Have you ever...

  • Run into issues with your images that you just can't seem to fix with Photoshop?
  • Been frustrated by the limitations of actions - or does your retouching heavily rely on them?
  • Wished you could separate your work from other photographers in your area, and in doing so -- attract more clients?
  • Dreamed of retouching an entire client session in well under an hour?
  • Wondered if there are any benefits to entering Professional Photographer's of America's competitions?
  • Feared that entering competition will force you to conform to an "old fashioned" style?
  • Wondered what it takes to create an image that will "win" in competition?
  • Or perhaps if you're already competing -- do you just want to take your competition images to a whole new level?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, click play to see how this course can help...


Become a Master Retoucher

Five Weeks of Intensive, ONLINE Study

If you want to…

  • Separate yourself from your competition
  • Get your life back by cutting down the amount of time it takes to retouch your sessions
  • End your addiction to actions, and in doing so - end the limitations you're placing on yourself!
  • Increase your hourly income
  • Learn the ropes of competition in a few weeks (rather than a few years!)
  • Learn to think like a competitor

This course is for you!

2021 Course Dates

Limited to 12 students

For the 2021 season, we are only accepting 12 VIP Mastery students 😱

The educational content is pre-recorded so you can review the material as many times as needed to master it.  We do a live homework review each week to help you see the flaws in your technique so you can become the best competitor you can be!

The live homework review dates are:

July 14
July 21
July 28
break week
August 11
August 18

Every live homework review meets at 7pm Central Time and lasts for approximately 2 1/2 hours.  If for any reason you cannot make the live meeting, not to worry!  You'll get a recorded homework review via email a few days after the live event.  Just let us know that's what you'll need and we will hook you up.


What You'll Learn

The following list covers just a few highlights for each week - we actually cover much more! You will learn new techniques each week and then have time to practice on your own images with a weekly “homework” assignment.  

V.I.P. Mastery students will begin on a set date and receive weekly feedback on their homework assignments.

Every student has an equal chance for success.  You just have to be willing to put in the work!

A new video series will be released each week for five consecutive weeks for a total of five instructional blocks.

Week #1 - "Eye Training"

  • Tips on choosing your competition images
  • Enjoy a gallery of images that showcases RAW files with their corresponding merit prints
  • Begin to train your eye to see merits in your own RAW files


Week #2 - Backgrounds

  • Five inescapable requirements of a merit print
  • 2.8 Syndrome
  • Extending backgrounds
  • Creating color harmony
  • "Frankensteining"
  • Repairing blown highlights (SOMETIMES!)

Week #3 - All about Skin

  • "A good competition print does not have to be..."
  • 25 things that can kill a potential merit
  • Newborn issues - jaundice, "mongolian spots", peeling skin
  • Removing acne - mild to severe
  • Accentuating and creating makeup


Week #4 - Eyes, Liquify, and Fur

  • Digging deeper into understanding competition categories and rules
  • The 97% trick
  • Retouching for all eye colors - blue, brown, and very dark brown
  • Sharpening skin vs. fur


Week #5 - Presentation and Vignettes

  • Understanding the scoring process
  • How to close an eye
  • Extreme retouching
  • Moving light
  • Get artistic (without being an artist!)



Course Statistics

There are a LOT of people teaching about Photographic Competition and even more teaching how to retouch images, and NONE of those people are teaching their classes online. How can an online class on photographic competition and retouching possibly be any good?

 Statistics don't lie.

It is with great honor that I give you the results of PPA's 2015 International Photographic Competition. There were 55 course graduates who entered. Of those 55 photographers, 99% earned a merit on at least one image. There were 225 total images entered and 181 of those images were accepted!

How exciting is that?! But wait - there's more!

63 of those accepted images went LOAN. If you're into percentages, that's 80% of the entries accepted and 35% went loan! How exciting that this course helped play a tiny part in unveiling the mysteries of photographic competition and that each of these photographers had such fabulous success!

