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Write-off Contests: Preparing Photo Entries

Before starting here…

If you haven’t already, please take time to familiarize yourself with the overall competition process, outlined on Submitting online entries.

Preparing your images

All images must meet the following requirements.  You can use the list below as a checklist.  Each list item links to detailed instructions for how to do each one.  (To download a printable version of the image preparation list, click here.)

  • File format:  photos must be in JPG format.
  • Color mode:  photos must either be color (RGB) or black-and-white (grayscale) or a combination of color and black-and-white.
  • Cropping:  crop photos as desired for competition.  They need not be cropped for competition in the same manner in which they appeared in the publication.
  • Image size:  photos must be no more than 2000 pixels in the long direction and have an image size no larger than 2MB.
  • Metadata:  photos must have the name of its creator, and a caption, entered in the document info for the image.

File Format

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) has become the standard file format for sharing files transmitted over the Internet. It is also acceptable for most print media and online media. It is the ONLY format acceptable for images to be submitted in the JEA Write-off competitions.

The following file formats are NOT acceptable: PSD (Photoshop document), Raw, TIFF (Tag Image File Format), BMP (bitmap), GIF (Graphic Interchange Format), XCF (eXperimental Computing Facility), PDF, (Portable Document Format). Again, ONLY JPEG files will be accepted.

Note that, while PDF entries are accepted for online submission in design contests, PDF entries for photos are not acceptable.

JPEG is a compression scheme. To maintain the highest quality while compromising file size, file should be saved at a compression (“Quality”) of 10, 11 or 12. Judges may consider file quality as part of the critique and the judging. Files saved using a compression of lower than 10 may have noticeably lower quality.


Save the file as a JPEG. No other formats are acceptable.

Setting the color mode

Adobe Photoshop and similar programs allow for a variety of color modes, including RGB, grayscale, CMYK, Lab, Index, among others. While each of these modes serves a purpose, only two are acceptable for entries in the JEA Write-off competitions: RGB and grayscale.


All color images must be saved in RGB mode. Black-and-white images may be saved in Grayscale mode. No other color modes should be used.


Crop the photo as needed to render the best image composition. It does not have to be cropped the same as it was in the publication.

Image size adjustment

To keep files large enough for adequate viewing while not overloading the servers or consuming all the bandwidth, the space the file occupies on the disk may be no larger than 2MB. The uploading software will block files larger than 2MB.

Just assume there are an average of 30 students in each of the six contests entering some 870 images at each convention. Even if each file is only 2MB, that’s 1.74GB of images traveling from schools across the country to the server.

While there is, technically, no minimum file size, quality of the image will be considered by the judges and they should have adequate digital information to view the image at a reasonable size. To that end, we have designated that the image be:

  • 2000 pixels or less in the long direction (either horizontal or vertical), and
  • no more than 2MB max. file size (the amount of disk space it occupies).

You don’t have to worry about the resolution, only the file size both in terms of storage space and the largest dimension in pixels.

How to optimize the size of your photo

The idea of this process is to choose the best trade-off between image size and image quality. This is the process to use with Adobe Photoshop.  Other image editing software may require different steps, but most of them have the features we use in Photoshop to do the same thing we describe here.

Here’s an image we (hypothetically) want to submit:


Photo by Dietmar Rabich, used with permission under terms of Creative Commons License (see below for link to full text of license)

When the image is loaded into Photoshop, and the image size properties are viewed by choosing [Image], [Image Size…] from the main menu, we see all the dimensions of the overall image.


Image size dialog shows image size of 3500 by 2333 pixels, and a file size (amount of disc space it occupies) of 23.4MB. Note the “lock” (shown by arrow) on proportion constraint, to maintain the photo’s proportions as it is resized.

This photo clearly does not comply with the size limits for a Write-offs photo contest submission; its widest dimension in pixels is 3500, and the image size is 23.4MB.

Step 1:  A good place to begin is change the largest pixel dimension – in this case, the width – to 2000.  This will bring the photo into compliance with the first requirement, a long dimension of 2000 pixels or less.  If both dimensions of the photo are already less than 2000, skip this step and go to the next.  Do NOT enlarge an image that is already smaller than 2000 pixels in both dimensions.


The longest dimension is 2000 pixels, that’s good. But oops – the file size is still too big.

Step 2:  Note that this photo is still out of compliance with the file size limit, even though it meets the maximum dimension requirement.  Reducing the dimensions did reduce the file size considerably, but not enough to comply with the 2M limit.  Sometimes this happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but just be aware that reducing the longest dimension to 2000 pixels does not automatically make the file size small enough.

If this happens, it is necessary to continue reducing the width or height until the file size is 2MB or less.


A fully-compliant image size.

For this photo, we continued reducing the width — the height automatically adjusts with changes in width — until the file size was just under 2MB.

Do not reduce it any more than necessary to comply with the limits.  You want the best possible quality within the size limits.

Entering Metadata (author and caption)

Adobe Photoshop and most other image-editing tools allow for the inclusion of metadata, everything from aperture and shutter speed used when the image was taken and automatically included with digital images to the captions typed in after-the-fact by the photographer.  Following the lead of all national photo contests and major media outlets, JEA requires credit and caption information for all images submitted in the Write-off competitions.

Author credit: Format the credit as follows:

Photo by <author name>, <school name> (<town>, <state>; <adviser name>, adviser)

For example:

Photo by Max Fowler, Lugoff-Elgin High School (Lugoff, S.C.; Jenny Proctor, adviser)

Caption: The caption should follow general rules for caption writing. In general, it should answer the questions who, what, when, where and why with the first sentence in present tense and subsequent sentences in past tense.

A well-written caption will improve your chances of a good ruling.  Click here to download an article on caption writing.

In Adobe Photoshop

In Photoshop, bring up the file info dialog: from the main menu, choose [File], [File Info…]


Screen shot of the file info dialog in Photoshop, with author credit and caption examples

In other programs

If using other programs to enter the author credit and caption, use corresponding metadata fields compared to Photoshop:

  • Adobe Photoshop — Author and Description fields
  • Adobe Lightroom — Creator and Caption
  • Adobe Bridge — Creator and Description
  • Apple Aperture — Credit and Caption
  • Apple Photo — Use the Description field (the Author/Creator field cannot be edited)
  • GIMP – As of version 2.8, GIMP does NOT support the editing of caption information.

Submitting your photo entries

Some tips for submissions:

  • Double-check to make sure your photos meet all the requirements.  Use the check sheet to confirm all the crucial steps were done.  This will save time and frustration at upload time.
  • JEA will not accept late entries. Do not wait until the last day to upload entries.

Click here for instructions on uploading your photos.

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