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.  We thank Hutch Hutchison for suggesting many of these challenge topics this year.

2024 Photo Challenge Themes


 Month Theme
 January  2023 Photo Review – no photo challenge
 February Texture – Produce an image where texture is the dominant feature of the image. This can be achieved in camera by photographing subject matter that exhibits texture or as a creative photo treatment in post processing. (Thematic)
 March Wide Angle – Taken in camera, stitched, cropped, fish eyed or otherwise showing a broad subject perspective. Even if you do not have a wide angle lens, there are ways to communicate the feeling of wide angle. (Composition)
 April It’s All Wet – Make an image in which the primary subject is wet. Inclusion of water or other liquids is OK as secondary subject matter, but a water feature itself will not fulfill the challenge requirements. Simply put, a pretty picture of a beach sunset, a lake or show water won’t cut it this time. (Thematic)
 May Low Key or High Key, but no NO Key – Produce a high key or a low key image, the choice is yours. A high key image will possess a lot of whites and light tones – a whole range of them - with minimal mid-tones and blacks. A low key image, is the opposite of a high key photos and uses a lot of darker tones, shadows, and blacks with minimal amounts of mid-tones and whites. (Composition and Technical)
 June But, this is not a Bridge! – Show us a bridge, a bridge that is NOT a structure such as on a roadway, trestle or pathway over a depression or obstacle (such as a river, another road), or other feature break in the earth such as a natural arch. You’ll have to think a bit about this one, but there are lots of other types of bridges. (Thematic, and it will make you think.)
 July Odd or Odds – We’ve done “odd” before, and we had fun with it. This time, we changed it a bit. Make an image where the theme conveys the concept of odd, odds or oddness. It could be people, places, things, etc., or an image utilizing the compositional “rule of odds.” There are a lot of possibilities here, but we don’t want to see physical numerals as your subject. (Composition and/or Conceptual)
 August On the Edge – Use your imagination! This assignment could be a cliff hanger! (Thematic)
 September  Isolation Ward – Make an image where the subject is isolated in some way. Think about using negative space, color, focus or other compositional techniques to isolate the subject of you image. (Composition)
 October  It looks fuzzy to me – Sometimes, a blurred or out of focus photo can produce a compelling image that cannot be communicated in the same way with a tack-sharp in-focus image. Experiment with producing a blurred and/or out of focus image. Using camera movement, depth of field, post processing or other creative techniques, etc. are all ways to produce blurred or out of focus images. All such techniques are allowed. (Technical)
 November  My Obsession – Other than photography, show what’s important in your life. Think family, food, hobbies, pets, faith, volunteer activities, etc. This should be an interesting way to end our photo challenge year (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 2024.

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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