Home > Raves > My Experience: First time in a PPA print competition.

My Experience: First time in a PPA print competition.

Although I planned on doing competitions in past years, something always came up around the time I planned on prepping images to be printed for competition. And I suppose i was a little scared to submit, mostly due to lack of knowledge on the process. But this year things changed in my favor. Nothing came up, I had ample time to prepare digital files and I decided to contact some people who have been through the process before to help walk me through step by step.

First off, contact your local PPA (Professional Photographers of America). Most larger areas will likely have a local PPA in addition to your state and the national PPA. The local PPA will likely require a small membership fee to join but it is marginal and well worth the cost to join. Until this point, I had not joined due to meetings being at times that I cannot attend regularly. Hopefully that will change now that I am signing up for my membership for this year. The members should be very willing to help you through the competition process as it can be a bit of a daunting task to prepare for on your own.

The local competition that I submit my prints to this year was held by the local PPA (also known as PP of A just in case someone is using that term instead) and they allowed for non-members to submit prints for scores only. Since I was a non-member, I decided to go this route as I would needed to have been a member in good standing for at least several months prior to the deadline anyhow which was not possible at the time. None the less, I was mostly interested in learning the process and getting the feedback from the print judging. The local competition allowed for up to 6 prints to be entered but I decided to pull one out before submitting my case.

In order to find out what I needed and to help step me through, I contacted the person who was “in charge” of the competition who was happy to help me get my prints ready and properly labeled and submit on time. Although I didn’t have a print case at the time, they were accepting prints packed securely in a cardboard box which I just happened to have since the prints were packaged and shipped safe and sound in a large box with foam wrapping each print. Tim (the person helping) stepped me through the process of properly labeling each print and packaging the necessary forms, fees and CD of files for the judges to review. Everything was ready to go. Generally you would use a print case such as THESE but I did not have time to order one before the competition. (I’ve since ordered one for future use.)

Now for the judging…
Judging itself is still somewhat of a mystery to me, however I did sit through nearly 5 hours of prints and albums just to listen and learn. (I highly suggest watching and listening at least once. It is a great learning process!) Their are a total of 6 judges, all very qualified and highly skilled photographers as well. They sit in a row in front of a neutral gray wall or curtain with a rotating turntable in the middle where prints are mounted. A group of volunteers are behind the wall mounting and unmounting prints and rotate them into place as the name of the print is called out over the microphone. The lighting on the prints is VERY specific and calibrated to be the same across the entire viewing area and is exactly the same for ALL PPA print competitions. (Exact specifications are at the end of the blog post. It is standardized so that your print will look exactly the same at a local competition as well as at a national competition.) From what I could see from a distance, only 5 of the 6 judges were scoring each print and they rotated positions roughly every 10 or 15 prints.

Each print is placed one at a time on the turntable in the middle of the gray wall, the name is called for that print and it is rotated into position. The judges then will either look from a distance or may even get up for a closer look (this is sometimes good and sometimes bad depending on the detail present). They then will punch in a score to an electronic box and the scores are recorded and averaged. The total average (rounded to the nearest whole number) is then announced and the next print is named and rotated into place. However the judges (or perhaps just the judge in the position without a scoring box) could QUICKLY challenge the score if they felt it was too high or too low. This was generally done immediately after the score was announced and before the next print was named, however some prints were asked to be brought back several prints later for challenges as well. (By special request I believe.)

During the judging however, sometimes prints would simply get viewed, scored and the next print came around. Though during a challenge the prints were briefly discussed between judges and a judge in favor of a print may bring up the points why they feel it deserves a higher score while any judges against the print will do the opposite. Challenges can go both ways with prints both going up or down by several points or sometimes more.

After all of the prints have been judged, any print scoring a 78, 79, 80 or 81 were brought back around for “Ins and Outs”. During this, those images were again mounted, the name was announced and the print was rotated into place for judges to view. They gave a quick thumbs up or thumbs down deciding if the score was increased to an 80 for a 78/79 or decreased to a 79 for an 80 or 81. For a score to change, an 80% majority was needed. (5 of 6 judges) This process was done very quickly and most prints did not change in score though several did at the event I watched.

