2023-2024 Competition Guide for Members




These Guidelines apply to the Gateway Camera Club digital competitions held on specific meeting dates as listed on the club calendar.  Other competitions such as those sponsored by the New England Camera Club Council and the Photographic Society of America and other interclub or multi-club competitions and international salons may be governed by different rules which will be communicated separately for each competition.

Photography competitions and contests are a great way to share your work and see what other members are doing with their photography. They can help improve your photography and post-processing skills through constructive feedback from expert judges and by measuring your images and progress as a photographer against others.

Gateway offers both monthly intraclub competitions and interclub competitions with other camera clubs which are open to all members. The competitions take place during September, October, November, January, February, March, April, and May.   Our image-of-the-year competition is also held in May. 

Each member in good standing may submit up to three images in each competition but no more than two images in any one category.

Our competitions are judged by accomplished photographers from outside the club who are selected by the Competition Committee.  The names of the judges are announced in advance.

It is important to remember that competition is just one tool for learning how to become a better photographer along with workshops, online and in-person courses, independent study, critique and knowledge sharing from other photographers; and, of course, practice, practice, practice!

Competition Levels

Gateway competitions are conducted within levels or classes. There are three competition levels:

·      B – Beginner
·      A – Intermediate
·      AA – Advanced

All members are assigned to one of these levels and their images are entered into the competition for that level. This is designed to permit members to compete with other members with comparable skills and to allow judges to deliver feedback appropriate to the member’s skill level.

New competitors are placed in the appropriate class based on their request and experience, guided by the recommendation and approval of the Competition Committee. Unless otherwise agreed upon with the member based on the above, new members will be placed in the B level to start. Competitors must start and finish the year in their assigned class.

If you do not have an assigned class, contact the Competition Chairperson.  A member can also request to be moved to another level at the start of the season but no level changes are allowed mid-season.

At the end of each year, the Competition Committee makes recommendations to move a limited number of members to a higher level based on their performance in that year’s competition.  In each case, the member may accept or reject the recommendation.

Competition Types

Our monthly competitions are grouped into four categories – Pictorial/Open, Creative/Altered Reality, Nature, and Themed.  A list of the themed categories and their definitions for this competition year is contained in the Appendix.  Images in each category are divided into and judged separately in the three expertise levels: B, A and AA. 

Rules and Restrictions

These rules apply to the Gateway club digital competitions held on specific meeting dates listed on the club calendar. Other competitions such as NECCC, PSA, other inter-club or multi-club competitions and international salons may require different formats and entry requirements which will be communicated separately for each competition. Pertinent NECCC and PSA rules are summarized later in the guide.

Submission Deadline

The deadline for submitting images is nine days before the competition at 11:59 pm Eastern Time. For example, for the Tuesday, September 27 competition, the submission deadline is Sunday, September 18 at 11:59 pm. This allows time for the Competition Committee to download images from the website to the local computer used for competition, check for any problems in member submissions, and for the judge to review and pre-score the images.

The Competition Chairperson will generally send reminder emails a few days before the deadline as a courtesy, but it is the member’s responsibility to submit images prior to the deadline regardless of whether or not an email reminder is sent.  After submitting your images members are strongly advised to double check that you entered images into the correct competition and in the correct categories.

Number of Images Per Monthly Competition - We allow three submissions per member per competition with no more than two in any one category.

Duplicate or Near-Duplicate Images

Duplicate or near-duplicate images of previous ribbon-winning images are not permitted in Gateway competitions. “Near-duplicate images” are images which are not significantly different from each other. If a member submits an image that the Competition Committee determines is a duplicate or near duplicate of a previous ribbon-winning image by that member in a Gateway competition, that submission will be disqualified. Any points that were awarded for that image will be deducted from that member’s cumulative score.

