Competition Changes – Introducing Classes

NAPfS is an inclusive club with members of a wide range of skill levels.

Competitions required a minimum number of entries to be successful so we started in a single large group. However, that single group has as wide a range of skill levels. By separating the competition in to skill based classes, everyone is on a more level playing field. The judge is able to provide more useful critiques to those in each class. Each class is more internally competitive. Competitions are more educational and inspirational.

In January 2019, club members will be able to self select the class they compete in from three options. Everyone will hopefully be competing with peers closer to their own image making skill level.

The Classes

Naming the classes is something I agonized about quite a bit. Names have power.

Everyone starts somewhere. Everyone advances at a different speed. We all have different amounts of time, mental energy and money to devote to photography and that makes a difference.

The classes are not about the length of time you’ve been a photographer.

The classes are not professional vs amateur. Earning money or doing it purely for the love of it has very little to do with skill and quality of the resulting images.

Being in one class vs another is not a sign of status.

Which class a photographer belongs in is their decision based on their self perceived experience level and skills. Below are guidelines relative to the photographers main focus when they make images. Hopefully everyone feels comfortable picking a class for themselves. If you are unsure, feel free to ask us ( and we will determine the appropriate class for maximum learning and fun.

Class 1 vs Class 2 vs Class 3

Class 1 is for photographers that are focusing primarily on getting the technical pieces of a photo to come together. They may have a vision but still need to consciously focus on the nuts and bolts of making the photo: focus length, focus point, exposure, exposure settings or post processing. A class 1 photographer will find, however good their vision that they sometimes struggle to realize it due to technical limitations such as improper exposure, missed focus, less than ideal composition, not being sure what focus length to use or how to achieve an interesting perspective. Technical details like focus, exposure and framing will often be the key to separating images that receive and award from those that do not.

Class 2 is for photographers who have a solid handle on fundamental technical elements of their photography. Achieving sharp (or otherwise vision appropriate) focus and proper exposure happen subconsciously. Critiques in class 2 should focus on the impact of the image. Images in class 2 should generally be free of straight forward technical mistakes (e.g. missed focus) but class 2 photographers break “rules” relative to technical details and have learned to do it in a way that works. The judge should be able to focus on the message the image presents, how it speaks to them and how compelling the photo is in general.

Class 3 is for expert level photographers who have all the attributes of Class 1 and 2, plus a step above from those to an advanced level. Theme interpretation, technical execution, and creative expression should be sharp, clearly on point, and implemented with both skill and a certain jena se qua. “Rules”, or not, are consciously bent with a command of purpose that culminates in an exquisite image.


Obviously class 1. 2, and 3 can overlap in many ways. Just because someone is very comfortable with the technical aspects of one type of photography (say, landscape) doesn’t mean they will be as comfortable in another (say, studio photography). The decision to choose class 1 vs class 2 vs class 3 is about general comfort level and about receiving meaningful critiques. Great photos in either class will be recognized. And a photo with high impact that is missing some technical aspects (see the example below) could win in whichever class. Winning in class 2 or class 3 is not better or worse than winning in class 1. A great photo is a great photo.

Example 1 – Flawed but Good

Honor Flight by Andrew Fritz

Honor Flight by Andrew Fritz, Honorable Mention, Jan 2016

This image is an example of a photo by a class 2 photographer (me). It is far from technically perfect and I realized that when I submitted it. I was on location shooting as a photojournalist with not ability to control things like the crowd or lighting. Despite the flaws: busy background, distractions on the frame edge and overexposed foreground soldiers, this image has extremely high impact.

The subject, the WWII veteran, is dead center, in sharp focus and properly exposed. Shallow depth of field helps isolate him somewhat. There is no glaring technical flaw with the subject and that is what matters in this case. Many viewers feel strongly engaged with him and his expression, his rheumy but intense eyes are powerful. The photographer (me) positioned himself to be directly in the subjects gaze. Regardless of intention, the photo is as it is: the veteran stares directly through the soldiers into the camera.

The judge, while pointing out technical flaw, choked up. I (as the photographer) have the same reaction and can not stop looking into the vet’s eyes. After I lock eyes with him, I’m literally unable to see anything else in the photo without a head shake. The technical problems, if not irrelevant, fade to trivial. A class 2 photographer sets out to make images like this and recognizes the result’s impact despite the flaws. They are willing to present it but not another superficially similar image lacking the key element: the subjects engagement.

Example 2 – No Margin

Joshua Baker - Najatt in Gold

Najatt in Gold by Joshua Baker, 2nd Place, Jan 2016

This image is an example of an exercise in technical perfection. Pose, framing, lighting and exposure all had to be nearly perfect for this image to work at all. If any one element was less than perfect, the image would fail despite no easily identifiable technical mistake.

While this type of image looks simple, it is an all or nothing proposition. It requires a diverse skill set to consistently execute. While a class 1 photographer could attempt and even succeed at this image, a class 2 photographer can confidently attempt images like this knowing they have a fair chance of success, and knowing they can determine the successes from the failures. The hard part of this image for a class 2 photographer is coming up with the vision and realizing the elements in the photo (makeup, model, pose) to fulfill that vision.

Like the previous example, the class 2 photographer recognizes this image as the best from probably 10s or 100s of similar images that all different slightly in pose, framing and lighting.

Example 3 – Time is Not the Issue

Travis Johnson - Proud Fella

Proud Fella by Travis Johnson, 3rd Place, Jan 2016

This image, by Travis Johnson, is an example of a great image from a fairly new photographer. I suspect that Travis belongs in class 2 despite being active at photography for less than a year. As noted above, we all learn at different rates for many reasons. Class 1 vs class 2 is not about how long you’ve been a photographer.

Wildlife photography can seem accidental to many, but to consistently produce great results requires great technical skill, persistence and frankly luck (the sort you make yourself by missing sleep). Working with animals in the wild (whether in Africa or your back yard) is probably one of the least controlled situations possible. Where Josh had absolute control over the environment, model, lighting, room temp, camera position, food supply and just about every other variable in his photo above, Travis (and any other wildlife photographer) has almost none.

The light is what you find. If you want something else you have to wait for the weather to change or come back at a different time of day. The background is also out of direct control normally. If you don’t like it you have to move somewhere else. The behavior of your subject is (nearly) totally out of your control. You can’t ask the lizard to do anything. Even approaching this close often results in your subject running away.

So, when a photographer nails the technical aspects, not easy given the lack of control and especially the close focus distance and long focus length this image used, and manages to grab a great expression with clean backgrounds, the image is good. Whether it receives an award will depend on how the judge feels about it and what it is competing against.

The key to whether Travis should place himself in class 1 or class 2 or class 3 is really about his own knowledge. If he made this image intentionally, finding (or recognizing after the fact) a clean non-distracting background, and releasing the shutter at the right moment (or again, recognizing it after the fact), then I’d suggest he is a good candidate for class 2.  Of course, it is his call.