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Judging of Photographs

“Long as I can see the light … ”  John Fogerty,1970

Photographic Images, Competitions and the Judging of Photographs

I am writing a few words to support and encourage photographic competitions as well as commend those people who volunteer their time to participate, as judges for these competitions.  I feel prompted to write this after reading Pacific Zone News, Summer 2014 edition. The Summer edition contains some comments concerning the judging of photographs and competitions, club or otherwise. It has in some past editions as well.

I offer the following thoughts, and opinions based upon my experiences.

To accept a photographic judging assignment at either the club level, or a significant competition is a privilege. When I am asked to judge a competition, I always ask myself “what value can I add to this competition? And what knowledge, or bias might I bring to this competition?”

Are some judges biased? In my estimation, “yes’ most are.” Some disguise the bias better than others, but most of the judges that I have observed demonstrate some bias. They may have a favoured photographic genre, a favoured lens perspective, a special way of seeing a scene that they unknowingly look for in the images shown at a competition.

Have I shown a bias? “YES”. My preference to view an image of a bird in flight, or some activity in its natural habitat rather than a “bird on stick” is one bias to which I admit. There are others.

You may have heard the photographer who says it is difficult to understand how the judge arrived at a high, or low score for an abstract, or creative image. Why is that?

Judging a photographic competition, unlike officiating a football game or tennis match, is not bound by a set of rules (strict or not) no matter what some photographers, or judges may believe. The club, organization, or specific competition establish the entry rules; i.e. what can be submitted to a nature competition versus an open competition.

Practice, repetition and entering competitions will improve one’s photography. If one wants to improve at photography, practice making images of the same object, or scene from different view points. Repeat the process, at different times of the day, as the light changes. Go back to the same location many times to make a better photograph.

Whether you still shoot with film, process and print your own images, I think we are fortunate to be making pictures today in the digital age. Improvement comes with practice, and most master photographers that I know acknowledge that the repetition available now because of digital photography helps people to improve their photographic skills.

Competition is the life blood of improvement. Whether it is a sport, game activity or photography. Participating in competitions will improve your skills and performance over time. Seeing other photographer’s images at competitions can help you develop your own image creativity and personal style. It is called the “I can make images more interesting, or better than that one …” syndrome.

Perhaps my listening skills need improvement, because I have not heard anyone suggest ever that an image should be made to appeal to a judge for a competition. However it is a normal expectation for people, who submit images to a competition, to wish to score well. Why else would one enter an image into a competition?

Results published from the most recent CAPA member survey indicate that, 75% of members who responded indicate they want to learn to make better photographs, and 51% of members joined CAPA to be able to enter competitions. 76% of CAPA members belong to camera clubs. 

Does showing and competing your pictures at a photo club, or other competitions help to improve your photography? My conclusion is, most likely it will. It should, over a period of time. Does it result in many, or most images at the club level looking the same? I do not think so. I see a significant variety of images at the clubs to which I travel.

Whether you choose to submit images, or not at your club or other competitions, that is your choice. Be comfortable with your choice. For most of us photography is a satisfying personal activity that should be enjoyable. If you enjoy competition, enter many different ones. If you do not enjoy competition, do not enter.

Whether you like competitions or not, I ask you to consider not judging others by your personal standards. If you judge at photo competitions, on behalf of CAPA. Thank you

Submitted by Rick Shapka

“I have seen the light …” Bachman & Turner, 2010

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