Proposed Guidance Notes Handout for Judges and Potential Judges

Hi Will,

John has given me copies of the SCPF information on judging sent out Ken Scott with whom I have been in conversation with recently..  They make very interesting reading,and they have a lot in common with my notes on the subject.

I thought I would send you copies of the notes that I sent to Ken Scott for you to use as a comparison to what he has distributed to all the SCPF clubs. 

My notes contain the complete paper on judging by the late Eddie Sethna to let you see what his views were about judges and judging, and also my own and others thoughts on this very delicate subject.

Copies are attached to this E Mail, and you can use them and distribute them to other members of the committee.

– Sandy


Controversy and strong emotions always seem to be aroused around judging within photographic clubs.  The judges themselves always seem to be the object of criticism and the rubbishing of judges seems to be a favourite pastime of many club members. Yet the life blood of every photographic club is its competitions, be they monthly or annual.

The trouble is we all think we are judges.  We sit there at each competition evening listening to the judges every comment on each piece of work and habitually disagree with his or her every word most of the time.  We always know better, or do we.

There is a huge difference between sitting in the audience and passing comments and predicting each mark that the judge is likely to give to the image.  You are not out there doing the job, he or she is and do we have the right to castigate him or her, NO.  If you think you can do better you should become a judge.

The following work flow strategy is designed to assist potential and current judges:-

Preparation, Presentation and Delivery, Judging and Marking.


Cold judging seems to be the call of the day in most camera clubs these days.  So you the judge will be unable to see the images be they prints or DPIs until the evening of the competition.  Therefore it is essential that you the judge arrive on time to give yourself some time to go through the images be they prints or DPIs before the competition starts.  In the case of DPIs you should ask the projectionist to go through all the images in each category before you comment and judge them.

If you can mentally select a base line image this should set the standard for the competition.  By doing this you will be able to assess the overall standard of the images.

It is also important that you find out from the club competition secretary what the criteria and categories the images that you will be judging are in.  Always bear the Primary or Advanced categories in mind when commenting on the pictures.  The Advanced category can be judged more firmly than the Primary category.  Also, be sure that you enquire and understand the marking system used by the club, whether you will be marking out of 10 or 20 marks.

Tools to Aid Judging.

It is also useful to have a pointer of some description so you can point to different parts of the print and still be facing your audience.  (Never let your pointer touch any print) while commenting on it. Using a pointer also enables you to stand back from the print so your audience can see the points that you are making about the print. When judging DPIs it is helpful to use a laser pointer so you can comment on them and still face the audience.

It can also be helpful if you have a set of cropping “Ls” to aid you when discussing whether the image should be cropped in a particular way.  (See the item on cropping in the section the negative aspects and downsides of judging).

Presentation and Delivery

You are in a position of authority when you are invited to judge which also claims some degree of influence over Primary club members. To the rest of the club members you are the focal point of the evening; therefore your appearance should be smart and casual.

  • Eye Contact with the Audience
    It is essential to have eye contact with your audience particularly when judging prints.  Never spend all of your time with your back to audience looking at the prints.  Look at all areas of the audience to aid communication
  • Speak Clearly to the Audience
    Don’t mumble speak up and speak clearly.  Vary the tone of you voice so that it moves up and down as psychologically it is more pleasing to the audience.  Try smiling as this creates a feeling of empathy with the audience and also helps the voice sound more interesting.
  • Comment Length
    Your comments should be short and timely for each image by using appropriate and concise phrases about the work.
  • Pausing
    Don’t be afraid to pause as this can be effective when the image is first shown to give the audience a chance to appreciate the image and you time to gather your thoughts, before commenting on it.  Pausing can also add a degree of suspense before marking the print.

Always remember Primary photographers need more help and encouragement than Advanced experienced photographers, and all CRITICISM SHOULD BE CONSTRUCTIVE AND HELPFUL when judging Primary and Advanced photographers work.

