Hints, Tips and Recommendations:
Club Competitions


Remember that the best place for members to see all of the competitions images is to login into Photoentry after the competition night.  This also applies to non-participants and new members.


A judge’s perspective:

Thoughts by Neil MacGregor who is a competition judge for other Scottish Clubs.

On the Vagaries of Judging 
Following an innovative and stimulating presentation from Ian Tully, it was suggested at a committee meeting that we try to examine the role of the photographic judge in terms of club competitions.
Many members have wondered about the criteria set down by judges when assessing large number of images.  Before discussing this in more detail, it would perhaps be helpful to examine why anyone would volunteer to be involved in judging…..
For me there are a number of reasons for judging club competitions:
I enjoy viewing the variety of work presented by club photographers. 
I enjoy offering advice and positive encouragement especially to less experienced photographers.            
I enjoy the challenge of producing a set of results at the end of the judging process.
Photographic judges are asked to assess a number of images provided by the club. Each club determines the criteria and method of marking, either by asking the judge to give a marked score out of 20, or, as in our case, to use a ’non scoring’ system where the judge gives a critique without allocating marks but instead chooses to award Commended, Highly Commended and 1st, 2nd, 3rd placings in the competition.
In our own case, these competition images are then allocated scores by our club competition secretary, David, to give a running total for the league competitions.  He allocates points as follows;
15 Points – to all non-awarded images.
16 Points – to all Commended images.
17 Points – to all Highly Commended images.
18 Points –  to all 3rd placed images.
19 Points –  to all 2nd. placed images
20 Points –  to one 1st. placed image.
When considering a set of club images, a judge might go through a simple ‘tick-list’ looking at various aspects of photographic technique;
*  Composition.  Is it well composed and does it present the image in a balanced, considered way?
*  Exposure. Is the image well exposed across the tonal range of the image,  particularly in terms of detail in both 
                      shadow and highlight areas.
*  Focus and Sharpness.  Is the image correctly focused in the area of importance – ie. is it sharp where it should be?
After considering the above criteria, judging becomes very subjective, and the judges photographic preferences have to be set aside to give a balanced judgement.  
Finally, high quality images inspire the judge to ask “What makes this a top image?”  
Many factors may affect this such as the use of superb technique; emotional feelings produced by the image; the creative or artistic ability of the photographer; the ‘wow’ factor of an image; or the quality of light within an image. All these influences (hopefully) combine to produce a result at the end of a competition.
I’d like to end with a quote from a rather sardonic experienced club photographer (and past judge) who will remain nameless…
“A competent judge will trash your images in a constructive and sympathetic way…..
 An incompetent judge simply trashes your images……”
Happy competing!!

Tips from: Neil MacGregor

Just before writing the essay below Peter won the Advanced PDI competition with this image.

And now a competitor’s perspective:

Some comments from Peter Grant, reflecting his experience at the hands/eyes of judges in competitions over the past 30 years.

On the Vagaries of Judging 2

Judging is subjective. As in all areas of life, one person’s junk is another person’s treasure. I have seen an image which won a monthly club competition, with a score of 20, be dismissed out of hand and given a score of 11 in a subsequent inter-club competition. Bear this in mind when listening to a judge ‘politely’ trashing your favourite image!

As Neil states, a good judge will try to set aside their own photographic preferences when looking at images and strive to be objective. Some are more successful at doing this than others. Often it quickly becomes clear during a competition evening that the judge has personal likes or dislikes (doesn’t like sunsets, keen on birds etc). I have often thought that I should take notes every time we have a judge, so that should he/she return to judge another competition, I will have an idea of their likes and dislikes.

I also think that many Judges tend to be slaves to fashions in photography, such that any pictures of whatever type is currently in vogue will always score well – e.g. recent phases have included ‘wrinkly old man in rustic living room’, ‘use of big stopper filter to achieve misty water’ ‘fantasy image created in photoshop’ etc.

