Brian's Photo Blog — Article 80
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Judging and Being Judged
Friday 13 April 2012   —   Category: Competitions
Last weekend, at the semiannual Nature Photographers of the Pacific Northwest (NPPNW) meeting, I experienced, for the first time, the live judging of photos. About two hundred pictures, organized into three categories, were evaluated by three judges and given an individual score between one and nine. As a little game, I started trying to predict what score each photo would get. Sometimes I was right, but sometimes I was significantly higher or lower.

Just three days later I got my own chance to judge some photos in the same manner. The local photography club I belong to — Albany’s Valley Viewfinders Camera Club (VVCC) — is itself a member of a larger, region camera club — the Columbia Council of Camera Clubs (4Cs). This organization consists of member camera clubs from Oregon (21), Washington (6), Idaho (2) and Northern California (1).

The best photos from each club’s monthly photo competitions are sent to the 4Cs for inter-club competition. At this level, you’re not just competing against members of your own local camera club, but against the best photos from ALL the 30 regional camera clubs. The judging for each month is assigned to a different member club, so that the work load is spread out.

This month it was the turn of the local VVCC to judge a batch of around 75 black and white photographs from all around the region. Volunteers were asked for, and my offer was accepted. Earlier this week I spent a few hours at the home of a club member, judging these photos with two other members. Because this was my first time filling this role, I was somewhat nervous, and a bit lost. But a reference paper with criteria for assigning the one to nine score really helped.

It took a little while to get into the swing of things. The first photo was of a nude, which I felt was kind of a hard way to begin! As the evening progressed, I realized that the other two judges were more experienced, and sometimes they saw things in a photo that I did not. If our scores were more then two points different (say, a four and a seven), we had to discuss the points of the photo and why we voted the way we did, and then adjust our votes to be more in agreement.

It was more tiring than I would have imagined to score 75 photos! Sometimes I felt like there was a big responsibility on my shoulders to be a good judge. Then I had to remind myself that it was just a regional photo competition, for goodness sakes, and not a matter of life or death! After nearly three hours of evaluating photos, we were done. Time for a brownie reward — the kind you eat! All in all it was a very good experience, and I learned a lot from the comments and critiques of the other judges.

Then just last evening, it was my turn to be judged at the monthly VVCC photo competition. Here, the judging is not so stringent — all the club members can judge the photos, and they don’t assign points to each one. Instead, for each group, they pick the three photos they like the best — each one of those photos gets one point. Then all the points are added up, and those with the top three scores are awarded first, second and third places in that group. The winning photos are passed on to 4Cs, where they are judged like the ones I evaluated a few nights ago.

As I have mentioned previously, at the monthly VVCC color print competitions, there are always two categories (theme and open), and two sizes (large and small), for a total of four groups you can enter photos in: theme-large, theme-small, open-large and open-small. The theme topics are determined once a year — last night the theme was “panoramas” — each month, a different theme. Past themes have included animals, shadows, macro, motion and reflections. Each member is allowed to enter two photos per category-size group, for a total of eight per competition.

Three times a year there is also a black and white competition, with the same category-size groups as described above. On those months, members can enter up to eight black and white photos in addition to the eight color — last night I entered the maximum sixteen photos allowed! That’s the most I have ever entered in a single VVCC competition.

So, how did my photos fare this time around? Not as well as I had hoped, and not as well as I have done in the past. Part of the reason is just a normal part of competitions: my photos look great at home, but when compared to the other photos, mine just don’t make the grade.

Part of the issue relates to how the photos are judged by the club members. As I mentioned above, the club-level judging is less stringent than at higher levels. When I was judging the 4Cs photos earlier in the week, I had to pay attention to proper exposure, composition, focus, excessive post-processing, and numerous other criteria when determining a score for a photo. For club judging, no scores are giving by members to individual photos, and none of these judging criteria necessarily come into consideration. The club members simply choose the three photos from each group they like the best, for whatever reason.

When I was looking at the photos in the competition last evening, there were some which, at first glance, looked really nice. But when I took a second look, I saw that they had technical defects in those areas I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Therefore, because of those faults, I did not vote for those photos as my top three. When the winners were announced later in the evening, wouldn’t you know that those very photos won awards? Despite their technical problems, the club members voted them as the best photos! Those pictures are not going to fare so well at the higher 4Cs level, where attention is paid to such defects!

Although, out of sixteen entries, I did win six awards (four 1st place and two 2nd place), the four black and white panoramas which I entered were practically alone in their groups, so those photos pretty much won by default, because there was little or no competition. That renders four of the six awards I won as basically meaningless — in one group, mine were the only two photos, so of course they won 1st and 2nd place! It’s too bad there is so little interest in black and white photography.

Well, in the end I can’t complain — I’m fortunate that even one of my photos would win any kind of award! Since I joined the camera club last October, I have entered 65 photos, and won 32 awards! That’s basically half of my entries! I think that’s an awesome batting average by anybody’s standards!

Sometimes my photos lose out to ones with technical defects — I was robbed! Sometimes my photos are inferior to the competition, but I still win anyway; sometimes I win because there IS no competition — don’t look a gift horse in the mouth! The judges giveth, and the judges taketh away — in the end it all averages out! You win some and you lose some!

So, all things considered, I’m doing really well, and have nothing to be ashamed of or disappointed about! You can view all of my award-winning photos by browsing the *AWARD WINNERS* photo album.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 80
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