“WHO AM I TO JUDGE?”

By Suzanne Mathia

I was recently asked to judge another photography competition.  Whether it is at a camera, club, an online competition of a fair I always enjoy seeing submitted images from different areas of the country – I am always blown away with the creativity and talent.  I get to see a different range of photography, things I don’t ordinarily see,

images that are totally unexpected, locations that are unusual and perspectives that are unique.

I love to see where people are taking photography, especially the youngsters. (That didn’t make me sound old!) It’s really refreshing and inspiring to see their vision and passion for the craft!

Fran Yates – Best in Show Northern Gila County Fair

Being asked to judge someone else’s art is not an easy task and one I don’t take lightly.  I may take a slightly different approach to this process but I wanted to share some thoughts and observations.

For me the most important part of a photographic image is IMPACT.  That cant be judged purely by the technical aspects.  Some guidelines for the judging process require each image to be awarded points or gold stars based on a long list of technical criteria. Some don’t.

Deborah Burd _First Place Winner

When I look initially at a group or collection of images I am looking for the ones that stand out for me for whatever reason.  Compelling images always stand out from the crowd, rise to the top upon viewing for the first time. That process of doing a visual scan helps me to find some of the best pictures and eliminate others — pictures that are simply “me too” , “same ol same old” or pictures that just fade into the background.

After that initial visual scan, I go in closer and look for WHY.  Why did this image stand out above the rest? That can be subject matter, creativity as well as composition and technique, post processing and presentation, overall excellence. A photograph must convey attention or intent.  I look for an image that is about something not just of something.

Deborah Bird – First Place Winner

One can give points for following all the rules, but often the most memorable images are those that flaunt the normal conventions…with purpose .  I look for creativity, simplicity, emotion, composition and impact. After that I look for exposure, focus and sharpness, tonal separation, framing, leading lines, light and shadow. Are the horizons straight, no intruders along the borders, chromatic aberration, banding, flare, noise and over processing, those are the things that can distract from an otherwise compelling photograph.

Some of the biggest mistakes I see are multiple versions of the same image.  A different crop or a slightly different treatment. It dilutes the originality of one of the images and indicates the photographer was undecided about their vision.

Overuse of HDR and filters, presets and plug ins.  If the category is creative, manipulation or composite this can be fine and a creative use of the available software programs. However, it can be over done and may ruin an otherwise pleasing image.

Over Sharpening- image sharpening is a powerful and necessary tool for emphasizing texture and drawing viewer focus. It’s also required of any digital photo at some point. However, over sharpening can cause that “crunchy” look.

Happily and thankfully, over time, I have seen less and less of these obvious mistakes.

Fran Yates – Best in Class

It is painful to reject a photo. I know I try to find the best in every image. Behind that entry is a photographer who loved making this image, was so proud and so hopeful as well as brave and confident enough to put there work out there. I am very conscious of some of potential biases and preferences and try not to let them cloud or influence my decisions.

I know that not everyone will agree with my choices and some will definitely have differing opinions.  I am OK with that….who am I to judge!? Judges of photo contests have a unique perspective because we see so very many photos. Sometimes the difference between being a finalist in a contest and being rejected comes down to minute differences, personal preferences, innate biases and opinions.

Get your work out there.  Enter contests, submit to publications, have an online presence, participate in art shows , fairs and exhibits. Work hard at your craft and never give up. You may not have won a fist place ribbon this time but keep showing your work and most importantly, love what you do.

Suzanne Mathia is an Instructor with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

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