Awards & Accreditation

Portrait Masters Awards

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Resources Details & Rules Read FAQ
Before entering, read important rule amendments and full competition details: READ NOW

How it Works


Submit Your Images

You may submit unlimited images into any of the categories. Every image is reviewed by 5 judges and an average score is given.

Receive Image Merits

Images that receive a score of 70 or higher have met professional standards and receive either a bronze, bronze with distinction, silver or gold merit.

Win Category Awards*

Each category winner will receive $1,000, a trophy, and the opportunity to be awarded Grand Champion of the competition, winning an additional trophy and $1,500.

Earn Accreditation

If your image earns a bronze, silver or gold merit, you will receive points toward becoming an Accredited Portrait Masters Photographer.

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Merit Levels

Bronze Merit

70-79 score
Bronze images awarded scores of 70-74 demonstrate a professional standard of work. Bronze images awarded scores between 75-79 are of a high professional standard of technique and communication and are called ‘Bronze with Distinction'. All bronze awards earn .5 accreditation points.

Silver Merit

80-89 score
Silver images have exemplary execution of technique and visual presentation and earn 1 accreditation point.

Gold Merit

90-100 score
Gold images exhibits excellence in all technical fields with outstanding creative communication and narrative and earn 2 accreditation points.

Category Awards*

Each category winner will receive $1,000, a trophy, and the opportunity to be awarded Grand Champion of the competition, winning an additional trophy and $1,500. Each category winner will also receive the opportunity to be featured on The Portrait System Podcast and in The Portrait System Magazine.

* some countries and states are not eligible for monetary prizes, read full details and rules.


We created this program to acknowledge, honor, and celebrate high-quality, professional work and to arm you with public recognition you deserve in your field.

As someone who did not receive a formal education, achieving these standards were amongst Sue’s proudest moments of owning a professional photography business, and made Sue feel proud and validated as a photographer. We feel a deep pride that the Portrait industry is getting stronger and more valued all around the world, and can’t wait to see what you create next! Points accumulate each round and never expire.

Associate Level

25 points

Master Level

50 points

Fellow Level

100 points

Upon successfully reaching your required points level for MASTER, your folio will be manually reviewed to ensure your current work is of a consistent, good professional standard which reflects the accolade and title of ‘Master’ within The Portrait Masters. In order to reach FELLOW, you must have at minimum 10 images with silver or gold merits in your folio.

When you reach Associate level, you are added to our Find a Photographer Directory, where you can make a profile, showcase your award-winning images, add your business links, and you can add this link to your website.

Select Your Genre

The Categories

View Past Category Winners

Contemporary Portrait

A portrait of one person showing personality and connection.

Family & Group Portrait

A portrait of two or more family members that capture their connection.

Maternity Portrait

A portrait of one pregnant female or depiction of a baby bump.

Newborn Portrait

A portrait of a newborn baby or multiple babies birth age to one-year-old.

Boudoir Portrait

A portrait that celebrates intimate beauty and sensuality defined as boudoir.

Teen & Senior Portrait

A portrait of an individual teen, or group of teens, within the ages of 13-19.

Children’s Portrait

A portrait of an individual child, or children, within the ages of 1-12.

Creative Portrait

A fine-art portrait that has a unique theme or style including fantasy & composite.


A portrait that demonstrates the expression of movement.

Pet Portrait

Photographs that display a pet or animal as the main focus or theme.

Challenge Category:
Into the Wild

This category is entirely up to the creative interpretation of the entrant. So roar your terrible roars, gnash your terrible teeth, roll your terrible eyes and show your terrible teeth. "Let the Wild Rumpus start!"

How To Enter

Log In
(Become a member, or create a free account)
Pick a Category
(See above for descriptions)
Upload Your Images
(Unlimited entries allowed, read important image format details)
Complete Payment
($20 for members, $40 for non-members)

You can enter each category as many times as you’d like. Read the category description and submit photos through the online submission process that fit those guidelines. Your submission may be disqualified if it does not fit the applicable category guidelines. Each of the category winners will automatically be entered for an opportunity to win the Portrait Masters Grand Champion Award. By submitting your image, you agree to all terms and conditions. Click the button below for important details and rules.

Full Details and Rules Read FAQ

Judging Criteria

We are frequently asked what it takes to reach high professional standards. Below we have laid out the judging criteria and some of the common issues you should avoid in order to maximize your score. Sue Bryce Education members can receive more helpful feedback by watching Richard Wood's Awards & Accreditation critiques.

