BEFORE THE JUDGE Colin EMill
Each issue, a respected judge or exhibition selector shares their thoughts and experience with us. This month, judge and club member Colin EMill ponders the science of judging
MEET THE JUDGE Colin EMill: Colin started out taking photographs as a teenager with a Petri rangefinder before moving on to an Olympus OM-10 when he started work, but he didn’t join a camera club until he moved to Milton Keynes. Home club: New City Photographic Society (Milton Keynes) www.newcityps.co.uk Years in photography? 31 Favourite camera: Linhof Technorama 617S Favourite lens: Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS Favourite photo accessory: Manfrotto 055 ProB with 410 Junior Geared Head (although I’ve just bought the new Manfrotto 055 & X Pro three-way head) Favourite subject: photographers: Colin Prior, David Noton & Tom Mackie Awardswon: Aside from the LRPS I attained in 1999, which has now lapsed as I’m no longer an RPS member, I’ve also won a few ribbons in national exhibitions. Landscapes Favourite
Words by Colin E Mill
Judging may not be a definitive ‘science’ and if you were to put the same image before a number of judges in different competitions, in the company of different images each time, you are likely to get a range of scores, but judges do, or rather should, view an image with certain criteria in mind. So if you are going to enter club competitions how can you improve your chances of winning? Before looking at this I think I should state that camera club photography is a hobby, the purpose of which is enjoyment, and this notion should exceed everything else. I wholeheartedly agree with the premise that we make photographs for our own enjoyment, and not to please the judges, but it makes me wince when I hear that phrase cited as an excuse for mediocre photography. Competition entry& judging criteria For me, as a judge, basic image evaluation of a competition entry falls into three simple categories or stages: Impact, Creativity and Technical Competency. Impact is probably the most important criterion and possibly the simplest. Here you should ask: Does this image have impact? Will it stand out from the crowd? Does it have appeal? Is the impact giving the viewer pleasure, or creating interest? Is it effectively communicating a message? It is the strength of these attributes that are the main criteria for judging an image’s merit, and don’t forget that judges tend to only see each image for a brief period of time so if it doesn’t have immediate impact then no matter how creative or technically perfect it is, it’s already fighting a losing battle. With the image’s impact in mind, consider its Creativity. Ask yourself what are the creative elements that make it work or, slightly more importantly, adversely affect its impact? There are numerous artistic rules or guides, and the judge may identify the use of some of these, but hopefully won’t judge it adversely for not using them, unless their absence specifically detracts from the image’s impact. It’s ok to break the rules, provided the result has impact and shows creativity. Finally, Technical Competency. There are a number of technical elements that contribute to an image’s impact: exposure, selective focusing, print quality, sharpness, overuse of digital tools, etc. Here the judge will consider how well these were used to either enhance the image or detract from it. Ultimately therefore images are best judged by their immediate impact rather than a ‘scientific’ overanalysis of creative and technical elements.
Having decided if the image has impact and is pleasing, the judge might hopefully support this by examining the use of creative and technical elements and from this point, may determine the degree of positive or negative reaction to the image. So, if the image has impact and is pleasing, the judge may score it higher or lower by considering how the creative and technical elements were used. Overanalysis is also an important issue, and one that really ticks me off! Because photography is an art rather than a science it is meaningless, and often laughable, for a judge to attempt to read into images presumptions about the author’s purpose, emotions, or even technical choices. Overanalysis often looks as if the judge is trying to demonstrate great skills rather than focus on the author’s work. Optimally, judges apply logical, simple criteria, which relate to an image’s immediate appeal, impact and how well the image ‘works’. Here, the learning for the entrant is to understand what creative and technical attributes enhance or detract from the image. However, such comments should not be contrived, overanalysed or simply rigid adherence to the numerous ‘creative rules’ (better referred to as ‘guides’) commonly used by photographers. Judges are oftentimes criticised for repeating the same phrases when appraising competition images, indeed certain phrases have achieved something of a mantra status: place the point of interest on the third, include diagonals to give the image dynamism, or try to convey a sense of movement, but leave space for the object to move in to. And don’t forget to watch out for those burnt-out highlights or blocked-up shadows. We may feel we know all this, and yet there is likely to be a reason why these oft used phrases reappear time and again. As photographers, the expectation is on us to render a view within a frame on a two-dimensional surface with as much as possible under our creative control. Slight technical or compositional faults
may be forgiven, but the photograph must have enormous impact in its own right. As a judge, what do you want me to look at? The most successful images have a clear point of interest and the background complements or enhances the image, or places it emphatically in context. This is why good wildlife photographs fare so well. One of the main causes of ‘failure’ in competition images is a lack of sharpness of the main subject. I have seen far too many photographs, be they print or DPI, that are simply not sharp. And this is usually due either to camera shake or inaccurate focusing. In portraits for instance the eyes, nose and lips should be sharp, even when presented as ‘soft focus’. Landscapes should usually be sharp front to back. Learn to focus effectively and sharpen the final image from foreground to background, selectively if necessary. At the same time, take care not to over sharpen an image and watch out for the ‘halos’. Presentation of the final image also has a vital role to play in its impact. Print mounting can be a contentious issue, or rather the colour of the print mount. Do you recall the last time a judge complimented the colour of the mount? Very rarely will a coloured mount enhance competition prints so it is best to mount on black or white. If you like, add a narrow border around the image or use mounting board with a contrasting core to define the edges of the photograph. For DPIs it is advisable to add a key line to the image to define its edge. The size of key line is pretty much down to your own personal preference, though for me thinner is better, but it is best to avoid enormous borders on DPIs. So there you have it, a quick guide to what camera club judges look for. Ultimately, entering club competitions is a fantastic way to improve your photography, provided you are happy to accept the bad critique with the good, but the key is to have fun.
As a judge, what do youwantme to look at? Successful images have a clear point of interest
π To find out more, go to www.colinemill.co.uk.
Issue 7 | Photography News
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