You must consider the hours of patient endeavour put in by the photographer to produce the picture he or she has put before you for your comments, and try to understand their reasoning for making the picture.  Also pay particular attention to the title of the picture if it has one, particularly if the image is of an abstract nature.

As a potential judge you will develop your own style and approach to judging, which will come with experience.  It would be wrong to prescribe any particular method of judging however, the following are points that have been brought up by a number of Federations as useful guidelines.

(The late Eddie Sethna, in a detailed research into judging, identified three key elements that good judges take into account):-

  1. What the picture communicates – the “message” – with a weighting of 50%.
  2. The content of the picture – the “medium” – with a weighting of 30-35%.
  3. The “technical aspects” of the picture – with a weighting of 10-15%.

The above three elements are discussed more fully in Eddie’s in paper “Analysis of Judging Positive Aspects” in Appendix (1) of these notes, which should be studied in detail.

Good judging is done more with the heart than the head and the major emphasis should be on the message of the image, the mood and the emotions conveyed by the image.  Besides the feelings, emotions and mood recognition should also be given to the story and the interpretation of the beauty or horror the image conveys.

As a potential judge you should be able to recognise the photographer’s ability to recognise the potential of his or her chosen subject.  What appears to be good to the eye does not always make a good photograph.  As well as the subject and content of the picture there are a number of other key aspects to be taken into consideration:

Aesthetic Aspects of the Image

  • Choice and Control of lighting.
  • What is included or has been excluded.
  • Choice of background, and overall setting.
  • Interpretation of movement.
  • Use of tones and colours.
  • Has the right moment been chosen well?
  • Is the composition good and does the choice of format (landscape or vertical) enhance the image.

Technical Aspects of the Image

Judging the technical aspects of the image should also be considered and include the following:

  • Handling the tone range.
  • Correct/appropriate exposure.
  • Quality of the processing.
  • Presentation of image (including mounts, cropping etc).

Images lacking technical ability often also lack artistic interpretation is a trait that has been noticed by many judges over the years.  Although the technical aspects have been rated a lower weighting than the message or picture content, good judges will be flexible in their approach in assessing these images.

The table containing the Picture and Composition Elements which are listed more fully in categories under Main Elements and Sub Elements headings in Appendix (2) of these notes, which should be studied in detail before you partake in any judging.  

The Picture and Composition Elements listed in Appendix (2) are laid out as a series of questions you can mentally ask yourself during your assessment of each image.

It would be a good idea to try to memorise the Main Elements, or carry a card with them listed on it as a memory jogger.

Some of the Sub Elements may intermingle with others, however from the list you should find enough aspects to make a selection from to help you to judge the pictures that will be put before you when partaking in judging.  Most of the Sub Elements apply to both prints and dpi’s, but where they do not the list has been annotated N/A.  Even if you only select only four or six of these aspects, you will have a good basis upon which to build your judgement of the image before you. 

Remember you are judging each image in relationship to the others in this competition. You are not judging against a perfect image you have seen before, but you may comment on an alternative rendering of the subject, but that should not influence your marking.

It is paramount to evaluate, compare, provide constructive comments and encourage the photographer through your own enthusiasm for their choice of subject.    First and foremost it is preferable when evaluating a picture to identify its positive attributes.

Things to avoid when Judging

When presented with a number of images to judge it is very easy to focus on the negative aspects of the pictures leaving the picture with least negative aspects as the winner.

Some of the Negative Judging Aspects and Short Comings of Judges are:

Failure to see the picture as a whole. (It is important that you thoroughly read this feature which is comprehensively covered in Eddy Sethna’s paper which covers this very important issue when judging images.

  • Having self opinionated ideas and evaluating each image against that idea e.g. The main subject must always be on the thirds, there must be a diagonal in the picture etc.
  • Stating that you do not like studio portraits, sunsets, or boats.
  • Avoid an over critical and destructive approach to judging. (This type of judging is all too common in camera clubs, and is discussed more comprehensively in Eddy Sethna’s paper).
  • Higher consideration is given to the technical difficulty in getting the picture.
  • Second guessing how the picture was taken will result in the audience being rankled and if you guess wrong you will lose credibility with the audience.
  • Do not admit that you are not an expert on any specific subject.