To determine whether an image differs significantly from a previous image, the Committee uses an objective standard.  Examples of near duplicate images include:

• Minor differences in subject position, activity, exposure or cropping;
• Conversions between color and black-and-white or monochrome;
• Other changes resulting from processing the same raw image differently;

Creative post-processing that transforms a previous image into an “altered reality” is allowed when the altered image is entered into the Creative category. 

You can enter an image that is similar to a previously entered image, even an award-winning image, if it differs significantly (such as shot with a different lens, at a recognizably different time or from a significantly different angle or perspective).

It is the responsibility of each competitor, not the Competition Chairperson or Competition Committee to follow these rules and to keep a record of winning images to avoid disqualification and the loss of points that would result from such disqualification.

Artistic Freedom

Gateway supports artistic freedom of expression.  Depictions of the human body have a long history in art.  For this reason, nudity is not prohibited as long as it is presented in a tasteful manner.  However, images that are deemed pornographic or distastefully graphic will be ruled ineligible at the discretion of the Competition Committee whose decision is final.

Make-Ups for Technical Issues

No make-ups will be allowed in digital image competitions as a result of failure to meet competition rules and deadlines.  At the discretion of the Competition Committee, an oversight by a member as to a rule or deadline may be excused once during the competition year.  However, in the event a submitted image is inadvertently excluded from the image file list or accidentally deleted by the Competition Committee prior to the competition, the image in question will be entered in the subsequent competition in addition to the competitor’s normal entries for that competition. Any errors in projection or due to issues associated with image submission and collection will be adjudicated by the Competition Committee whose decision is final.

Eligibility: Applicable to All Categories

Every photograph submitted in a gateway competition must have been taken by the member who submits the image. An image from a prior year may be entered in a competition if it otherwise complies with these guidelines but members are strongly encouraged to produce and submit new work.

What is permitted in post-processing.  Photographs are eligible when all editing and alteration of the photograph (or photographs in the case of composites) has been performed by the maker alone.  Also, the maker can enhance photographs using filters or plug-ins within a core editing program such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Topaz, On1, etc. so long as the maker controls the plug-in or filter. Although not allowed in some non-Gateway competitions, commercially produced or third-party textures are allowed as an exception.

What is not permitted in post-processing.  Photographs are not eligible if they contain generated content from plug-ins or filters or other software, that does not exist in the source photograph. Also, images generated in whole or in part through computer programs or apps that use keywords to generate content are not eligible.  Finally, images that contain elements that the maker did not personally photograph, such as clip art, stock images, skies, and celestial objects are not eligible.

If a member is unsure whether an image meets these standards for eligibility for any reason and you wish to eliminate the chance that it could be disqualified, you may check with the Competition Committee no later than three days before the date for submitting images into that competition closes.  The decision as to whether any image is eligible based on these guidelines will be made by the Competition Committee whose decision is final whether it is made before or after the competition in question.

Category Specific Rules - Categories have their own specific rules and guidelines, with Nature being the most formal and restrictive. 

Creative/Altered Reality: Creative/Altered Reality Images must represent altered reality, meaning they are noticeably different from a scene viewed through a camera lens. Generally, an image does not qualify in this category simply because the maker has cropped it, rendered it black and white, or adjusted the exposure.  Images whose sole creativity is infrared, monochrome, High Dynamic Range (HDR), or use of wide angle or fish-eye lenses, or long exposure are not eligible in this category. Techniques such as panning/zooming or unique staging ALONE are NOT considered creative UNLESS they are used to create an abstract effect. This category is about altering a normal photographic image in a creative way, rather than taking a photograph of quirky or creative subjects.

Creative images must have been obviously manipulated or modified during or after exposure with experimental, digital, in-camera, or darkroom techniques. Composite or merged multiple images and collages are acceptable for creativity even if each component is not altered reality as long as the end image is clearly not a single image and represents altered reality.

Images should display imaginative skill and originality. The intent is to encourage members to learn photo manipulation and post-processing tools and techniques. Members are STRONGLY encouraged to modify their techniques throughout the year and NOT to routinely use the same techniques or use the same software add-ons, plug-ins, filters or actions developed by others for multiple competitions. Judges are instructed to evaluate entries based on their overall photographic impact, not the amount of manipulation required to achieve the effect.

