Photo Challenges and Competitions

All TOPG members are encouraged to participate in these photo competitions. It is the best way we know to improve one’s photography capabilities. Taking more photos alone will not improve your skills as much as they will improve if you submit your images for critique and review.

The Thousand Oaks Photo Group offers judged photo challenges 10 months out of the year, from February through November*. TOPG members are given an opportunity to have their images and prints evaluated by judges selected from a pool of prominent photographers who are well known in the field of photography and have the experience and expertise to offer valuable critique and assessment of submitted photographs. Typically, photographs are judged in front of the group at large as they are displayed via a projection system. (Hard-copy prints are reviewed by the judge separately, and no critique is given.) Our photo competitions offer club members a chance to share their photos and have them reviewed by reputable judges in a stress-free environment. Image critiques are performed anonymously, as the judge only sees the displayed image and is told the image title. The photographer remains anonymous throughout the session. Only if an image is deemed to be of high merit will the photographer's name be announced. Above all, the goal of all image competitions is to learn by example of what makes a good photograph and what could be improved. After all, all photographs, no matter how good they are, could be better. These challenges are the centerpiece of our general meetings.

The TOPG judging process and rating criteria are described near the end of this page. Finally, instructions for resizing naming digital images are covered at the bottom of this page.

Types of Photo Challenges

We offer two types of photography challenge/competition opportunities: (1) Digital Composition Challenges and (2) Print Competitions. The nomenclature for these two types of competitions is largely historically based, and they are more like each other than they are different from each other. The specific rules for each competition will be explained below:

  • Digital Composition Challenges. The Digital Composition Challenge (DCC) was established to encourage members to expand and grow technically and creatively as photographers. Members are challenged to submit photos that are related to the months assigned topic. On DCC nights, there is no print competition and only digital images are considered. Images are projected anonymously and are critiqued and scored by the judge. There are no editing restrictions placed on images submitted for the DCC. See our Digital Composition Challenge Rules for complete details.

  • Print Competitions. On Print Competition evenings, members may choose to submit prints, prints and digital images, or just digital images. The intent of the Print Competition is to promote TOPG members to produce printed products. However, there is no requirement to do so, and members may submit digital images without prints if they so choose. Typically, club members who submit prints also submit digital versions of those prints for review by the judge. Regardless of digital or hard-copy submission, images may be entered into either of two categories: (1) “Assigned,” a pre-announced category, or (2) “Open,” a general category. Photos submitted into the Assigned category are reality based, and generally may not be manipulated beyond basic editing such as exposure, white and color balance, saturation and cropping. In addition, removal of dust spots is allowed. There are no editing restrictions placed on images submitted to the Open category. See our Print Competition Rules for complete details.

Again, there are detailed rules for both the Digital Composition Challenges and Print Competitions, and club members are encouraged to review these rules in detail before submitting photos to a specific challenge: It is very important that TOPG members review TOPG competition rules before submitting photographs to our competitions:

Digital Composition Challenge Rules
Print Competition Rules


Thousand Oaks Photo Group
2020 Photo Competitions

 Month Competition Type Theme
 January   2019 Photo Review   No submitted images 
 February  Print  Red
 March  DCC  Planes, Trains & Automobiles 
 April  Print  Abandoned
 May  DCC  Tools
 June  Print  Around the House
 July  DCC  Sports
 August  Print  Roads
 September   DCC  Abstract
 October   Print  Architecture
 November   DCC  People
 December   No Photo Competition   Party On!

Generic Photo Submission Requirements:

  • Photo Submission. Digital photo submissions are always submitted by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Hard-copy prints must be delivered to the meeting room before the monthly meeting begins.

  • Submission Deadline. The digital photo entry deadline is 10:00 PM on the Wednesday immediately before the next competition.
    (New time beginning with the 4/1/2020 competition.)

  • File Naming Requirements. File naming requirements are different for each type of photo competition. Be sure to read our detailed requirements to make sure you understand how to name your files. This is very important.

  • Image Size. For submitting digital images to our competitions, the maximum digital image resolution constraints are 1400 horizontally and 1280 pixels vertically. Thus, the largest image you may submit is 1400 x 1280 (width x height). Smaller crops are certainly allowed.


The Photo Critique -
Softly passing judgement

Images submitted to either the Digital Competition Challenge digital session of the Print Competition will be reviewed an critiqued by a judge. The purpose of the critiques to help photo group members better understand what features constitute an exceptional image or print and to help them prepare for submitting prints and images for consideration in competitions outside the TOPG. The goal is to help every TOPG member become a better photographer and be less sensitive to receiving objective crticism of their work in an anonymous setting.

Print Competitions: Prints are reviewed by the judge in a gallery setting while the general business portion of the monthly photo group meeting is being conducted. The judge will assign 1st, 2nd and 3rd place for both Assigned and Open categories. The results of the print competition and a short critique (time allowing) of each print will be presented at the end of the meeting.

Digital Review and Critiquing sessions are conducted monthly using a large screen display device. Images submitted for digital review will be displayed to the entire group according to the following procedure:

  • Each image is displayed anonymously
  • The images title announced
  • The judge has a brief moment to study the image
  • The judge evaluates the image, providing brief critique and comment.
  • Then, the judge will provide comments regarding the images artistic and technical merit, creativity, and how the image could be improved. If applicable, the judge will determine whether the image fits the assigned category.
  • The judge will grade images per club’s image scoring system and names of authors of images with score 8 or 9 will be announced.

How are images scored?

The judge may award images with exceptional impact, composition, technical quality with a “Merit” award according to the following grading scale:

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

Note: when images are submitted to an “assigned” category or topic, they must meet the requirement of that topic or category to receive consideration. Images that do not fit the assignment will be disqualified for rating and may not be critiqued (depending on the judge).

All judge’s decisions are final. Our image competitions and critiques are intended to be instructional. All images, even the best ones, can be improved, and the hope is that everyone will learn from the discussion.


Resizing and Renaming Images Instructions

For submitting ditigal images to either competition, the maximum digital image resolution for competitions is 1400 x 1280 pixels (width x height). All files are provided to the judges prior to our digital and print competitions. Having your images at the highest allowable resolution will be beneficial. If you are unsure about how to resize your images, read the following document:

Resizing and Renaming Images Instructions

S4C Competition Chair, Stuart Lynn, published a guide for resizing images. His guide is applicable to S4C competitions and is equally applicable to TOPG digital competition. We have reproduced the guide on our website: 

S4C Guide to Resizing Images