Absolute Don’ts when Judging

  • When commenting on an image NEVER EVER make the statement that the subject is (SOMEONE ELSES WORK). This is a gross insult to the author of the image.
  • NEVER EVER let personal subject matter preferences sway your judgement when judging or marking images.
  • NEVER EVER use another person’s print as a cropping tool if you do not have any cropping “Ls” to hand, as it is a gross insult to use and demean another person’s work in this way.
  • NEVER EVER describe the subject matter of the image in detail, as the audience can see the subject matter for themselves.
  • NEVER EVER state that you would have done this or that in Photoshop, if certain areas of the image need altered.  If need be make suggestions that certain areas might need to be lightened or darkened, or some minor objects may need to be removed to improve the image.

The Negative Aspects of judging are discussed more fully in Eddie’s paper “Negative Aspects of Judging” in Appendix (1) of these notes. And should be studied in detail before you partake in any judging


Marking is one of the most controversial areas of judging and it certainly arouses the most discussion silently during and after the competition. 

Therefore be honest with your marking and use a full range of marks if necessary, but remember it does not help the author to progress if you only mark not to upset him or her, but be very tactful about it.  Remember we were all Primary photographers once.

The weighting of pictures has already been mentioned and this can help when giving marks.  A lot of clubs request marks out of 10 or 20.  One can never see any benefit in giving an image 1 out of 10 or 20.  Probably the best method to use is to assign ranges. For the purpose of these notes marks out of 20 will be used to show the ranges.

  • 8-12 these images are those where the “message”, picture content and technical ability are below average.
  • 13-16 these are good technical pictures with strong picture content value but perhaps miss out slightly on the “message”.
  • 17-20 these are images that on the night are the best images that work for most judges.

Hold back any images that you feel you have to look at again before you give them a final mark.  This enables you to look at the images again, and reassess them against the other images held back.  

Very few images should be held back and you should endeavour to mark as many of the images straight off as you go through them on the evening.

Footnote No1 on Marking

Awarding 10 or 20 marks.
Ten or twenty marks should only be awarded by any judge in exceptional circumstances, by awarding 10 or 20 marks any judge is informing the audience that the picture receiving 10 or 20 marks cannot be improved in anyway and is perfect.  Therefore so as not to degrade this top mark in anyway, be very sparing in awarding 10 or 20 marks to any picture you are judging in the competition.

So often judges comment on a picture drawing ones attention to some small imperfection either of a compositional or technical nature and then when it comes to awarding a mark for the picture they then give it 10 or 20 marks.  If during their assessment they draw attention to any minor compositional or technical imperfections surly the image should “NOT” be awarded 10 or 20 marks.  The image should be awarded 9 or 18 marks according to which marking system is used.

Footnote No 2 on Marking

In Monthly or Bi Monthly and Annual competitions finally you will come to the stage when you have to select a winner, from two or three images which you consider of equal merit.  Here your personal feelings may come into effect.  Don’t worry about your final choice if you feel you have already done justice to the other images.

In conclusion try to develop your own style of judging but don’t be afraid to emulate judges who you have found informative, enthusiastic and entertaining. 


I am grateful to the following persons who allowed me to use their already published articles. 

  • David Gibbons, 
  • Bob Dennis (Lancashire and Cheshire Photographic Union) 
  • Dr Eddy Sethna, 
  • Alan Ford (Yorkshire Photographic Union), 
  • Stan Miller (Glasgow District Photographic Union, and 
  • Dave Coates (Northern Counties Photographic Federation)

Appendix No (1)

An Analysis of Judging by Eddy Sethna FRPS AFIAP

To meet the judging requirement for the digital age I have taken the liberty to modify where necessary, Eddy’s original paper 


In good judging I found that three attributes of the pictures were taken into account:

  • A: What the picture communicates – the “message” – with a weighting of 50 -60%
  • B: The content of the picture – “the medium” with a weighting of 30 -35%
  • C: the technical aspects of the picture – with a weighting of 10 – !5%

The Message of the Picture

Appreciation of all art, including a photograph is not primarily an intellectual exercise but an emotional one, which may be pleasurable, depressing, moving or frightening.  It is the feelings, emotions and mood that a picture conveys which is the core of the “message” and should form the basis of evaluation of a picture.