Having said all that, there are things you can do to ensure that your images have at least a chance of doing well in competition. Get the basics right and don’t give the judge easy points of criticism. For example:

 Is it well composed, does it look right? Make sure that where you depart from the rules of composition (rule of thirds etc), doing so adds to the impact of the image.

 Any horizons must be straight.

 Your subject should dominate the frame. Avoid large areas that contribute nothing to the picture; e.g. Unless the sky is the subject, it would be a mistake to have it taking up more than one third of the frame. [I remember one judge that suggested cropping out the sky completely in virtually every image in that competition.]

 Notwithstanding the above, if your subject is one that is moving, judges do like to see some space within the frame that it can move into.

 Make sure your image is exposed correctly (either in camera or in post processing), with some detail in both shadow and highlight areas. Judges will home in on burnt out highlights (one or two small areas won’t matter) and seem to hate areas that are completely black (even, often, where you are trying to achieve a silhouette!). Use the histogram in camera to avoid these issues where possible. If you can’t, then err towards exposing for the highlights as it is usually easier to recover detail in shadows in post processing than to recover blown highlights.

 Your image must be sharp where it needs to be; e.g. there is no point in submitting a picture of a bird or animal if the eyes are not sharp. 

 Once you have your image and have completed your processing, run your eye round the margins of the image to check that there are no distracting items e.g. half a head or a twig on the border – clone these out and tone down any distracting areas. I also try and avoid having anything bright at the margins of my pictures; judges will always tell you that this draws their eye away from the main subject. Indeed, it is often a good idea to put a slight dark vignette around your image as this will make the subject stand out more. Another trick is to apply sharpening only to the main subject of your image rather than across the whole. 

I always feel that one of the biggest insults that a judge can give you is to refer to your image as “a record shot”. Competitions are your chance to show off your work as a serious amateur photographer, those images that are a step beyond a simple record, images that you have put some effort into and drawn on your skills to create. While you can sometimes ‘get lucky’ and just happen to be in the right place at the right time, with your camera handy, to grab that winning shot, in my experience my most successful images in competitions have almost without exception been taken when I have gone out specifically to take a picture and a little bit of thought has gone into where to go and when! I may even have done a bit of research (maps/internet/knowledge) to establish where the best place might be to get the viewpoint I want, when the light might be right (sunrise times etc) and when the weather might be right (watching the forecast for the coming days/weeks).

Finally, do remember that judging is subjective, and while it is nice to have others compliment your image, what matters most is pleasing yourself. So don’t let it put you off when a judge dismisses your image – we have all been there. Take note of any criticism that you do accept as valid and go out and try again.

Essay by: Peter Grant

All good photo competition judges say something equivalent to: ‘It is the view of only one person that is being expressed in a judgement.’ You can legitimately have an opinion that differs from that of any judge. Don’t let a particular judgment put you off entering club competitions.

If you are disappointed by what a judge says, please remember that there are multiple ways to edit an image creatively that may differ from a particular judge’s opinion. If your opinion is different from that of the judge’s, ask yourself is he or she, at least partly, expressing ideas that you might benefit from at some point in the future. 

This extremely interesting and relevant tale of 2000 editors by Nigel Danson makes the point about the legitimate diversity of approaches to post-processing very well. You should definitely look his blog and the images from the video at https://www.nigeldanson.com/blog. He also had a good website https://www.nigeldanson.com/.

Don’t creatively constrain yourself to other people’s norms (including those of competition judges). Professional Scottish landscape photographer Alister Benn reminds us about the danger of  taking criticism too seriously in a very quotable passage from his eBook Expressive Landscape Photography ” … telling an aspiring landscape photographer that a composition is wrong because it doesn’t comply to the critics aesthetic preference is utter nonsense and the death of creativity. Worst yet telling someone something is wrong because it doesn’t meet with some random societal standard of acceptability is a farce”. ( See his YouTube Channel.)

Competitions are a useful way of sharing images that you personally enjoy. However, remember the title of Ian Tully‘s talk to the club in 2021 “Finding freedom and why competitions are the thief of joy!”.  Don’t let them steal your joy!

Tips from: Steve Campbell


Next: An Essay on Learning by Example >