Photography News | Issue 31 | absolutephoto.com
Before the Judge
Each month, a respected judge or exhibition selector shares their thoughts and experiences. This month, it’s multiple award-winning photographer ChristineWiddall ChristineWiddall
evidenced by the number of UK clubs reaching the top ten positions in the FIAP World Cup. This is especially noticeable in nature photography, where birds in flight and even birds fighting can now be captured in wonderful detail and sharpness thanks to the advances in digital cameras. Colour prints are less often tainted by unwanted extreme colour casts and, with the advance of software techniques, we can blend images together and achieve a full range of highlight and shadow detail in the most challenging conditions. I worry that projected digital images will take over from prints in some clubs, now that the quality and resolution of digital projectors is improving. Most big competitions, from federation to international level, require working with other judges. Most judging panels get on well together and I like to think that we are all prepared to discuss themerits of the best of the work when making our awards and to compromise when there isn’t total agreement. It’s been said that the best picture is the one the judges can agree on and, in my own experience, such agreement is generally arrived at amicably. Many salons allow each judge to make their own special award for their favourite image in addition to the jointly agreed top awards. Cold judging Much of my judging is done at club level where I prefer to judge ‘cold’ on the night, without having seen the images before. I like to experience them freshly in front of the audience and let them experience the picture with me, laugh with me at the humorous ones and try to understand those with a deeper meaning. That can be challenging when something difficult to assess is presented, but fortunately I have rarely been lost for words and experienced judges learn to cope with any situation. My first thought is to look for the positives in the photograph and, even in the weakest submission, it is usually possible to see something of merit, if only the intent of the photographer. It’s easy to be carried away with a picture that is so good it takes your breath away but it is equally important to give an appraisal of that image. We try to encourage clubs not to overload judges with huge numbers of pictures in a single evening, because I believe every piece of work deserves some comment and not to be dismissed with just a mark. Some common failings I see in club competitions are poor use of light and poor use of processing. As far as composition goes, I take
Words by Christine Widdall
It never occurred to me that I would become a judge… it just happened. Many years ago, I was asked to judge a small competition at a local church group. I found they needed very basic advice on how they could better express themselves photographically with their point- and-shoot cameras and that’s where my judging style developed. By word of mouth, I judged at nearby camera clubs and soon joined the local list of judges. Later, once I began to be a successful salon entrant, it wasn’t long before I was invited to judge at federation level and then at national and international salons. This led to judging in France, Belgium, Malta and Ireland. In 2012, I joined the Photographic Alliance list of judges and have taken part in the PAGB Awards for Photographic Merit as one of six adjudicators. I am involved in the selection of new judges for my federation, where I organise amentoring scheme to help candidates prepare for their PAGB awards adjudication. The most remarkable judging experience I’ve had was an international exhibition in Alsace in their coldest winter in 100 years. I arrived in Alsace to a temperature that reached -18°C overnight. We were judging in the village of Riedisheim in a beautiful timbered and plastered historic building. When we arrived the heating wasn’t switched on, but our hosts came to the rescue with hot coffee, brioche and pastries to warm us up. The pictures were great and it was quite an experience judging with a professional French photojournalist plus French, Belgian and Swiss judges from their national associations and learning how different their preferences can be. Subsequent engagements abroad working with judges of other nationalities has helped me to develop as a judge. Beingentrustedwiththeappraisal of work by other photographers is a big responsibility, but it is also rewarding. Beginners need the most encouragement as they struggle to develop their style and it is often the processing of images as much as the composition that they need guidance in. Editing software is powerful so it is easy to overprocess and oversharpen pictures and I try to point out sensitively where something can be improved. I hope that in the process of judging, I give constructive help to photographers, but that is for others to comment on. In the UK, the standard of club photography is rising which is
ChristineWiddall With numerous accolades and awards to her name and more than 30 years of experience in club photography, Christine judges at club level as well as nationally and internationally. Years in photography I began photography as a child of five, working with my father's darkroom. He brought a Leica back from Germany after the Second World War and that was the first camera he let me use. I was immediately hooked. Home club This is my 30th year at Oldham Photographic Society. I am president elect and will take up my fourth term as president in September to take the club through its 150th celebration year in 2017. Favourite camera Pentax K-3 Favourite lens Pentx 16-50mm DA*, a beautifully sharp lens and ideal with the 1.5x crop K-3 Favourite photo accessories The Marumi DHG Achromat Macro 330 (+3 dioptre) close-up lens attachment. I can fit that to my 50-135mm or 70-200mm lens for a macro facility on any camera. Favourite photographers I appreciate so many genres and styles that it is impossible to choose one favourite. Favourite subject I am probably best known for photomontage and taking a creative approach, but my first love was landscape and nature. I published a book on Saddleworth, where I live and still spend time documenting it. Awards I have received many awards over the last 13 years spent entering exhibitions. My photographic highlights include the RPS Award for the best set of creative images, the Excellence Award of the International Federation of Photographic Art (EFIAP), the Master Award of the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain (MPAGB) and the Fellowship Award of the British Photographic Exhibitions (FBPE).
the viewthat ‘if itworks, itworks’. By looking at theories of composition and visual communication, it is usually possible to understand why one image works and why another doesn’t, which is often concerned with psychology as much as with graphic rules. Photographs are not just about where an element is placed, but about how they work together in the picture, whether they tell a story, impart an idea or create a mood. We respond emotionally to pictures. Inevitably, some images fail toget theirmessage acrossbutwe should look for the positive aspects of work we judge and try to help the photographer to develop a stronger way of seeing and communicating. I enjoy pictures with a clear message and those that shout ‘quality’. HDR, for example, is just a processing method. It can be done well or badly and it’s the same with different genres of photography… my job as a judge is to analyse how successful an image is within its own genre. To that end, I think I have tried most genres of photography over the years. By experiencing each genre I’ve found the difficulties and challenges within each subject type and I try to bring that to my judging. I am disappointed that judges sometimes have a poor reputation, because most of them work very hard, for no reward other than travelling expenses and they give their time and expertise freely. As individualsweallhavedifferentlikes and dislikes, different experience,
different levels of knowledge and unique personalities that we bring to our analysis of each image. Because of that, it is inevitable that we can’t make everyone happy all the time. Our job as judges is to encourage and advise and to select winners within the rules of the competitions. Naturally some judges will be more popular and some photographers will be more open to constructive criticism. Perhaps we should have a kind of Hippocratic oath amongst the judging fraternity such as ‘above all, do no harm’. I think judges coming together on a peer-to-peer basis to discuss judging might help to moderate some of the worst traits and we are starting to do that now in the Lancashire and Cheshire Photographic Union. As judges, we also see styles come and go, but the trends I am seeing in the strongest work are better editing, sympathetic processing and clarity of expression. In spite of trends, great photography will succeed. My final advice to club members is to make your images clear and simple, pay attention to processing and listen to the advice of those who will see in your work what you choose to ignore or don’t see. Appraisal sessions with peer groups can improve the general standard of your work. So don’t be too proud to listen but don’t be afraid to be adventurous or to break the rules.
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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