Good judging is done more with the heart than the head, with the ability to feel a picture and not just visualise it.  It is the buzz and tingle which one experiences on seeing a good picture which is at the heart of judging.

More often than not it is difficult to verbalise feelings and emotions that a picture conveys, and not all judges are blessed with verbal facility.  A judge who finds it difficult to express feelings and emotions about a picture should not feel he is alone but rather should realise that almost all people find difficulty in this area.  Like all abilities, this one increases with practice and, once acquired, adds so much value to a judges comments that all should strive to achieve it

It is neither essential nor important for a judge to find out what the author of the picture was trying to communicate.  What matters is what feelings and thoughts it engenders in the viewer and the judge.  More often than not a good picture conveys different things to different people and credit should be given to a picture that manages to do that.  Ambiguity of a picture could be it greatest charm by providing an image on which viewers can project their own thoughts, feelings and imagination.

Besides the Feelings, Emotions and Mood, there are three other things that a picture may convey.

  • A:  A statement or a story.
  • B:  An idea or inventiveness.
  • C:  Interpretation of beauty or any other quality of the subject.

A picture may be a statement or a story as in photojournalism or documentary photography, but again the best pictures in this field are also laden with emotion.  Pictures of refugees, such as the Vietnamese boat people, would fail if they did not convey their plight and suffering and this would be true of all forms of documentary photography such as social upheaval, war, famine or celebration.

A picture could convey an idea or inventiveness.  This would be true of much of what one would call “creative” photography where the photographer’s creative input, whether achieved at the taking stage or by subsequent manipulation, is far more important than the recorded image. This does not imply that all photographs must be manipulated to be creative, but rather that they must reflect the personal input of the photographer by providing an image on which the viewer can project his own thoughts, fantasies and imaginations aroused by the image.

Lastly the photographer can add meaning to a picture by his ability to interpret the beauty or otherwise of the subject he chooses to photograph.  The results are often referred to as pictorial or even record photography.  There is a tendency at present that anything that is not considered “creative” or “contemporary” has no place in photography.  It would be a mistake to take this extreme view.  How often judges say that what is good in a photograph exists in the subject matter and that the photographer only recorded it.  This is a very narrow view.  Different photographers interpret the same subject differently and some better than others and good judging requires taking that into account.

To give an analogy.  If a musician plays a classical masterpiece one could say that he only played what was composed by someone else.  We give full credit to how he has interpreted the composer’s work.  Similarly, a good photographer interprets in his own inimitable way the favourite attributes in the subject he photographs.

Picture Content and Treatment

Has the photographer the ability to see what subject lends itself to a good photograph?  What appears good to the eye does not necessary make a good photograph.  Different subjects have different degrees of being photogenic.  How often does one not see a really good photograph of a subject which many of us would not have dreamt of taking?  Even when a subject is quite commonly selected for a photograph like a landscape, it is the choice of the person or the scene which the photographer makes that will determine the success or failure of a picture.  Often it is the uniqueness or rarity of the subject which will make it interesting and worthy of high making.

Equally important to the choice of subject is how it is dealt with and that includes:

  • The choice and control of lighting – one of the most important aspects of picture making.
  • What is included in and excluded from the picture.
  • The choice of background, setting or environment for the chosen subject.
  • Sharpness or lack of it in the picture as a whole or in different parts of the picture.
  • The interpretation of movement.
  • The juxtaposition of the tones and colours.
  • Exploitation of perspective.
  • The critical timing of taking the picture.
  • The arrangements of the different components of the picture – the composition.
  • Exploitation of pattern and texture.
  • The choice of format – horizontal or vertical; and the shape and dimension of the picture.