2016 IPC Statistics Have Been Compiled

There are just over two hundred course graduates as of August 2016 - however, it has become quite difficult to track that many people down for statistics!  I managed to get 97 course graduates to report  their statistics after entering PPA's 2016 International Photographic Competition.  Among those reporting, there were 387 total images entered into the Photographic Open. 290 of those entries were accepted (75%) and 76 were accepted into the prestigous loan collection (26%). 

This course has proven itself to be hugely beneficial!

Probably the most exciting part of the 2016 competition season is that over 10% of the Grand Imaging Awards (GIA) nominees came directly from this course (and I've not taught anywhere near 10% of the entrants!)

2017 IPC Statistics Have Been Compiled

Once again, graduates of the Preparing for Competition course have FAR exceeded any expectations!  With 73 photographers reporting back with their statistics this year, out of 270 entries, 223 were accepted (83% merit rate), and of those meriting 42 (19%) were accepted into the prestigious Loan Collection!

Among those who were first time entrants, 60% had all 4 images accepted, a further 40% had 3/4 images accepted, and a whopping 20% had at least one loan image!  WOW!

Even more important than competition success, students report increased speed in retouching and a higher level of client appreciation for their work.  Nothing is more important than pleasing our clients!

While I no longer keep statistics on this course (there's just not enough hours in the day y'all!), suffice it to say, many of the top level competitors you see within PPA are graduates of this course.

Awards Gallery

In 2013 when I started teaching the competition class, I dreamed of helping someone else get a Grand Imaging Award (GIA). I set a 5 year goal to get one person on that stage. I really thought 5 years was a pretty lofty goal!

And then 2016 competition season happened (11 GIA Nominees). 😱  Followed by 2017! (12 GIA Nominees!) 😱 That number has continued to climb each year!

I know that I played a microscopic role in their success, but you have no idea how awesome it is to have had such a LARGE group of course graduates get GIA's. I get teary eyes just thinking about it!

It is WAAAYYYY better to see them up there on that stage than to receive the awards myself. I can't even describe the feeling. They worked so hard and got the ultimate reward for their efforts. AND THEY DID ALL THE WORK ON THEIR IMAGES THEMSELVES! That's the icing on the cake!!

This is why I give so much of myself to this course.  It truly IS better to give than to receive. 

I no longer chase down those who got GIA nominations to add to this page (not enough hours in the day!) but they are no less special than the images featured here which were the first to be recognized for GIA's from the graduates.

Each of these images were created by graduates of this course. They were either in the top 10, won a Grand Imaging Award, and/or on
Team USA for the World Photographic Cup.

Click the image to visit the maker's website

"Send in the Clowns"

Barbara Breitsameter,
M.Photog., Cr., CPP
1st Place Pets
Grand Imaging Award Winner
Team USA, World Photographic Cup

"I've Got My Eye on You"

Barbara Breitsameter,
M.Photog., Cr., CPP
2nd Place Pets

"Silent Contemplation"

Inna Sumra, M.Photog.
3rd Place High School Senior Portrait

"Mi Amore"

Francie Baltazar
M.Photog., Cr. CPP
Top 10 Wedding

"The Count's Bride"

Francie Baltazar
M.Photog., Cr. CPP
Top 10 Wedding
Team USA, World Photographic Cup

"Pork Star"

Susan Gertz, M.Photog.
Top 10 Pet Portraits

"My Chair"

Diana Bunch, CPP
Top 10 Pet Portraits

"The Stowaways"

Gwendolyn Zaczepinski
M.Photog., CPP
Top 10 Children's Portraits

"How YOU Doin?"

