Photography News | Issue 35 | absolutephoto.com
Before the Judge
Each month, a respected judge or exhibition selector shares their thoughts and experiences. This month we speak to Richard Speirs who has over 25 years experience Richard Speirs
Words by Richard Speirs
I hadn’t been at Morton Photographic Society for too long when I received an invitation to judge at a local club. I recall the initial fear of standing up in front of photographers who may have been taking pictures for longer than I, but something must have gone down well as I soon began to receive further invitations. Eventually I found myself on the Northern Counties Photographic Federation (NCPF) judges list and over time reached its A-list of judges who could be expected to handle anything. Subsequently, having gained a lot of experience in judging local and regional competitions, I found myself selected for the PAGB list of judges. It is this position that I value most as it allows me to sit on some the best competitions in the UK. I have no unique qualification to judge other than an appreciation of what makes a good picture and how to offer helpful critique without hopefully upsetting the author. I always try to inject some humour into my judging or talks, but never at the expense of any of the competitors; life is too short to run the risk of a lynch mob in a club car park. Through years of experience I hope I have refined whatever skills I might have to encourage andmotivate photographers in their hobby. Again blamingmyfather,IsuspectthatImay have inherited some of his qualities such as having the gift of the gab whichcertainlyhelps to communicate effectivelywith an audience. In the NCPF we run annual events to recruit judges and for many years I’ve been the principal speaker aiming to give basic communication skills to prospective judges. Body language is crucial as is the ability to avoid relying solely on criticism, which is the easy option for many beginner judges and, sadly, somewell-established ones too. My communication rule of thumb is 55% body language – facial
Richard Speirs Richard’s been a member of Morton Photographic Society for nearly 40 years and has been judging and lecturing for over 25. Years in photography I blame my father for giving me a Kodak Autographic 120 roll film camera when I was around 11. I still treasure the memory of the first successful prints emerging in the dim red glow of the darkroom. I studied environmental science and my then camera, an Exa 1A, was used to record many natural history subjects on slide film. Home club Morton Photographic Society in Carlisle. I have twice been chairman and held most of the committee positions at Morton. I’m on the executive of the Northern Counties Photographic Federation and the executive of the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain as well as sitting on its Awards sub-committee. Favourite camera I’ve been with Sony since the demise of Minolta and currently use the Sony Alpha 6300, which is wonderfully portable, accurate and a delight to use. Favourite lens Sony Zeiss 16-70mm f/4, which is incredibly sharp. Favourite photo accessories I must admit to not using a large number of accessories. That said, I find my set of Lee Filters ND grads invaluable for landscape work and I use polarising filters. Favourite photographers I enjoy the perfection of Joe Cornish, the artistic subtly of Irene Froy, the creativity of Christine Widdall, Adrian and Jane Lines and Dianne Owen. If I had to pick one it would be Tony Ray-Jones whose street photography is astounding. Favourite subject I started out with natural history, which is still a mainstay but I am equally at home with most subjects. There are so many wonderful things out there to inspire photographers. Awards I gained my DPAGB many years ago achieved a BPE2* rating, and was awarded the APAGB. Although I regularly enter contests and achieve a fair number of acceptances, striving for awards doesn’t feature greatly in my life. My greatest reward is knowing a judging session or lecture has gone down well in a camera club and that I get return invitations.
expression, gestures and posture; 35% vocal – tone of voice, monotones are an insomniac’s best friend, pacing, using sentences and pauses; and ten per cent verbal – choose your words carefully, avoid jargon and be accessible not clever. A good judge should... Good communication skills can be learned and are essential if a judge is to be a hit with an audience. I encourage prospective judges to avoid being hidebound by the so- called 'rules of photography' which are there for guidance. That said there is often a benefit for taking advantage of the human preference for images which are based around thirds and, certainly in the UK, read from left to right. I believe that judges should concentrate more on why someone took a particular shot and if their knowledge and use of appropriate technique added to the initial concept. It is up to a good judge to identify the initial element that inspired the photographer and if need be suggest
ways in which it could be improved. Likewise I think it is important for judges to avoidwriting off a picture of apopularlocationjustbecausethey’ve seen the view or subject dozens of times before. Every shot is different and subtle nuances of interpretation should be looked for and recognised. I also believe that it is important for judges to participate in competitions themselves, preferably not just at club level, but in the wider arena. Fashions do change and nothing turns off an audience more than listening to someone who hasn’t kept up to date with what is happening. I think it is essential that judges are aware of modern processing techniques rather than second-guessing what has been done to a picture and making a fool of themselves in the process. The work in many camera clubs is of a far higher standard than it was just a decade ago and the better judges should be aware of that moving standardandbecapableofassessingit accordingly. Reassuringly many club photographers are realising that their work looks better by use of subtlety in whatever technique they happen to hit on, whether it beHDRor one of the many available plug-in filters. Sadly that doesn’t apply to all clubs and I must admit to being bothered by the current fashion for oversaturation. If I was to advise on what simple things to do to improve an image I would say delicacy in technique and treatment, avoid over sharpening and
ensure that the final histogram has adequately brought out the best in the highlights and shadows. I suppose my biggest bugbear with club competitions is with those clubs who insist that all their internal contests have to be marked out of 20 or 30 or whatever top score they choose. Frequently when asked why they have marks the response is that the members like to know if they are getting better or not. A weird reason considering each competition is largely a matter of ranking the best to the worst picture that night and gives no idea of howan individual improves contest by contest. My advice to any photographer interested in developing their work is to join a camera club, visit as many exhibitions as you can, go to see the judging at one or more of the various PAGB competitions held each year andhave a go at entering competitions outside the security of your own club. That way you’ll be aware of what works and what doesn’t and how attention to detail in photographic quality certainly pays dividends. Photography is a wonderful art formandwe areprivileged tobe living in an age where the camera quality, even inmobile phones, is phenomenal and post-processing software, used with sympathy and skill, can produce arresting pictures.
What do you think?
Have you seen a photographic judge at work who you’d like to see profiled in Photography News ? If so please drop us a line to opinion@photography- news.co.uk with the judge’s name and, if possible, their contact details.
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