Celebrating Excellence in Portraiture

Submissions Are Now Closed

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING SPECIFIC? CLICK BELOW

Categories Prizes Judges Galleries Rules Resources

How it Works

CLICK TO LEARN MORE:

Submit Images & Add Feedback

Submit Images & Add Feedback

You may submit unlimited images into any of the categories. Every image is reviewed by 5 judges and an average score is given. When submitting your images to Awards, you’ll see an option to add “Image Feedback” for $10 while checking out. You can check this box to receive feedback from judges on that specific image.

Receive Image Merits

Receive Image Merits

Images that receive a score of 70 or higher have met professional standards and receive either a bronze, bronze with distinction, silver or gold merit.

Win Category Awards

Win Category Awards

Each category winner will receive a trophy and the opportunity to be awarded Grand Champion of the competition, winning an additional trophy.

Earn Accreditation

Earn Accreditation

If your image earns a bronze, silver or gold merit, you will receive points toward becoming an Accredited Portrait Masters Photographer.

The Categories

Portrait

Portrait

A portrait of one person age 19+ showing personality and connection. (formerly known as Contemporary Portrait)

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

Family & Group Portrait

Family & Group Portrait

A portrait of two or more family members that capture their connection.

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

Maternity Portrait

Maternity Portrait

A portrait celebrating human pregnancy.

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

Newborn Portrait

Newborn Portrait

A portrait of a newborn baby or multiple babies from zero to 12 months old. Portraits of babies with siblings or family belong in the family category.

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

Boudoir Portrait

Boudoir Portrait

A portrait that celebrates intimate beauty and sensuality defined as boudoir. Subjects must be aged 18+ years.

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

Teen & Senior Portrait

Teen & Senior Portrait

A portrait of an individual teen, or group of teens, within the ages of 13-18.

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

Children’s Portrait

Children’s Portrait

A portrait of an individual child, or children, within the ages of 1-12 years.

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

Creative Portrait

Creative Portrait

A portrait that has a unique theme or style including fantasy & composite. This category often celebrates heavier editing.

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

Movement

Movement

A portrait that demonstrates and celebrates the expression of movement.

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

Pet Portrait

Pet Portrait

Photographs that display a pet or animal as the main focus or theme.

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

Black & White Portrait

Black & White Portrait

Portraits where the entire image is shown in varying shades of neutral gray, and must not include any other colors.

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

Documentary Portrait

Documentary Portrait

The documentary portrait category is for entries that celebrate the style of documenting a real living subject in their real environment, in an honest way. The genre of documentary aligns itself with captures designed for news, press, editorial, events, travel documentation and street photography.

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

Wedding Portraits

Wedding Portraits

Portraits that are wedding themed. Entries can be staged or candid and will be judged for both directed and photojournalistic merit.

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

Fashion Portrait

Fashion Portrait

Celebrating portraits where contemporary fashion takes center stage to elevate the subject’s presentation. Fashion can take the form of clothing, accessories, makeup, styling or an integration of those elements together.

View past category winners in the Award Galleries.

WHAT CAN YOU WIN?

EACH CATEGORY WINNER WILL RECEIVE:

+ The opportunity to be awarded Grand Champion of the competition, winning an additional trophy!

OFFICIAL TROPHY

FEATURE ON THE PORTRAIT SYSTEM PODCAST

What makes an award-winning portrait?

How Are Images Judged?

Learn More →

Judging Criteria

Portrait photographers frequently ask us what it takes to reach high professional standards. Below we lay out the judging criteria and some things to avoid in order to maximize your score. Members of The Portrait System can also watch image critiques from our judges to learn more about what makes an award-winning image.

Expression and Connection

Mastering expression and facilitating connection is extremely important in professional portrait photography. It sets the entire mood for the image and tells the story. A good, beautiful connection is essential in creating images of high professional standards.

Common issues with expression and connection:

  • Stern, blank and/or disconnected look on the subject
  • Eye expression needs softening
  • Subject looks uncomfortable
  • Forehead too tense or frowning
  • Lips or chin are tense and need to relax
  • Too big of a smile or forced smile
  • Eyebrows need to relax or be softened
  • The expression doesn’t match the pose
Styling

It’s important to choose the perfect clothing, hair, and makeup to compliment your subjects, location, lighting, and/or studio set up.

Common issues with styling:

  • Clash of warm tone and cold tone between clothing and background
  • Too many or distracting accessories
  • Too many patterns
  • Styling props are too distracting (large, colorful, etc, taking away from the portrait)
  • Lashes aren’t positioned correctly or blended into the lash line
  • Hair blowing on straight hair or bangs is unflattering or is too intense
Composition

Good composition directs the eye to the subject without distraction. Creating good composition in any situation is essential to creating images of high-professional standards.

