or hard to capture
    • Tells a story
    • Keeps the viewers’ attention
    • Invokes an emotional response


Easily Identifiable Subject

    • Sharp subject having good contrast with the background
    • Other visual objects support, or interact with the subject
    • Subject is not to small


Good Composition and Visual Design

    • Well placed subject (usually not centered or very close to edges)
    • The subject is “balanced”  with other visual objects
    • Non-conflicting background that does not draw attention away from the subject
    • Simplicity & order versus busyness & chaos
    • Inclusion of leading lines or other objects that visually interact with the subject


Technical Excellence

    • Correct exposure, white-balance, contrast, saturation & subject sharpness
    • Good lighting


Minimal Post-Processing (unless this is the effect you want produce)


Reasons Judges “Throw Out” Images  (in general)

Subject is:

    • Very common or uninteresting – “Record Shot”
    • Blurry, poorly lit or too small
    • Minimally contrasted with the background
    • Flat – Lighting and contrast is the same for the entire image



    • Contains distractions
    • Visual objects are poorly placed, or do not support, or interact with the subject
    • Visual objects are too close to the edges
    • The subject is centered (except for certain images, such as those having symmetry or filling the frame)
    • Horizon line is centered and/or not level
    • Image is  “busy”  or “cluttered” with no clear focal point or subject
    • Too much dead space



    • High-contrast (very bright or very dark) areas that draw the views attention away from the subject
    • Blown highlights or very dark shadows with no detail
    • Key-stoning (tall buildings curve inward near the top) 
    • The camera focuses on the wrong subject, making the main subject blurry
    • Visible dust spots


Post-processing – (too little or too much):

  • Image is:
    • Under-processed with poor contrast
    • Over-saturated (looks unnatural) or over-sharpened (halos)
  • Too much vignetting applied.


There Are More Compelling Images in the Competition

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