There is no requirement that the final Creative/Altered Reality image be recognizable or representative of any specific thing or person (i.e., an abstract image is eligible in this category).

Judges are instructed to evaluate, critique and score entries for their overall photographic impact, not for the amount of manipulation required to achieve the effect.

Nature: Gateway follows most of the definition of Nature adopted by the Photographic Society of America (PSA) as follows:

Nature images must convey the truth of the scene that was photographed. A well-informed person should be able to identify the subject of the image and be satisfied that it has been presented honestly and that no unethical practices have been used to control the subject or capture the image. Images that directly or indirectly show any human activity that threatens the life or welfare of a living organism are not allowed.

The most important part of a Nature image is the nature story it tells. High technical standards are expected and the image must look natural.

This definition of “Nature Image” includes landscapes, geologic formations, weather phenomena, and extant organisms as the primary subject matter. This includes images taken with the subjects in controlled conditions, such as zoos, game farms, botanical gardens, aquariums and any enclosure where the subjects are totally dependent on man for food so long as the image does not include “the hand of man,” as defined below.  Also, wildlife is not limited to animals, birds and insects. Marine subjects and botanical subjects (including fungi and algae) taken in the wild are suitable wildlife subjects, as are carcasses of extant species.

Nature images must not show evidence of manipulation or contain any evidence of “the hand of man” (no cages, fences, streets, buildings, boats, vehicles, telephone wires, etc.). 

- Objects created by humans and evidence of human activity are allowed in Nature images only when they are a necessary part of the Nature story.
- Photographs of mounted or preserved zoological specimens are not allowed.
- Images taken with subjects under controlled conditions, such as zoos, are allowed.
- Controlling live subjects by chilling, anesthetic or any other method of restricting natural movement for the purpose of a photograph is not allowed.

Exceptions from PSA Definition

Gateway modifies the PSA definition of Nature to allow more leniency in some areas. Feral and domestic animals, human-created hybrid and cultivated plants and flowers are allowed as long as they appear to be in the wild (i.e., there is no evidence that they are in a cultivated or captive setting) or they are incidental to the nature story (as in a bee pollinating a cultivated flower or a bird in the wild sitting on an animal that may or may not be domesticated).

Editing Guidelines

Processing or editing must be limited to making the image look as close to the original scene as possible, except that conversion to grayscale monochrome is allowed.

Allowed editing techniques:

- Cropping, straightening and perspective correction.
- Removal or correction of elements added by the camera or lens, such as dust spots, noise, chromatic aberration and lens distortion.
- Global and selective adjustments such as brightness, hue, saturation and contrast to restore the appearance of the original scene.
- Complete conversion of color images to grayscale monochrome.
- Blending of multiple images of the same subject and combining them in camera or with software (exposure blending or focus stacking)
- Image stitching – combining multiple images with overlapping fields of view that are taken consecutively (panoramas);

Editing techniques that are not allowed:

- Removing, adding to, moving or changing any part of an image, except for cropping and straightening.
- Adding a vignette during processing.
- Blurring parts of the image during processing to hide elements in the original scene.
- Darkening parts of the image during processing to hide elements in the original scene.
- All conversions other than to complete grayscale monochrome.”

Nature images that do not meet these rules and restrictions or which have been modified or manipulated beyond what is allowed are, however, allowed in Pictorial/Open category.

Pictorial/Open: In Pictorial/Open, anything goes, including Nature or Creative/Altered Reality images.  An image submitted in this category that also would qualify for submission as a Nature or Creative/Altered Reality, or one of the Themed categories should not be scored down simply for that reason.

Themed:  Just as the Creative category is designed to encourage members to explore advanced post-processing and in-camera techniques, Themed categories are meant to encourage members to shoot subjects to an assignment.  This is meant both to encourage members to shoot outside their comfort zones and as a fun exercise in seeking out subjects or exploring photographic styles and techniques that may be unfamiliar to them.  No one is required, however, to submit an image into any of the Themed categories. 

