What You Need to Know to be Successful in PPA’s Master of Wedding Photography Degree

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Photo by Beatriz Pérez Moya on Unsplash
Photo by Beatriz Pérez Moya on Unsplash

– By Larry D. Adkins, M.Photog.
April 2020

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Have you heard about PPA’s new Wedding category or its new Master of Wedding Photography degree? Have you wondered what it takes to enter your images in this new category or earn this new degree? I have answers to these questions, and I have additional information from the recent PPA Education webinar “The New Wedding Degree: Entering Client Work” you will want to have in order to succeed in PPA’s Wedding category. The following information will help you prepare for the PPA’s District competitions and IPC even if you aren’t a wedding photographer.

I was interested in this webinar for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to hear about the rules and structure of the new Wedding category directly from the IPC Manager, Rich Newell. Second, I wanted to make sure I had the most current information for my Print Competition College workshop, so I can continue to help take the mystery out of PPA’s photographic competitions.

During the webinar, Rich and Booray Perry, a Tampa-based wedding photographer and critical influencer who helped make the Master of Wedding Photography degree a reality, talked about entering wedding images in competition. They covered topics ranging from how to select your images, what images do well, and how image competition has affected Booray’s (yes, this is his real name) everyday work.

2020 District and IPC Dates and Timelines
Rich started the conversation by updating everybody with the new dates for the District and IPC competitions. Here are the competition dates and registration deadlines for quick reference:

New District and IPC dates

  • District: 16-21 Aug
    • Registration: 5 Mar – 16 July by 5pm ET
    • Late Registration: 17 Jul – 4 Aug by 5pm ET
  • IPC: 18-23 Oct
    • Registration: 24 Aug – 28 Sept by 5pm ET
    • Late Registration: 29 Sep – 6 Oct by 5pm ET

The Challenges of a Wedding Photographer
Rich and Booray made the webinar fun, entertaining, and informative. Booray commented several times about a wedding photographer being in the same situation as a contestant on the “Iron Chef.” He sums this idea up nicely on one of his blogs, when he says the wedding photographers are, “the ‘Iron Chef’ of photography who work under extreme pressure in extreme circumstances and produce incredible images.” (http://boorayperry.com/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-master-photographer)

During the discussion, Booray and Rich, mentioned how PPA jurors will consider the wedding’s environment and what the photographer had to deal with to get the image. Booray acknowledged the hardest images to “merit” in competition are wedding images, because wedding photographers don’t have the time on a wedding day to be as “perfect” as a portrait photographer. They also have no control over location, time of day, clothing, subject, etc. and there’s a severe time limit (i.e., all images must be from the day of the actual wedding). According to the PPA rules, “Images and all elements of an image in the Wedding competition must be created in connection with an actual wedding. The entrant or entrants must have captured all elements of the final submission from that wedding.” This rule prohibits you from:

  • entering an image you took of the bride in her wedding dress in your studio before or after the actual day of the wedding
  • adding anything to the image (e.g., a better sky, a boat in the background of a beach wedding, a starfish on the sand, etc.)

Judging Wedding Photographs
When it comes to who will judge images in the wedding category, Rich said the single panel of jurors slated for the upcoming District and IPC competitions will have backgrounds in wedding photography. This is different than the Photographic Open category where jurors have experience across the gamut of photographic genres.

The jurors on the wedding competition panel will still judge an image against PPA’s standard of excellence using the 12 Elements of a Merit Image. In addition to the twelve elements, jurors will look for entries that illustrate the personality of the subject or subjects and the story of the wedding, as well as the artistic and technical skills of the image-maker in spite of the challenges involved at a typical wedding for an image to be merit worthy. Booray emphasized this point and said strong wedding images must show emotion and be technically accurate.

Wedding images will use the same new scoring rules as any other category in PPA’s competitions. Rich explained the new rules will have two rounds of scoring. In the first round, and image will either receive a Merit or Not a Merit designation. In the second round, all Merit images will be considered for Loan. All the Loan images will then be considered for the Grand Imaging Award (GIA) within their specific categories.

Booray believes we will see an increase in challenges under the new scoring system (Merit, Not a Merit) because jurors will be more willing to advocate for an image they believe is merit worthy. He provided an example where a juror under the old system might have considered an image as worthy of a merit and scored it at an 81. Other jurors may have scored it lower with the final result being a 79. In this instance, the juror scoring an 81 wouldn’t challenge it for multiple reasons. In the new system, Booray believes the juror scoring the image higher sees the image as merit worthy and will try to convince his fellow jurors that it deserves a merit.

