Jr. High/Middle School National Media Contest: Instructions for preparing photo 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 have a file 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 our 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:

  • 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 in terms of storage space.

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; the image size is 23.4MB.

Make sure the proportion "lock" is enabled.  (See the photo above, indicated by the black arrow.)  Reduce 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 our 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.  Author credit and captions are required for all photographs in the JEA Write-offs.

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.
  • There will be no late entries accepted, so don't wait until the last day to get your entries uploaded.

Click here for instructions on uploading your photos.


If an image will not upload, start by verifying that the image meets the requirements: JPEG, RGB, file size less than 2MB and image dimensions (both width and height) less than 2000 pixels. Once those requirement are met, re-save the image using Save As… and give the image a different name. That will solve 99% of any problems uploading images.

File size

The most common mistake contestants make when sizing their image is to assume that reducing the longest dimension to 2000 pixels ensures the file size is also within limit.  That is not always the case.  When you upload such a file, it will appear to upload successfully, but then the image will not appear as one of your entries.  The instructions above explain how to check your file size together with your image dimensions, and how to optimize for both.


If you try to upload a file with missing author credit or caption, you should get an error message referring to metadata.  Yes, the system does check this.  (And, often a quality caption makes the difference between an award or no award or a higher award.)

File format

The system will not allow upload of other image file formats.

Call us for help

We are more than happy to assist you if you run into problems, and we will do everything in our power to help you meet your deadline if you run into issues.  But the first thing we will ask you is, have you double-checked that your image meets all the requirements?  So make that your first step to troubleshoot your upload issue.  If you have any questions about the instructions, feel free to call us.  (See the bottom of any page on our website for our number.)

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