Are you like me? You keep submitting prints into exhibitions just for them to enjoy the return trip through the postage system without making it to the exhibition gallery.  My prints look OK to me ….  but not to the Selectors. Why?

Leigh Preston, a very experienced photographer, selector, lecturer and tutor, offers an explanation.


What you need to do is,

  • read the rules carefully
  • send an entry with the right fee etc,
  • don’t put in colour for a mono section
  • don’t put entries into the wrong category – e.g. Digital into Silver section

UNDERSTAND that Pictures that get accepted have either :

  • impact,
  • personality & character,
  • humour,
  • a message or
  • a narrative, are clever, very unusual in subject matter or are emotional and full of personal involvement.

ALL should be technically sound.


  • avoid cliché,
  • avoid the obvious,
  • avoid the same subjects that appear too often.

Be aware of exhibition style. It’s often bold, not always quiet, it’s usually ‘stand-out’ or crafted, currently ‘creative’ but always credible – but be aware of judges foibles and quirks – they sometimes choose pictures that they relate to, not because of criteria!


  • Mount prints on sympathetic mounts, not cut with a bread knife!
  • Back the pictures to avoid them crinkling or getting damaged , in other words present them as if you mean it!
  • Scruffy, badly presented images fail.
  • make sure there are no blemishes, sensor marks, banding
  • consider the content closely, what does it say or mean

Design and use of picture space, proper use of geometry and tones are all helpful in the way a picture can be instantly READ. Don’t forget that word ‘instant’ – most pictures are judged within a few seconds when they actually ought to be considered.

Plan an exhibition entry well in advance, make pictures fresh and use bankers, but try a couple of new ideas they might just be successful.

Planning means looking at other exhibitions – sometimes on-line, looking at what gets accepted in recent catalogues, don’t copy other ideas too closely, but gain inspiration from them.

Judges look for quality in vision if they are worth their weight!

Avoid light components of the image appearing on frame edges

Light mount surrounds dark image and vice versa.

Human condition – the more emotive and dramatic will inevitably get chosen, sometimes for awards.

AWARDS get given to the very best, most of the time, and have to be agreed upon. Pictures that get 5 are not that common, because judges can be stingy, all judges should be positive, but sadly some are un-joyous and don’t get jubilant at all!


  • refine your vision,
  • the purpose of the image is important and what it imparts and back that with exemplary technical prowess.
  • don’t do make-weight,
  • don’t accept second best from yourself.