Strategies to Succeed in Wedding Competition

Photo by Mr.Autthaporn Pradidpong on Unsplash
Photo by Mr. Autthaporn Pradidpong on Unsplash

Rich and Booray offered several strategies on how a photographer can succeed in print competition. First, they suggested you show the images you are considering to as many people as possible who are familiar with PPA’s competition standards (e.g., Master Photographers–look for the yellow lanyard at Guild meetings), and ask their opinion on what might merit. If you do this, make sure you are only showing your images to people who will not be jurors during the upcoming competition. If a juror knows an image is yours, they will have to disqualify themselves from judging your image, which may take a proponent of your image out of the conversation.

The second strategy the panelists suggested is to either ask somebody to look at your finished image or step away from it for a while. In the first instance, when you are ready to submit the image to competition, have somebody look at it to see if they can see any flaws or things that don’t make sense. If you don’t have somebody who can review the image, Rich recommended you walk away from your image for a few hours or days and then come back with a fresh set of eyes. You will see things you may have missed when you were working on the image. (Another tip advocated by Master Photographers in the Guild is to turn you image upside down. This technique helps you find bright spots or other items that don’t belong in a competition image.)

Finally, both gentlemen said to be open minded to comments and critiques and apply what you learn. Take the feedback from the initial group of people you showed your images to and apply it to your image during post-processing. When you submit your image, make sure you order the critique so you can learn what worked and what you need to work on for the next round of competitions.

Entering Wedding Images
During the question and answer period, one person asked if they could submit the same bride for all four entries. Rich said yes, with some caveats. First, the bride needs to be in four different environments (e.g., before first look, at the altar, outside after the wedding, and finally at the reception). Both men agreed a bride at the altar and then the bride with the groom at the altar would not meet the PPA rules for different environment. Booray cautioned people about entering the same bride for all four images, because the impact of the story may be lost on the single panel of jurors. He did offer an alternative for the single bride question that allowed the maker to keep the impact of the story. His example was a picture of the bride on a staircase with the wedding gown trailing behind her down the steps. The second picture of the same bride in this example was a closeup of her and her father during the Father-Daughter dance and one of them had a tear running down their cheek. Booray and Rich felt the jurors probably wouldn’t recognize these images as the same bride.

Key Takeaways
At the end of the webinar, Booray provided the key takeaway for any of us entering PPA’s photographic competitions. He said we should prepare for the long haul when working toward our any of our PPA degrees, but especially for the Master of Wedding Photography degree. He emphasized it’s a marathon and not a sprint meaning you may enter four images and not merit any of them. If this is going to upset you, he suggested not entering competition. However, if you do enter your work, make sure you use the 12 Elements of a Merit Image as your rule book, and be willing to fail. He stressed the importance of be willing to fail often, take small victories when they come, and learn from your critiques and from competition. His final comment was that print competition has helped him focus on the details (e.g., wrinkles in the dress, lighting on the subject, etc.), which in turn has helped him create better images and gain more customers.

Inspiration and Support
PPA’s “Wedding Photography Group – by PPA” Facebook page located at https://bit.ly/2RGesyM.

  • PPA-backed group for folks who are professional wedding photographers or who aspire to become professional wedding photographers and who want to contribute to the betterment of our community and industry.
  • A place where you can feel comfortable sharing questions, testimonials, ideas, and best practices for progressing and making it as a pro in the wedding photo biz!
  • A place just for professional wedding photographers to be able to mingle with like-minded photographers.

Webinar panel:
Rich Newell, M.Photog.Cr.

  • IPC Manager (the person who is in charge of District and IPC competitions)

Booray Perry, M.Photo.Cr, CPP http://boorayperry.com

  • Full-service photographer specializing in weddings, beach weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs,family portraits, and high quality business headshots.
  • The Tampa Area Professional Photographers Association awarded me “Wedding/Event Photographer of the Year” in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. I also travel and teach wedding photography at other guilds and compete in print competitions at the state and national level.


Larry Adkins (Winding Hills Photography) is an award-winning landscape photographer
from Monument, CO who has been recognized for his outstanding photography by the
Professional Photographers of Colorado and the Professional Photographers of America
(PPA). He is passionate about photographic competition, and shares his skills and abilities
with photographers so they can grow in their artistry and craftsmanship.