Photo Challenges

The Thousand Oaks Photo Group offers judged photo challenges 10 months out of the year, from February through November. In January, we conduct a photo review of the best images from the previous year, and in December, we just have a party.

TOPG members can submit digital images and prints for evaluation by qualified judges. Our judges are selected from a pool of prominent photographers who are well known in the field of photography. Their experience and expertise enables our judges to offer valuable critique and assessment of photographs in a stress-free environment. Photo critiques are performed anonymously. Above all, the goal of our photo challenges is to learn by example what makes a good photograph and how your own photos can be improved. After all, all photographs, no matter how good they are, could be made into better photographs.

If you are new to our club, or if you need a refresher, please refer to the challenge guidelines summary following the list of themes for this year.

2023 Photo Challenge Themes


 Month Theme
 January  2022 Photo Review – no photo challenge
 February Shadows and Silhouettes - Shadows and silhouettes can be strong elements in a photography. Use shadows and/or silhouettes in your composition to tell a story. (Thematic)
 March Up Close - This assignment encourages you to get close and personal with your subject. It is an exercise in viewing a common object in a new way and examining its finer details. Get as close as your camera will allow you to focus. Consider different angles, parts of things, and lighting effects. (Composition and Technique)
 April Rocks, Stones, Gravel and Sand - Compose an abstract photo consisting of rocks, stones gravel and/or sand. The objects of your choice must be in a natural-like setting. Close up or from a distance, the choice is up to you. (Thematic)
 May Motion - Convey motion in your image via in-camera techniques. There are lots of things you can do to photograph motion, but NO slow water! (Composition and Technique)
 June Pareidolia - Well, I didn’t know what it meant either. Pareidolia is seeing human or animal likenesses in inanimate objects such as clouds, trees, ice, etc. This should be a fun challenge. There are lots of examples on the internet. Just Google Pareidolia. (Thematic)
 July Frame within a Frame - Framing your subject is effective way of portraying depth in a scene. Look for elements such as windows, arches, or overhanging branches to frame your scene. (Composition and Technique)
 August Balance - Present a composition that demonstrates balance. Consider symmetry, perceived size and weights of things and the impact of color. (Composition and Technique)
 September  Night photo - Take your camera out at night and compose an image using elements of environment. A tripod may be necessary, and then again, it might not. You may or may not use added lighting. (Thematic)
 October  Timing - Wait for the Decisive Moment. Not yet, not yet, now! Many times waiting for a moment (or two) will make the difference between an oh-hum photo and an excellent one. Timing is everything. (Composition and Technique)
 November  Lifestyle Photography - Create an image that aims to capture portraits of people in situations, real-life events, or milestones in an artistic manner.[1] The primary goal is to tell stories about people's lives or to inspire people at different times. (Definition from Wikipedia: Dan Holmes has done a good job defining Lifestyle Photography for the Channel Islands Professional Photographer's Association. View the article at (Thematic)
 December  TOPG Holiday Party (no photo challenge)

If you are not sure what a particular theme means. Google it, and you will see lots of concepts and examples to help spur your imagination. Or ask a friend. Have fun and share your vision.

Photo Challenge Guidelines

We made extensive revisions to our photo challenge guidelines in 2021. They have worked quite well, and the Board of Directors has decided to make no changes for 2023.

Images submitted to TOPG photo challenges are judged for their technical and pictorial merit. They should be properly exposed, be appropriately in focus, and have appropriate depth of field. Imagery should have impact, appeal, and strong composition. Each month we provide an assigned theme to challenge club members to make photographs that address a specific set of guidelines. We also provide an open category where club members may submit photographs without restriction.

Whether the club member chooses to submit digital images or prints for evaluation, our Photo Challenge Guidelines provide a construct for conducting photo challenges simply and easily. Club members may submit photos in two different divisions: the Printed Image Division and the Projected Image Division.

Please note that the Printed Image Division has been temporarily discontinued while we meet in a virtual world in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. We will resume the Printed Image Division once we start meeting in person.

Rules? I thought there were NO rules!

OK, there are a few pesky rules.

  • You have to be TOPG member in good standing to enter our challenges.
  • You must use a camera in the creation of your primary theme materials, and all key elements of your photo must be made by you.
  • You may submit up to 2 photos per month, either print of digital. The choice is yours.
  • All photographs must conform to specific size and naming requirements as described in the Photo Challenge Guidelines as well as in the Resizing and Labeling Instructions.

The Devil is in the Details

Our rules are simple and easy to understand. But if you are new to our club or need a refresher, please read:


The Photo Critique -
Softly passing judgement

Photographs submitted to our photo challenges will be reviewed and critiqued by a judge. The purpose of the critique is to help TOPG members better understand what constitutes an exceptional projected image or printed photograph. Learning by critique can be a highly effective way to improve one’s photography and post processing skills. It can help the photographer prepare for future TOPG photo challenges as well as photo competitions outside the TOPG. Our goal is to help every TOPG member become a better photographer and be less sensitive to receiving objective criticism of their work in an anonymous setting.

Whether reviewing a projected image or a print, each photograph is evaluated as follows:

  • The photo is displayed.
  • The photo title announced.
  • The judge takes a brief moment to study the photo. (Judges have already previewed images prior to the challenge meeting.)
  • The judge evaluates the photograph, providing critique and comment. The judge will comment about the photos artistic and technical merit, creativity, and presentation. The judge will also identify how the photo could be improved. If applicable, the judge will determine whether the photo fits the assigned category.
  • The judge will announce the images score using our 5-9 point rubric below.
  • If an image receives a score of 8 or 9, the name of maker will be announced.

How are photographs scored?

Judges assign scores according to the following grading scale:

9 – Photos exhibiting exceptional technical skill and impact
8 – Photos with very high technical skill and impact
7 – Good photos, worthy of award consideration
6 – Average quality photos
5 – Below average photos, needing improvement
4 – Below average photos with serious defects
3 – Photos with multiple serious defects

Note: when photos are submitted to an “assigned” category or topic, they must meet the requirement of that topic or category to receive consideration. Photos which do not fit the assignment will be disqualified for rating and may not be critiqued (depending on the judge).
All images, even the best ones, can be improved. It is hoped that everyone will learn from the discussion. All judge’s decisions are final. Our photo challenges are intended to be instructional.

Again, if you have any questions, please refer to our complete photo challenge guidelines:


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