Janel Randall, M.Photog.
Top 10 Illustrative Wildlife

"Hot as Her Hair"

Lei Chen
M.Photog., CPP
Top 10 Portrait of a Woman

"Say What"

Kim Kulhman, CPP
Top 10 Pet Portraits

"She's Got the Spirit"

Barbara Breitsameter, M.Photog., Craftsman, CPP
2016 – Grand Image Award Winner

"Pardon Him, He's Bashful"

Barbara Breitsameter, M.Photog., Craftsman, CPP
2016 – Grand Image Award Winner

"Cancer Sucks"

Jody Miller, CPP

"Sculpted Elegance"

Maryanne Keeling, CPP

"Tender Dreams"

Phaneendra Gud M.Photog.Cr., CPP, ACE

"Little Boy Blue"

Susan Gertz, M.Photog., CPP

"The Price of Silence"

Carol Scott, M.Photog, CPP


Michelle's Vignette Action

I'm not a huge fan of actions, but I do use them for repetitive tasks. This vignette action is one of my favorites! Super easy to use - and if you can't figure it out -- no worries! We will be covering it in the course.


Private Student Facebook Group

Once you've purchased your "seat" in the course, you'll be automatically redirected to a page where you may request immediate access to the private course page on Facebook. It's a great place to get acquainted before the course begins.This private group will give you direct access to the instructor.


Graduates Facebook Group

Graduates of the course enjoy access to the private group "Case Masters" on Facebook.  Enjoy "online watch parties" during competition, a private place to critiqe potential entries, and "how'd you do that?" kind of questions.  This is a wonderfully supportive group!  Students are invited to the group at the end of their course.

For this course you'll get...

  • one new class released each week for five consecutive weeks
  • homework assignments each week to build mastery of techniques
  • Deadlines to keep you on track
  • Individual homework critique from Francie Baltazar Stonestreet each week
  • Live weekly webinar for Q&A, homework review, etc.
  • Direct interaction via private Facebook Group 
  • Video breakout by technique (no digging through the weekly video to find the technique you're looking for!)
  • "Final Exam" in the form of critique on an image prepared in a competition manner using all the techniques taught throughout the course**
  • Complimentary lifetime access to all course materials

Weekly Homework Review

Each week, the homework review will be conducted by my trusted friend and colleague, Francie Baltazar Stonestreet.  Not only is she a HIGHLY skilled artist in her own right, but she is also one of the few people I trust to review my own competition images so you are in great hands!  

REALLY great hands, actually!

Francie's awards include:

  • Diamond Photographer
  • Canon Par Excellence Select
  • Kodak Elite
  • Sunset
  • Fuji Masterpice
  • 2nd Place Wedding GIA (not once but TWICE!)
  • 3rd Place Wedding GIA (again -- not once but TWICE!)
  • 3rd place Portrait GIA
  • 3 time World Cup Team USA
  • Top 10 Wedding Image in the World Cup
  • Top 10 Portrait Image in the World Cup


Here are some examples of Francie's work...

You can find MUCH more on her site.  https://www.fireheartphotography.com/

While no one can guarantee merits...

If you come into this course with solid camera skills, you can reasonably expect to do well in your next competition. Now is the time to be thinking about your images and to set yourself on the road to success!

We're only taking 12 students for 2021 so this course has a high risk of sell out! Sign up today!

*maximum of 15 students will be accepted per course to ensure enough one-on-one time with each student


**In Accordance with PPA Rules**

These rules were screen captured directly from PPA's website

In order to be in compliance with the rules -- ALL homework is completed on images that will NOT be submitted for competition. At no time before the end of the course are students allowed to present, submit, show, or ask for critique from the instructor on any image they plan to submit for competition. This is a direct violation of the “under instruction” rule put in place for all PPA photographic competitions. If students break this rule, their images WILL BE DISQUALIFIED without warning and with no reprieve.  

Please don't worry that this will negate the effectiveness of the course.  Never in the history of this course have we worked on actual entries DURING the course.   A merit print is not required to learn retouching techniques.

One other point of note:  Many of the images on this page are from my own competition journey and not necessarily representational of the images you'll create after taking this course.  Although there have been exceptional results from many students, no guarantee of merit or increase in skill level is promised or implied.  The amount of improvement you experience is directly reflected in how much effort you put forth.