Photographers enter PPA-style image competition for two main reasons: To become better photographers and to earn image competition merits. Those competition merits are then used to qualify for local, state, and PPA degrees, such as Fellow of Photography (FP) and PPA Master of Photography (M. Photog.).
When I began my quest for competition merits, I used the following process to earn merits for my PPA Master of Photography Degree. I was able to accumulate the thirteen needed merits in a little over two years. It’s a simple process that anyone can follow to maximize the opportunity to receive the highest number of merits at the annual Professional Photographers of America International Photographic Competition (IPC).
Competition is a process that begins at the local and state levels and ends at the international level. Simply put, I used our state competitions to determine which of my competition images are strongest and to earn state merits. Then I entered the best of those images in PPA competitions to earn PPA merits.
I belong to the Oregon Professional Photographers Association, a PPA state affiliate. OPPA holds four quarterly state competitions open to OPPA members only. Members can enter up to three images in each of these four competitions, meaning a member can enter a total of twelve images during the course of annual quarterly series. This gives him or her a chance to see what’s working and scoring well. It also gives him or her the opportunity to learn from OPPA judges’ critiques how to improve specific images and then rework these images, even if they merited, and enter them in our annual OPPA Open Image Competition and/or PPA competitions. (At OPPA all images receive at least one judge critique.)
The annual OPPA Open Image Competition is held in November after the quarterly competitions are completed. It’s open to members and non-members (hence the name). Members are allowed to enter images that previously merited in OPPA Quarterly Image Competitions whether they were reworked or not. Images not entered in OPPA competition are also eligible. The Open is our final chance to see how specific images score in state competition before the PPA Western District Photographic Competition that’s held early the following spring.
PPA competitions consist of two main parts: District and international competition. North America is divided into five districts. Oregon is in the Western district comprised of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan. You can see a map of the PPA districts here. The rules for PPA District and International competitions are nearly identical to OPPA rules. Therefore if an image that scored well at OPPA, the same file can be entered digitally at PPA competitions.
PPA members can enter up to four images in their PPA District Image Competition. If an image merits at district competition, it automatically qualifies for a PPA competition merit at the summer PPA International Photographic Competition (IPC), provided the image-maker enters the image at IPC. An image that merits at district is called “sealed”, meaning further adjustments to the image are forbidden in order for it to qualify for an automatic merit at IPC. Sealed images are judged in order to evaluate them for the PPA Loan Collection. Only the best images make it into this prestigious group. Images selected for the Loan Collection receive an additional merit. This means an image can receive up to two merits at IPC.
Competition merits earned at IPC are the only PPA competition merits you can earn. This means the highest number of photographic competition merits you can receive in one year is eight, which would require all four images to be selected for the loan collection (which is called Double Diamond).
Because it’s necessary to have thirteen competition merits for the PPA Master of Photography degree, it’s important to maximize the opportunity for merits at every IPC. If you follow the process I described here in your own state, you’ll know which of your images have the best chance for earning those merits. You will also earn valuable state competition merits along the way, qualifying you for degrees and numerous competition awards, such as OPPA’s Photographer of the Year.
>Not every PPA affiliate handles competitions the way we do at OPPA. But whatever the case, take advantage of your local and state affiliate competitions. In the case of OPPA, if you begin the process early in the year and take advantage of our series of state competitions, you should be ready for PPA district and international competitions. No matter when you begin, though, once you start the competition process it becomes an ongoing cycle as long as you continue feeding images into it. So keep shooting for competition. And if you are an OPPA member, be sure to enter the OPPA quarterlies early because they often sell out.