Judges are asked to score images according to how well they capture the essence of the theme as defined by the Competition Committee.  A list of the themed categories and their definitions for this competition year is contained in the Appendix.


Judges are provided with Gateway’s judging guidelines ahead of time, explaining our categories, levels, rules, scoring and expectations for feedback. Among other guidance, judges are encouraged to reward creativity and new forms of individual expression among our members, to go beyond the well-known rules of photography, to share what “grabs them” in an image and to score images on their own merit relative to the competition level.

In order to permit maximum time for constructive criticism of competition images, judges are required to pre-judge and score the images prior to sharing the score and critique with members. Pre-judging involves providing the judge with a secure logon to the Gateway website that allows the judge to see the images one at a time, without the image title or identification of the maker, duplicating as closely as possible the viewing experience the judge would have if judging “live” in front of the members.

Competition Night Procedures

At the start of Competition Night, the judge and members are publicly reminded of the club’s judging guidelines so that everyone present can share the same expectations for how the competition is meant to be conducted and the judge has a final opportunity to ask any clarifying questions on our expectations and rules.

With the typical number of images submitted, and under two hours to review them and judge them, that leaves roughly 30 seconds or less for the judge to provide a critique and score an image.

The judge is an honored guest of the Gateway Camera Club, and is entitled to respect. Members are expected to respect the judge’s comments as constructive feedback offered in good faith and are asked not to disrupt the competition with comments or questions unless invited to by the judge.

Competition events are intended to be enjoyed by everyone, and a spirit of informality should prevail provided, however, that members observe these Guidelines.   It is important for members to silence their cell phones and other devices (and to mute themselves during Zoom programs unless invited by the moderator to speak) and to otherwise remain as quiet as possible so as not to disrupt, delay judging or interfere with other members hearing the judge’s commentary and critique.


Ribbons are awarded for those receiving the highest score (Blue), the second highest score (Red) and the third highest score (Yellow) within each category and competition level, unless in the judgment of the Competition Committee too few images were submitted in a particular category in which case only a Blue ribbon may be awarded.  In the case of ties, multiple ribbons will be awarded for that score.  Once an image wins an award it cannot be reentered in any future monthly competition.

Cumulative Results and Category Promotions

At the end of the competition year, the top finisher in each class will move to the next higher class for the next competition season unless the member declines the invitation to move up. The top finisher is defined as the member with the highest cumulative score in his or her level.  The Competition Committee may exercise discretion and consider other factors relating to the quality of a member’s work and offer one or more members other than the top finisher an invitation to move up to a higher class. 

A certificate recognizing the top scorer in each level cumulatively and within the Nature, Pictorial/Open, Creative, and Themed categories will normally be presented to each recipient at the annual Awards Ceremony, which is customarily held at the last meeting of the year in mid-June. At the discretion of the Competition Committee, additional certificates may be awarded to others.

Image of the Year

All digital images that have won Blue or Red ribbons in Gateway digital competitions during the season will be eligible for the Image-of-the-Year (IOY) Competition. This competition is usually held the week after the last monthly competition of the season on the third Tuesday in May.

It is the member’s responsibility to verify before the IOY Competition date that all of his or her qualifying images are included in the competition. No make-ups or late submissions after the completion date will be allowed for images inadvertently omitted from consideration.

The competition will be conducted as an In/Out tournament with three judges to determine a winner in each class and category. Two out of the three judges must declare an image “in” for it to continue through multiple rounds of judging.

A certificate recognizing an Image-of-the-Year award will normally be presented to each recipient at the annual awards ceremony, which is customarily held at the last meeting of the year in mid-June.

Special Awards - Gateway gives up to two awards each year, one of which is based on competition results.