Common issues with composition:

  • Cropped too tight
  • Cropped at joint
  • Too much negative space on the sides
  • Too much room overhead
  • Negative space wrongly placed
  • Negative space better on subjects front
  • Negative space better on subjects back
  • Shooting down on subject instead of at eye line
  • Shooting UP on subject
  • The subject is not composed well in their environment
  • Something is sticking out from behind their head
  • Lines and shapes leading and/or dissecting subjects head and neck area
Posing

Posing is one of the most important parts of being a portrait photographer. You MUST be able to pose men and women of all different body types if you want to reach professional standards.

Common issues with posing:

  • Posing looks uncomfortable
  • Hands are unnecessary or need work
  • Back of hands too prominent
  • Unflattering face angles
  • Need to elongate the neck
  • Arms flat against the body
  • Chin needs to be forward
  • Chin too far down or up
  • People are not posed together very well
Lighting

Understanding lighting — when and how to use it properly — is pivotal to creating perfect portraits and grow your photography business. It creates and set the mood, balances the image, highlights the subject and helps determine the overall look of the portrait.

Common issues with portrait lighting:

  • Too many shadows on the face
  • Broad light is too hard on the subject
  • The subject doesn’t have enough light
  • The subject has too much light
  • Light needs to be diffused and bounced more
  • More reflector needed
  • The subject is too close to the window/backlight
  • Highlights are blown out
  • No detail in the shadows
  • Uplighting (lighting is too low)
  • Downlighting (lighting is too high)
Overall Technique and Presentation

The overall technique is every aspect of your image. From start to finish, the equipment you use, the technical decisions you make, the story you choose to tell, and all the way to the presentation. It is everything you did to execute your image.

Post-Production

Portraits that have reached high professional standards will be edited in a manner which enhances the portrait without overprocessing the image.

Common issues with editing:

  • Super smooth or Overprocessed
  • Skin looks overly softened
  • Under eyes need more retouching
  • Skin tones look off
  • Over sharpened
  • Eyes are overly brightened
  • Remove shadows under eyes
  • Skin needs more work
  • Even out & match skin tones on the face/body
  • Heavy/overpowering filters or grain
  • Too much vignette, liquify, or warp
  • The color tint is off/wrong color profile
  • Overly fixed hair
  • Needs to fix flyaways
  • Warping lines showing
  • Needs more editing overall
  • Removed too much under eyes
  • Needs to fix makeup issues
  • Skin is too red
Focus

Creating perfectly sharpened and focused portraits is absolutely key in reaching high-professional standards. Most of the images that score under 70 are either out of focus, overly sharpened or have poor post-processing

  • Images look over sharpened
  • Out of focus in the eyes
  • Image is out of focus
  • Image is soft
  • Back eye is focused instead of front eye
Storytelling

A portrait is a picture that visually describes ‘who’ a person is. The viewer should be ‘informed’ by a portrait and even better emotively informed or ‘moved’ by a portrait. The more powerful this communication is, the more powerful the portrait often is.

Common issues with storytelling:

  • Emotion/story/subject is not strongly conveyed so that it can be quickly interpreted
  • The emotive content and story feels too forced or manufactured
  • Story is unoriginal, ‘done before’ or feels cliché

MERIT LEVELS & ACCREDITATION

We created this program to acknowledge, honor, and celebrate high-quality, professional work and to arm you with public recognition you deserve in your field.

Explore Now →

Merit Levels

Earn merits and accreditation points based on your image score. Points accumulate and never expire.

Bronze Merit

Image Score: 70-79
Earn ½ point
A professional standard of work. Images scored 75-79 are called ‘Bronze with Distinction’

Silver Merit

Image Score: 80-89
Earn 1 point
Exemplary execution of technique and visual presentation

Gold Merit

Image Score: 90-100
Earn 2 points
Excellence in all technical fields with outstanding creative communication and narrative

Accreditation

Achieve accreditation based on accumulated points and other scoring criteria (see below).

Associate

Professional Standard achieved

Master

A high level of professional standard

Fellow

Consistent, high level of professional standard and awards achieved

Associate Level

25 points

When you reach Associate level, you are added to our Find a Photographer Directory, where you can make a profile, showcase your awarded images, add your business links, and link to this page on your own website.

Master Level

50 Points, 3 Silvers, consistent level and average

Upon successfully reaching requirements for Master level, your folio will be reviewed to ensure your current work is of a consistent, good professional standard which reflects the accolade and title of ‘Master’ within The Portrait Masters. As well as your accumulated 50 points and 3 silvers, you will need to have achieved an average score of 73 or higher across your total entries, in however many rounds your last 20 entries sit in. You will also be required to have zero ‘approaching professional standard’ entries in your last two rounds.

Fellow Level

100 Points, Master Level achieved, 10 Silvers

In order to reach the Fellow level, you are required to accumulate 100 points, and you must have at minimum 10 images with silver or gold merits in your folio, and you will need to have already achieved the requirements for the current Master status.