How do judges judge photos in a competition?

A good question, with no simple answer. Participating in competitions is a very good way to improve your photography skills. But it can be disappointing when a judge dismisses your “masterpiece”. So what are they looking for? All our external judges are approved and trained by the Welsh Photographic Federation (WPF) to achieve some degree of consistency but they are individuals with their own tastes and sensibilities, often formed over many years of photographic experience. Here’s a very rough guideline of what they look for:

 

Impact.

The picture has to catch the judge’s attention. In a typical competition the judge may have to look at a large number of pictures. He will scan through the entries and pick out the pictures that make an impression.

 

Artistic Quality.

The judge is looking for some kind of “artistic” quality in the picture. It should elicit some emotional response, be it beauty, joy, sadness, humour, curiosity, danger — any human feeling. So the picture has to communicate with the judge.

 

Originality. 

In these days of digital cameras, every possible scene and subject has been photographed many times. Judges are often pleased to see a different angle or treatment. A little originality can transform a cliched scene into something interesting and memorable.

 

Flaws. 

The judge will look for technical flaws in the picture. These can often help him mark one picture lower than another so it is extremely important to be aware of any technical imperfections in your picture. For example:

  • Is there an obvious focal point in the picture that draws the viewer’s eye? Sometimes judges will comment that their eye wanders over an image and they don’t know where to look.

  • Are there objects in the picture that distract the viewer’s eye from the main subject?

  • Are there large “vacant” areas in the picture with no interest?

  • Is the image correctly in focus? Not under- or over-sharpened?

  • Is the image over- or under-exposed?

  • Are there burned-out highlights or black shadows where detail is lost?

  • Are the colours over-saturated or too weak?

  • Are lines you’d expect to be horizontal or vertical straight or is it tilted? This can be a problem in scenes with a horizon or in architectural shots.

 

It is important to regard the judging as a learning process and to recognize that it is subjective. We can help you overcome the technical problems but only you can develop your own vision and style.