Judging Technical Aspects

The following should be considered in assessing the technical merits of the picture.

  1. Handling of the tonal range and colour.
  2. Correct exposure.
  3. Sharpness of the picture – depending on its appropriateness to the subject.
  4. Quality of the processing.
  5. Retouching.
  6. Appropriateness of choice of black & white or colour.
  7. Presentation of the picture: mounts for prints, cropping of DPIs.

It can be argued that technical merit of the picture should be prerequisite to assessment of the artistic qualities which has been so strongly emphasised up to this point.  In a sense this is true but in reality it does not present difficulties. 

Technical ability is acquired far more easily than aesthetic.   In consequence it shows those capable of great artistic expression are rarely lacking in technical ability.  What is more seen is that those lacking in technical ability are also unable to excel in artistic interpretation.  It is only in exceptional cases that an outstandingly good picture artistically has to be rejected because of very poor technical execution.

A weight of the three main areas of judging has suggested at the beginning of this discussion, and in most cases that would be appropriate.  However, good judging does require some flexibility in weighting.  If the picture reveals an exceptionally high standard in one of the three paramount features, it would be entirely appropriate to modify the weighting in recognition.

A photograph which by its very nature did not have a strong emotional message but presents a superb example of timing in taking the picture would certainly deserve and extra weighting in (b) and (c)


The importance of judging, or what some would call selecting, or evaluating, cannot be denied.  Where would club photography be without competitions, exhibitions and granting of Distinctions?  And yet, judges are almost invariably the object of criticism and denigration and rarely of praise.  The subject never fails to arouse great passion and controversy.  Rubbishing of judges by lecturers and writers has become endemic, but few have tried to study the subject and improve it.

Talks and articles on judging usually amount to individuals how they judge, and then seeking to justify their method as the best, without making any effort to compare their own techniques with those of others, and without trying to evolve from observations credible principles of judging.

When I took up photography seriously some 17 years ago, the subject of judging fascinated me, as it bore great resemblance to some aspects of my professional work as a psychiatrist, in which I dealt with abstract subjects which are difficult to measure or quantify.  You cannot, for example, measure the severity of depression by means of an instrument as you can with blood pressure.  In psychiatry we have to developed sophisticated ways of dealing with such abstract subjects by the use of “scales” and statistics, and I wondered whether I could apply my training to the study of judging in photography.

I knew from the outset that as so little established literature existed on the subject that anything other than systematic observations on judging would be appropriate.  I therefore set about making my own observations on judging at all levels from club competitions to international exhibitions and salons.  I did this intensively over a period of between two and three years and have continued making these observations rather less rigorously ever since.  Being trained in observing people and how they function and analysing the underlying reasons and motives for their behaviour, it proved to be an interesting and rewarding exercise.

I did not publicize my project, so judging the sessions I attended were in no way affected by my presence.  Whenever I had the opportunity I talked to the judges without giving them any indication of my study.  I can categorically say that we have some excellent judges and I am greatly indebted to them for providing me with opportunity to analyse their methods and thus helping me to conceptualize better methods of judging.

I have tried to categorise my observations into those which might be described as Positive aspects and those which are Negative, and these considered in turn.

I have observed many negative approaches adopted within the judging process, but will restrict my comments to four of the most significant ones.

These are:

  1. Overvalued Ideas or (Self Opinionated Ideas).
  2. Failure to see the Picture as a Whole.
  3. Critical rather than Constructive Approach.
  4. Consideration given to Effort in getting or Making of the Picture.

Overvalued Ideas or (Self Opinionated Ideas).

This term, borrowed from psychiatry, describes well a common failing which arises as a consequence of a judge having an idea which he currently wishes to promote as being very important in picture making.  Invariably the idea is valid but when held with great fervour, the judge becomes so preoccupied with it that he neglects all other aspects of the picture.