Expression and Connection

Mastering expression and facilitating connection is extremely important in professional portrait photography. It sets the entire mood for the image and tells the story. A good, beautiful connection is essential in creating images of high professional standards.

Common issues with expression and connection:

  • Stern, blank and/or disconnected look on the subject
  • Eye expression needs softening
  • Subject looks uncomfortable
  • Forehead too tense or frowning
  • Lips or chin are tense and need to relax
  • Too big of a smile or forced smile
  • Eyebrows need to relax or be softened
  • The expression doesn’t match the pose

It’s important to choose the perfect clothing, hair, and makeup to compliment your subjects, location, lighting, and/or studio set up.

Common issues with styling:

  • Clash of warm tone and cold tone between clothing and background
  • Too many or distracting accessories
  • Too many patterns
  • Styling props are too distracting (large, colorful, etc, taking away from the portrait)
  • Lashes aren’t positioned correctly or blended into the lash line
  • Hair blowing on straight hair or bangs is unflattering or is too intense

Good composition directs the eye to the subject without distraction. Creating good composition in any situation is essential to creating images of high-professional standards.

Common issues with composition:

  • Cropped too tight
  • Cropped at joint
  • Too much negative space on the sides
  • Too much room overhead
  • Negative space wrongly placed
  • Negative space better on subjects front
  • Negative space better on subjects back
  • Shooting down on subject instead of at eye line
  • Shooting UP on subject
  • The subject is not composed well in their environment
  • Something is sticking out from behind their head
  • Lines and shapes leading and/or dissecting subjects head and neck area

Posing is one of the most important parts of being a portrait photographer. You MUST be able to pose men and women of all different body types if you want to reach professional standards.

Common issues with posing:

  • Posing looks uncomfortable
  • Hands are unnecessary or need work
  • Back of hands too prominent
  • Unflattering face angles
  • Need to elongate the neck
  • Arms flat against the body
  • Chin needs to be forward
  • Chin too far down or up
  • People are not posed together very well

Understanding lighting — when and how to use it properly — is pivotal to creating perfect portraits and grow your photography business. It creates and set the mood, balances the image, highlights the subject and helps determine the overall look of the portrait.

Common issues with portrait lighting:

  • Too many shadows on the face
  • Broad light is too hard on the subject
  • The subject doesn’t have enough light
  • The subject has too much light
  • Light needs to be diffused and bounced more
  • More reflector needed
  • The subject is too close to the window/backlight
  • Highlights are blown out
  • No detail in the shadows
  • Uplighting (lighting is too low)
  • Downlighting (lighting is too high)
Overall Technique and Presentation

The overall technique is every aspect of your image. From start to finish, the equipment you use, the technical decisions you make, the story you choose to tell, and all the way to the presentation. It is everything you did to execute your image.


Portraits that have reached high professional standards will be edited in a manner which enhances the portrait without overprocessing the image.

Common issues with editing:

  • Super smooth or Overprocessed
  • Skin looks overly softened
  • Under eyes need more retouching
  • Skin tones look off
  • Over sharpened
  • Eyes are overly brightened
  • Remove shadows under eyes
  • Skin needs more work
  • Even out & match skin tones on the face/body
  • Heavy/overpowering filters or grain
  • Too much vignette, liquify, or warp
  • The color tint is off/wrong color profile
  • Overly fixed hair
  • Needs to fix flyaways
  • Warping lines showing
  • Needs more editing overall
  • Removed too much under eyes
  • Needs to fix makeup issues
  • Skin is too red

Creating perfectly sharpened and focused portraits is absolutely key in reaching high-professional standards. Most of the images that score under 70 are either out of focus, overly sharpened or have poor post-processing

  • Images look over sharpened
  • Out of focus in the eyes
  • Image is out of focus
  • Image is soft
  • Back eye is focused instead of front eye

A portrait is a picture that visually describes ‘who’ a person is. The viewer should be ‘informed’ by a portrait and even better emotively informed or ‘moved’ by a portrait. The more powerful this communication is, the more powerful the portrait often is.

Common issues with storytelling:

  • Emotion/story/subject is not strongly conveyed so that it can be quickly interpreted
  • The emotive content and story feels too forced or manufactured
  • Story is unoriginal, ‘done before’ or feels cliché

Past Winners & Top Images

Award Galleries

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