Scoring (at least for the Heart of America region) is as follows:

  • Exceptional: 100 – 95
  • Superior: 94 – 90
  • Excellent: 89 -85
  • Deserving of a Merit: 84 – 80
  • Automatic Review: (Ins and Outs) 81 – 78
  • Deserving of a Review: 79 – 78
  • Above Average: 77 – 76
  • Average: 75 – 74
  • Acceptable: 73 – 70
  • Below Exhibition Standards: 69 and Lower

After attending my first print judging, I am now more prepared for further competitions and am ready to earn my merits towards a Master of Photography degree. (In time)

Oh yea, how did I do? Well I’m glad you asked…

Irish Eyes Are Smiling : Score 78

Smug Mug : Score 78

Monoliths : Score 82

Forgotten By Time : Score 83

Fire In The Sky : Score 90!!

I was awarded a plaque for the “Highest Scoring Print For First Time Entrant” for my score of 90. But because I was not a member of the GKC PPA, I was not eligible for the other awards however I would have placed in the top 5 for points and may have been awarded other trophies, plaques or judges ribbons had I been a member.

And for those who are all about the technical aspects of competition or wish to set up your own simulated competition lighting booth, here are the specs for lighting (as of 2009).

Photographic Open Judging & Lighting Specifications

Lighting Set-Up:
Lighting Source is two mini spots with new, 150 watt BEC bulbs set to the following specifications:
Distance from the floor to the center of the image to be judged must be 49 inches.
Distance from the floor to the center of the spot light lens must be 83 inches.
Distance from the center of the lens to the center of the image must be 65 inches and the lights should be placed at 45 degree angles from the perpendicular to the image.
Lighting specifications should produce a meter reading at 100 ISO that is EV8 or f/16 @ 1 second.
Corners of the image must receive no less than 75% of the intensity of the center of the image.
Mini spots must have barn doors to prevent light from getting into the jurors eyes.
Bulbs required are 150 watt BEC.
Spare bulbs must be available.
Room light should be suppressed to approximately 15% of that of the easel.

They use these lights (with optional barn doors): Photogenic Mini-Spot

  1. Martin
    March 1, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Congrats! Great job on all of your prints. Is the “Forgotten by Time” garage shot HDR? I’m amazed at the detail in what appears to be a low light dark shot.

    • modifiedphoto
      March 1, 2010 at 8:04 pm

      Yes, as a matter of fact three of the shots are HDR. The shot of the Grand Canyon at sunset is a combination of 14 shots. It is two series of 7 bracketed shots. One bracket with the whole frame and one with the sun flagged to eliminate lens flares later. I processed each set as an HDR and merged the best parts of each in Photoshop.

      The Barn HDR is 5 exposures hand held. (Actually, I cheated. I held the camera tight against a wooden beam.) The barn was only accessible by ATV and I wasn’t sure what to expect so I didn’t ride down with the tripod. It came out very good with amazing sharpness anyway.

      And believe it or not, the Monument Valley panoramic is two sets of 3 bracketed frames. I shot these on a tripod with a +1, 0 -1 bracket. Then rotated the camera enough to get the other half of the frame and shot another series. Each set was processed as an HDR before being merged into a panoramic shot and then converted to B&W where I did further hand editing to get the most detail. This image is very high resolution and has unbelievable sharpness from the foreground clear to the horizon.

  2. September 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm


    Many congratulations on your fantastic photography.
    I am compiling a video of ‘An Irish Blessing’ sang by Northern Ireland’s own Peter Corry. I have been using google, and recall this to be exactly the way we were as children in Ireland, This photo would appear for approx. 3-4 seconds, but does capture the words, when God put a smile on your face.

    I can send a URL link to finished copy, taking in Ireland as I once upon a time knew it. Same would appear on facebook and youtube.

    Kind Regards
    Brendan (O’Hare)

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