The best way to illustrate this failing is to state actual examples observed during the study.

  • A judge was of the opinion that obloquies (i.e.) diagonals are preferable to verticals and horizontals.  He spends most of his time looking for obloquies to make his point instead of getting on with the task of judging.  This conclusion was justified by the fact that he used the term “oblique” over 70 times in the session.
  • Importance of background was stressed by another judge who then set about spending most of the time judging the background rather than the subject matter.
  • Importance of a full range of tones from pure black to white in monochrome was stressed by a judge. However good, some prints which conveyed a great deal of mood, or which reflected a misty atmosphere , were rejected for not displaying a full range, even though their feeling would have been destroyed if they fulfilled these criteria.
  • It was the belief of another judge that most pictures should be light at the top and dark at the bottom as that is what normally occurs in natural lighting.  Any picture bright at the base was marked down, including a stunning picture of a street scene where contra-jour lighting was reflected by the footpath.
  • More than one judge expressed the view that monochrome is more creative than colour as the world is in colour and it would require some creativity to translate it into black and white.  This implied that colour pictures only depicted reality and lacked creativity.  This is obviously not true as colours can be, and have been, manipulated for creativity.  The judges who have held this view were in fact those who favoured monochrome to colour prints and that showed in their marking and giving awards.
  • Several judges held the view that unless a picture was “creative” it was not worth entering.  In consequence only a small proportion of the total entry was fully assessed and commented upon.  One of those judges gave the top award to a very gimmicky picture to the surprise of the club members.  When the judge was asked for his reasons, he remarked: “I am sorry if you cannot understand such a picture”.
  • A couple of judges felt that pictures portraying movement by the use of slow shutter speed should have something sharp within them.  However good such pictures were, they were marked down if they did not contain this element.  It would be true to say that no such rule is followed by most judges and some famous and well known pictures of this kind do not satisfy these criteria.
  • Some judges were sticklers for “print quality” by their own individual criteria.  In such cases it meant that they gave little attention to the content of the picture or what it communicates, but only judged the picture on quality of the printing.
  • Some judges emphasised the importance of presentation, particularly the mounts used for prints.  At times it appeared that assessment of presentation superseded that of the picture.
  • In a natural history competition a judge expressed his view that unless a picture is taken in the wild, it is not a natural history picture although no such rule was stipulated by the club.  The judge spent an inordinate amount of time guessing which pictures were taken in the wild and which were not (often reaching the wrong conclusion).  This concentration prevented him from properly evaluating the picture for their merit.
  • In another natural history competition the judge stated the view that mammals are neglected by natural history photographers.  It was obvious from the outset that photographs of mammals would be treated favourably even though some of the pictures of birds, insects and flowers were better, and that is what happened.
  • Early in a session of judging a judge said that he did not like studio portraits, and he proceeded to pass over several pictures of this kind of subject without judging them at all.  Many other judges expressed dislike of a particular subject and openly admitted that it was no use putting such pictures in front of them.

As psychiatrist I often dislike patients referred to me.  It would be inconceivable for me not to deal with them or treat them as fairly as any other patient.  Should not the photographic judge be professional enough to assess categories of pictures of which he/she is not fond, and at least compare such pictures with each other?
The above example demonstrate that however valid an idea may be, if it is “overvalued” by a judge, then inevitably the judging will be restricted to a single issue and the rest will be neglected, it can also lead to judges making their own rules which are exclusive to them and applied indiscriminately.

Failure to see the Whole Image

A fundamental principle established by Gestalt theory is that, “The whole is not the sum of its parts”.  This is best explained by a couple of examples.  When one appreciates the beauty of a building, the architectural qualities it possesses are not there in the individual bricks it is made of.  It is only when they are put together as a structure that the whole acquires aesthetic qualities of its own.  Similarly, a tune is not just a sequence of notes.  When played together they produce a tune, the quality of which is not present in the individual notes.  It is invariably the case that the qualities of the whole transcend the attributes of it s components.

