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.

2022 Photo Challenge Themes


 Month Theme
 January   2021 Photo Review – no photo challenge
 February Animals – Whether they are at home, at the zoo, or in the wild, we want to see all types of animals – that is all types of animals except humans. (Thematic)
 March Even – I give you even chances that you can find something for this topic. Think of even numbers, objects, or even proportions. The odds are with you! (Conceptual)
 April Song Title – This is a fun challenge. Present an image that will sing with a title that must be a recognizable name of a song. The song’s title will be your images title. Creativity will be high in the judge’s mind, but don’t make the judge guess the connection between the song title and your image. (Thematic)
 May Light it up – Use directional light to send your viewer’s eye directly to a point of interest in your image. (Conceptual)
 June Broken – People, places, or more commonly, things can be broken. How you interpret “broken,” is up to you, but don’t make the judge guess what your message or theme is. (Thematic)
 July Foreground, Middle-ground, Background – Your image must have a strong and identifiable foreground, middle-ground, and background. If you do this well, your image will exhibit depth. Lead the viewer’s eye to some point of interest. (Conceptual)
 August Urban Landscape – Scenes within a city or town that reflect human presence. Your image can be a vast landscape or a very simple subject, but it must represent a recognizable urban or suburban theme. (Thematic)
 September  Minimalism – Tell more with less. Think of simplicity, use of negative space, isolation, color and composition.  (Conceptual)
 October  Hand of Man in Abstract – Present an abstract interpretation of an object physically created by man rather than by nature. (Thematic)
End of the Road – This theme may be urban, rural, or figurative. This is the end. This is your last photo challenge for the 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 2022.

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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