Judging Criteria for
NSS Print Salon


The following types of entries will NOT be accepted for judging or display:
• The image is not related to caves or caving. Images should be taken in or of caves, or have a strong connection to caves and caving.
• The image promotes unsafe caving practices, such as caving without a helmet in a wild cave.
• The image depicts practices flagrantly violating cave conservation ethics or in any way risking the cave.
• The image depicts practices detrimental to landowner relations (private or public).
Any of the above may be considered if it contributes to a storyline promoting safe caving and appropriate cave/karst behaviors and/or has historic merit.
• Pornographic images and images in bad taste will not be accepted.


Prints are judged by a panel of 3-5 judges, who are cavers. They may also be non-cavers who are photographers, artists, newsletter editors or have some other relevant expertise.

Judging typically takes sometime after 12 pm on the Sunday before convention officially starts. Judging consists of four rounds of evaluation:

  1. Quick review of all prints by judges to determine acceptance for show. Any print not accepted for show must be agreed upon by all judges.
  2. Judges will individually review and rate prints.
  3. As a group judges will discuss each print and award ribbon as appropriate.
  4. As a group judges will discuss and award Best of Category and Best of Show as appropriate. At the judges’ discretion one or more of the “Best of …” may not be awarded.

To place in photo competitions, generally, an image has to be seen as art. When is photography art? The most uniformly accepted criterion over the past century and a half defines art in photography as an image that evokes emotion, be it beauty, admiration, pathos, humor, intrigue, pity—any one of innumerable human feelings. To be considered art, a photograph has to be virtually free of technical flaws that would distract from the essence of the image.
Shutter Release, December 2011

If a picture is worth a thousand words then it is presentation skills and artistic interpretation that make the story worth viewing.


The presentation skills – Is the image virtually free of technical flaws that would distract from the spirit of the image?

Focus/Sharpness – the primary subject(s) of the image is in focus and sharp.
Depth of Field – front-to-back zone of photograph in which image is razor sharp. Manipulation of depth of field used to modify characteristics of photograph without changing composition. Depth of field focus places primary subject in context of story.
Color and/or Tonal Rendition – saturation of color or shading of tones augments mood of image.
Contrast – Range between darkest and lightest portions of photograph enhances image.
Lighting – Quality and distribution of light source(s) enriches image.


To be considered artistic, elements of the image must work effectively together to communicate the reason why the photographer created the image. An image may be technically flawless, but fail to tell a story and capture the imagination without artistic interpretation

Visual and Aesthetic Appeal:
Framing and Choice of Viewpoint – composition layout and direction of view. Is the main subject and the intent of the image obvious?
Design Elements and Principles – used as appropriate/necessary. Examples include rule of thirds, vacant space, distracting elements, visual flow of image
Appropriate Application of Photographic and/or Manipulative Techniques  
Visual Impact – does the image get and keep your attention?

Is there a story or is this just another pretty picture?
Viewer’s Response:
Does the image elicit a response (positive or negative, intellectually and/or emotionally) and capture your interest such that you feel you are participating in the image or wish to take action as a result of that image. If the storyline is educational, is there an “ah ha” moment? Does the image make you want to know more?

General Qualities:
Character – does the subject have a distinctive and appealing presence or story to tell? This may be inherent or as a result of photographic techniques bringing out the best in the subject. 
Style – image is creative and has originality expected of art. Commonality of subject is outweighed by composition and quality of rendition.
Photographic Vision - the subject and theme of the image is readily apparent. Image is not cluttered or too complex.

If you are confused by any of the above, or would like clarification, please contact the Print Salon Chair, Patricia Seiser (aka Cave Wench), at printsalon@caves.org. She will be happy to answer any Print Salon questions you may have.

Prints Recent Winners