The same principle should apply to a photograph.  When seen as a whole, as an entity in itself, it has qualities which far transcend the parts of which it is made.  Regrettably, in photographic judging realisation of this fact is sadly lacking, it appears that some judges look upon pictures as  if they are just a collection of areas of different tones or colours.  From their comments they seem to dissect the picture and closely scrutinise the different areas rather than respond to the picture as whole.

So common and widespread is this practice that we have learned to accept it as an established way of judging.  How often does one not hear judges comment at great length on “a bright area on the edge of a picture” or “the placement of hands in portrait”?  These comments would be quite acceptable and valid, and useful to the audience for improving their work, but they must not be the main criteria of judging!  They can only be secondary comments after the judge has evaluated the picture as a whole.  If a picture is an object of art, it is the creation of an artist through which he or she endeavours to communicate; and that is the main and primary thing the judge should look for.  That can only be done if the judge sees the picture as a whole, as an entity in itself, and not as a collection of areas of different tones and colours.

There is another way of looking at the same issue which gives it a different slant.  In all forms, certain media are used for the production of a piece of art.  In painting it is the canvas and brushes, in music it is either the voice or a musical instrument, and in dance it is the use of the body and dress.  But these are just the media which the artist uses to express himself.  What the artist conveys could be described as “the message”.  It is obvious that the true value of an artistic work is the message and the medium is no more that the vehicle employed to convey the message.

Photographic judging seems to be too preoccupied with the medium as if a photograph is just a technical exercise rather than an artistic expression.  One accepts that possibly the medium in photography is more technical than say in painting and warrants some consideration, but if the medium is wholly or largely what is judged with little attention to the artistic expression then the whole point of judging is missed.

The realisation of this fact came to me when I saw a lady judge a club competition by placing a strong emphasis on artistic expression in the picture as whole rather than technical details, as precisely as advocated above.  When I complimented her on her method she was rather surprised as she had not realised that her method was different from that of the other judges.

Repeatedly I found that many good judges work intuitively and they never analysed their method or developed a system of judging.  Unfortunately, intuitive behaviour is not transferable or capable of further growth by rational thought.

Constructive or Over – Critical

The modern view of testing in education is to find out what a candidate knows rather than what he does not.  If a similar approach is taken in photographic judging, it should be to find out what is good in the picture and not what is wrong.  Many judges work on the premise that judging means finding out what is wrong and the best picture is the one with the least faults.

The most important belief in psychology is that people learn, or change their behaviour, only when rewarded;  and if that be the case, emphasis must be on identifying good features and on constructive advice on how to overcome shortcomings.

I have been reliably informed that judges in flower arranging all have training before they start judging and are instructed to evaluate the good that they find in the flower arrangements and not what is wrong or make harsh or nasty comments.  If a constructive approach is followed there is certainly never any room for nastiness sarcasm or rudeness.

Even on rare occasions when criticism is warranted it could be done very politely and in a constructive manner.  I am sure that many potentially good photographers have been lost to club photography because of ill advised comments of judges.  Judging should be looked upon as an agreeable exercise where the judge’s sole function is appreciation of the work he is asked to evaluate.

At one club I was invited to the work was not only poor but total entry was so low that I could have finished the session in less than half and hour.  I was given permission by the club to show some of my work strictly for the purpose of illustrating the points I was going to make on their pictures and not to make a talk on my work.  It proved to be a most enjoyable, not only for the club, but for me.  The only trouble was that they asked me to do the same thing again the following year.

Effort put into the Picture

Many judges feel that in their marking they should include the effort on the part of the photographer either in getting the picture or in the making of it.  It is hard to justify this approach.  If effort put in by the photographer is included in judging, then why not a host of other considerations that would affect the picture making, such as the equipment a photographer can afford; the amount of travel he can manage; or even his height which might be an advantage to him in taking pictures.  It would be best if judging were restricted to what is put in front of the judge and had nothing to do with how it was made, what effort went into it or what advantages/disadvantages the photographer had.