Willa Schmidt Award: An annual award bestowed upon the member who has the highest cumulative score in the Creative Competition category for the past year. Willa Schmidt was a Gateway co-founder and longtime member who taught, encouraged, and excelled at creative photography.

Peter Hrul Award: An annual award bestowed upon a member by the Competition Committee for the club’s most improved photographer.  Competition results, including Image of the Year and outside awards may be taken into account, but this is a subjective award and may also take into account participation in other photographic activities that illustrate the member’s growth as a photographer.  Peter Hrul held club leadership roles as Treasurer, President and Director and encouraged member involvement in any and all club and related activities that would help each individual achieve his or her own photographic ambitions, whatever they might be.

Interclub Competitions

Gateway regularly participates in two interclub competitions – NECCC and PSA – in which a small number of images are submitted by many camera clubs. Details on both and how Gateway participates in them follow.

Note that in both contests, the Nature category rules are the same as for Gateway monthly competitions EXCEPT that they are STRICTLY APPLIED. This means that our lenient approach to feral and domestic animals, human-created hybrid plants and flowers and cultivated plants and flowers IS NOT ALLOWED.

In addition to NECCC and PSA, Gateway participates in other interclub competitions with the potential to provide members with additional outlets in which to compete and forums to extend its reputation and recruiting. These interclub competitions are arranged and managed by the Competition Committee.  Members are encouraged to bring other competition opportunities to the attention of the Competition Committee while recognizing that participation in external competitions comes with a certain burden of volunteer effort.


The New England Camera Club Council (NECCC) is a nonprofit umbrella group for over 70 camera clubs and meetup groups in New England.

Gateway participates in three NECCC Interclub Competitions per year in two categories – Pictorial and Nature. The three competitions occur in the Fall (usually in November, with a submission deadline in mid-October), Winter (February, with mid-January submission) and Spring (April, mid-March submission). Clubs are assigned to either Class A or Class B depending on their previous year’s score. Each season, the highest scoring Class B club is moved up to Class A and the lowest scoring Class A club is relegated to Class B.

Each club is allowed four images per competition date and category, for a total of 24 total images for the year. Images are selected by Gateway’s NECCC Representative from among high-scoring images entered into regular monthly competitions. Images are submitted electronically but judged by a panel of three judges in person at clubs that volunteer to host the competitions.

Ribbons are awarded to club members for first, second, third and honorable mention. Clubs will receive first, second and third place ribbons in each category and class based on the sum of their four member scores. At the end of the NECCC year, which roughly follows the Gateway club season, awards are given to the clubs having the highest cumulative scores in their class.

First, second, and third place photographs in each class of both categories for all three of the season’s competitions (18 images in total) are eligible to compete for an award in the “Electronic Pictorial Photograph of the Year” or “Electronic Nature Photograph of the Year” competition. These entries are sent to a judge outside of New England for judging.


The Photographic Society of America (PSA) is a worldwide organization for anyone with an interest in photography. Founded in 1934, the Society is for casual shutterbugs, serious amateurs, and professional photographers. Gateway participates in PSA Nature Inter-club Competitions.

Gateway participates in three rounds of PSA Nature Division Interclub Competitions per year. The three competitions and submission deadlines roughly correspond to those of NECCC. Also, as with NECCC, Clubs are assigned to either Class A or Class B depending on their previous year’s score, with three clubs moving up and three moving down across classes per year.

Each club is allowed six images per competition for a total of 18 total images for the year. To give more club members a chance to participate, PSA requires that the images be from six different makers.

In addition to selecting from images that have scored well in monthly competition, Gateway’s PSA Representative sends out a request for images prior to each round. PSA’s submission and projector specifications are the same as Gateway’s. You must submit your images to the PSA representative to be considered for entry. Images are judged by a panel of three judges from clubs around the world.

Individual Blue ribbons are awarded for the five highest individual scores in each class of each contest/round. Approximately 10% of the individuals will be awarded with Red ribbons.

