BEFORE THE JUDGE Angy Ellis Each issue, a respected judge or exhibition selector shares their thoughts and experiences with us. This month, we put Angy Ellis, a relative newbie, through her paces
MEET THE JUDGE Angy Ellis: Angy lives in Sunderland. She stumbled on photography six years ago; before then she’d never even owned a camera. which is close to my home town of Spennymoor where my family still live. Years in photography? 6 Favourite camera: The one I am currently using, my Nikon D600. Favourite lens: I like having fun with my 16mm fisheye. Favourite photo accessory: My brand new camera bag Favourite subject or technique: Creative portraits Favourite photographers: Yousuf Karsh for beautifully captured portraits. Plus I’m inspired by the wonderfully talented, creative photographers at local clubs and at international salons. Awardswon: At this early stage I’m not interested in obtaining distinctions but know I will be, eventually. I enjoy the club and international competitions and am proud to have been awarded two gold medals; one achieved in my first year entering internationals. I have also been awarded ribbons and many acceptances as well as club successes and trophies. Home club: Durham Photographic Society,
Words by Angy Ellis
So what gave me the urge to enter the world of judging club photography? Simply, it’s part of my personality to get involved in everything I do as much as possible; and no other hobby, so far, has taken over my life as much as photography. To be totally honest with you all, I had paid £475 for a 30x20in family portrait that I never wanted to pay again. I bought my very first camera, an Olympus E-410, and walked into Durham Photographic Society six years ago expecting someone to help me understand all the dials and letters around it. It was a competition results night and when I saw the quality of images projected, and overheard the technical discussions, I realised I had an extremely steep learning curve ahead of me. That is where the excitement and my love of photography started. I entered the competitions immediately and what became clear to me early on was that I was winning club competitions and doing very well in internationals, without really knowing the ‘rules’; rules that I heard many judges use. Such as the rule of thirds, lead-in lines, the centre of interest needing to be bright, red is a good colour to highlight, use threes and fives, etc… I could go on and on and on. Now in my sixth year I am fully aware that these rules will hopefully stop the author from making a bad picture, but I do feel that if you live by them, they could restrict the creative side of your photography. Back then I had no constraints. This is why now, when I look at an image it is my initial reaction I’m after rather than the implementation of the rules. So, how did I get here? I started by expressing my interest in becoming a judge to our president. My club informed me of a judging workshop early last year so I jumped at the chance. It was very well organised, the room was full of new faces, all passionate about photography and all with different photographic styles. It was great fun meeting them all. We all participated in group activities as well as standing up in front of everyone to put into practice what we had been taught that day on assessing images and, of course, to be assessed ourselves. I had been a successful sales coach for a large high-street bank for many years so standing in front of an audience giving constructive feedback was my normal stage. I’m fully aware that I don’t have the extensive photographers’ vocabulary, printing knowledge or past darkroom experiences, but I don’t think that hinders me at all when deciding what I enjoy about an image and why. The great thing is, photography is subjective, but it can be judged. If I prefer one particular image or style to another, that does not make me wrong. I’ll
be honest. I do prefer an image that is creative, that is outside the box, that offers something extra from the norm. I get bored with the norm unless it’s done really well. I do need more to impress me. During the past few years I have seen similar but at the same time different in other judges. It may not be a style that a judge focuses on but a technical issue. I’ve heard judges concentrating totally on sharpness. They judge the work unworthy of being placed if it’s not pin-sharp. I personally don’t believe an image should be hit over the head with the Unsharp Mask tool. If I can see the detail in a competition entry that’s fine by me and this is why competition nights are so exciting, because we are all different and you can’t predict the judges’ likes, dislikes and decisions. Decision time So here I am at home with my images to judge, and after my initial viewing, where I’m hoping for a reaction, I then look closer and the skills and experience of the author will sometimes become evident, but not always. I feel that my gut instinct works best to be able to place the images. I am comfortable and confident with my decisions as well as the way I make them. Personally, at club level, I would never consider looking at metadata or changing PDIs to try different things, as I’ve heard other judges say they have done. Let me be clear, I’m not at all saying that this is wrong. I simply prefer my emotional reaction first and then I’ll look at the basic expectations of a competition entry and that’s where I stop. If an image has impact and my initial response is ‘wow!’ or ‘ahh!’, then it’s off to a good start. How can you top, or deny, that gut reaction? Add to that the technical merit and I have my winner. So we come to the results night where I visit the club for the first time. The images are without author’s names so I have no idea if it’s a newmember or a long-serving, experienced photographer and
why should I? It wouldn’t make any difference to how I feel about the image; everyone likes to hear some encouragement no matter how experienced they are. On the night I try not to describe what’s in the image: ‘here we have a bird sitting on a branch of a large tree’. I describe how it makes me feel, why or why not the image has impact and the reaction I got from seeing it the first time. When feedback is needed I will gently point out any technical faults as well as the strengths. I try to find three positives about each image that I can say on the night. Everyone should feel appreciated for their efforts. I do feel it’s not necessary or obligatory on every image to search for a negative or an area for improvement. I strongly believe you can have a box of images and like them all. I don’t see the need to look for something negative to justify why it’s not placed when it’s simply that others made more of an impact: perhaps due to the subject matter or an element that’s triggered something emotional in my own genetic make-up to make it special to me. My style is fast paced, I’m quick; I’m quick in most things that I do. If anyone has heard me speak or worked with me, it’s go, go, go. I’m not one to talk at length about an image, I get straight to the point and this makes for a fast-moving, energy-filled experience. After all it means that we will have more time for tea and chat this way. I do try to add my own personality and humour into the night. I’m fully aware that people may be sitting and listening for up to two hours on not the most comfortable of seating so let’s have fun where we can as the pins and needles set in in places best not mentioned. So after a night of judging if I get a letter of thanks or am asked back (which I have been), I know I’m on the right track. It’s only been eight months! I’ll get better in time as we all do. As long as I’m having fun I’ll keep doing it. As of now I’m thoroughly enjoying all that judging has to offer.
Ifmy initial response is ‘wow’ or ‘ahh’, an image is off to a good start. Howcanyou top that gut reaction?
Photography News | Issue 8
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