Although I have stressed the three paramount criteria by which a picture ought to be properly judged, this by no means implies that there should be rules for what judges should like or dislike.

However, what is suggested is the need for agreement on what judges should take into consideration when judging and the three prime parameters described should form the basis for it.

A good example of what matters in judging exists in ice skating as we often see on television.  Judges are asked to mark on “technical merit” and “artistic interpretation”.  If as in photography, judges were allowed to mark on any aspect of ice skating they considered important, then it is quite possible that one judge who believed in choice of music as the most important thing would mark wholly or largely on the music chosen.  Any judge that considers the choice of dress by the skaters as most important will mark more on this entirely different issue.

Such absurdities abound in photographic judging.  Marking is assessed to rules made by the individual judge, entirely personal and exclusive to him or her, or marking is based on the judge’s current fads, prejudices and Overvalued Ideas. (Self Opinionated Ideas).

Given a consensus on what should count in marking and weighting it would help entrants to know what was expected of them and the results would be more consistent and fairer.

Other Issues in Judging

There are a few remaining issues that need to be considered. These are:

1: How should judges decide major awards?

A major problem can arise in major exhibitions and salons where the total entries run into thousands.  If it is an open exhibition covering every kind of subject and type of photography, it would appear to be very difficult, if not impossible, to pick one image as the best of the lot.

If the judges pick a landscape, there will be a score of other landscape pictures which could be considered as equally good, and viewers might ask why choose a landscape when there are dozens of equally good pictures on other subjects.

I have found that to overcome this dilemma, judges on occasions choose a totally “way out” image for the top award which more often than not does not represent the total entry nor does it possess the highest artistic merit.  The lame excuse made by judge tends to be that it is we, the viewers who are incapable of considering the image of their choice.  This just will not do.  In my opinion it is the most arrogant statement that one could make.

I believe that judges sometimes feel that they will be judged by the awards they give and on some occasions; to appear “with it” they choose a “way out” or an outrageous image for an award.   However, it must be said that it is a formidable if not and impossible task to choose one image as the best from an entry of thousands.

The solution may be to give the top award to the most successful entrant rather than the so called best picture.  This can be done by giving an award to the entrant who has the highest total score from the customary four prints or DPIs entered by that person.  It is more likely that the highest total score is shared by several entrants.   In that case, the judges would see each of these entrants set of four pictures together and decided which set is the best.  In practice this is much easier than picking just one image.

This will also remedy the top award going to a picture which may have been produced by chance or fluke.  The principles of giving awards should be based on rewarding the most competent and artistic photographer rather than the picture.

2:  Should print workers only be chosen as judges for prints and DPI workers for DPIs.

Theoretically it should make no difference as a good judge can appreciate and evaluate a good picture whether it is a print or a DPI.  But, having said that photography is relatively more technical that other art forms, and it might be preferable, though not essential to have a judge who does this type of work he is asked to judge.

Quite often judges who have never done print work make comments which show their lack of knowledge in that medium and that greatly diminishes the judge’s credibility.

3: Should judges be practising photographers and should they also be current exhibitors?

If we wish to improve the standard of judging it would be best if such conditions were stipulated.  If judges who are not practising photographers and current exhibitors continue to act for years to come, they might adopt outdated ideas when photography has moved on since they were exhibitors.  I would like to think that many judges would not agree with this view, and that has been impressed on upon me on many occasions.  But my observations certainly support my contentions.

4: How can judges be made to improve their standards?

The only way judges will change their ways and methods would be for us to reward them for their effort and expertise.  This implies some form of recognition or some form of reward, including possibly payment by the standard attained.  If judges are to be rewarded in some way, a system of monitoring would become a necessity.  The way to do that is a subject in itself!

All the articles used in this guide are the copyright of the original authors.  The author of this guide would welcome any comments and thoughts for improvements that could be made to these guidance notes which should be sent to the following person.

Mr Sandy Wilson

For more information

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John Randall
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