First, second and third place ribbons are presented to the clubs in each class based on the total points for the six images in each of the three contests. At the end of the season, first, second and third place awards are presented to the clubs in each class based on the total accumulated points for the three contests.   All individual club members earning a ribbon during the season are eligible for an annual PSA Image-of-the-Year competition. This is an extremely prestigious award!

Recommendations, Tips and Final Thoughts

To challenge themselves and to keep competition fresh and interesting for other members in the audience, members are encouraged to create new and original images instead of recycling old ones.

Common mistakes to avoid in submitting your images include:

· Correctly sizing the horizontal width to 1400 pixels but forgetting to size the vertical not to exceed 1050 pixels results in a smaller or vertically truncated image.
· Resizing your image but then saving it in a smaller size, or severely cropping it, results in a very small projected image in competition.
· Leaving a watermark in your image which identifies you as the maker, potentially disqualifies your image in the competition.
· Selecting an image but failing to save it and verify that it appears correctly in the subsequent steps of the submission process.
· Failing to verify that you have submitted all of the images you intended to submit for a competition prior to the submission deadline.

It is HIGHLY recommended that you calibrate your monitor in order to adjust the brightness and color of your images before saving them. The club’s competition computer and projector are calibrated using the ColorMunki Display device and software. Failure to calibrate your monitor may result in images appearing differently when projected from how they appear in your photo-editing software at home.

In addition, you may want to preview your images at home in dark or nearly dark conditions similar to those in competition. Images may appear differently in daylight from how they appear in a twilit or darkened space.  Previewing your images with black backgrounds prior to submission is recommended.

Gateway encourages a fun learning experience in competition. Different competitions can have different purposes and judging is always ultimately subjective. Each judge has his or her own biases. One may love your image while another can seem hypercritical. Remember, it’s what you think of your image that matters in the end. Don’t be discouraged by a low score or comments from a judge that do not reflect your vision of your image. Just have fun!

Themed Categories

September 2023       Black and White

There is more than one definition of black and white.  For our competitions, a black and white image may consist exclusively of black and white or may include shades of gray tone (grayscale) that may range from dark (black) to light (white).  A black and white image is a monochrome image, but not all monochrome images qualify as black and white.  An image will not qualify as a black and white image if it contains tones, shades or hues of color other than black, gray or white.

October 2023           Frame Within a Frame

Frame within a frame is a composition technique where the subject of interest is enclosed by another interesting frame like a door, window, or the foliage of a tree. It is a technique to draw the viewer's attention to the subject without any distractions.

November, 2023      Reflections

This category includes any image containing the reflective surface of an object, a landscape, or a person.  The reflection can be as large as the ocean, a mountain or a celestial object, or as small as a raindrop.

January, 2024            Intentional Camera Movement (ICM)

ICM is the deliberate movement of your camera in any direction--vertical, horizontal, left, right, zig zag, any motion you can think of that produces an abstract image where the subject may not be recognizable to the viewer. The motion is different from panning where the objective is to clearly capture a subject in motion.  The end result for this theme cannot be created by panning, in Photoshop or other post-processing software.

February, 2024          Perspective

As an element of composition in photography, perspective is the technique of showing three dimensions, spatial relationships and depth within a projected image or print.  Changing your point of view to a high or low angle, moving to the left or right of a subject, accentuating leading lines or vanishing points, using light and shadows and positioning foreground, middle and background subjects in the field of view are just some examples of ways to actively influence the viewer’s perception of the scene in the way the photographer wishes to communicate it and make it compelling. 

March, 2024              Black and White           

See above, September.

April, 2024                Restaurants/Shops

This is a broad category that includes restaurants and shops as the main subject and includes exterior as well as interior images, with or without people, in daylight or artificial lighting, so long as the subject is recognizable as a restaurant or a shop.

May, 2024                  People (singular or plural)

This is a broad category that includes one or more people as the main subject regardless of age and whether in natural or artificial light and regardless of whether the image is an overhead, front, side or rear view so long as the subject(s) is/are recognizable as people.


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