What is it you should look out for when Judging.


  1. Focus – If the image is a portrait it is vital that the eyes or at least the nearest eye are in sharp focus. If it is, says, a close-up of a flower, at least some part should be in sharp focus for the eye to settle on.

  2. Blown highlights – Another easy one for a judge. There are obviously some exceptions to this, i.e. spectral highlights, with the sun reflecting off shiny surfaces or artificial lights at night etc. But otherwise be careful.

  3. Cropping is too tight – Give the subject room to move into or look into the picture. Alternatively crop really close in so there’s no mistake as to what is intended.

  4. Over-sharpening – Especially don’t try to compensate for poorly focused or soft images. If the image is to be a print and is not as sharp as you would like, try printing it smaller (within reason). Or save it for the Small Print competition.

  5. Bland areas – In landscapes, in particular, don’t leave too much of what a judge may describe as ‘uninteresting sky’ or ‘bland foreground’ visible that doesn’t add interest to the picture. If there is, say, a featureless white or grey sky visible, crop it out. I have however seen some lovely pictures where this ‘rule’ has been abandoned to good effect.

  6. Make the picture look ‘right’ – Even if the picture is correct geometrically or colour wise, a judge won’t necessarily know this. A slightly sloping field in the foreground of a landscape may give an uncomfortable feeling to the viewer. An unusual dominant colour in a scene may look like a colour cast. You may, of course, have a colour cast, so always view your prints under daylight conditions. Ideally, your monitor and printer should be profiled.

  7. Crooked horizons – Water tends to find its own level, so show it that way. It’s amazing how many club pictures I have seen this problem.

  8. Converging verticals – Some judges subscribe to the myth that verticals should be vertical and should not converge. Verticals do converge due to perspective, i.e. go to a ‘vertical vanishing point’, but some judges don’t seem to know this. However, perspective distortion is a reality, which can be caused when the camera is not square on to the subject and appears worse with wide-angle lenses. I have seen many articles that show how to ‘correct’ converging verticals particularly regarding tall straight-sided buildings. The results appear to me to make the building appear wider at the top. I find what works for me when correcting excessive convergence is to adjust the amount of correction by eye until aesthetically correct. This usually means that the verticals are not absolutely vertical, but look natural. A possible exception to this is recorded photography, where the emphasis is on portraying the object with total accuracy together with technical excellence. Maybe for camera club purposes, it is better to stick with smaller more manageable subjects and avoid the problem altogether. So you have a choice (for non-record photography) of making the verticals correctly converge, or have them absolutely vertical to avoid judges’ criticisms. Your call!

  9. Irrelevant objects – Try not to include objects that do not add to, or maybe, more importantly, distract from the main subject of interest. This is especially true if the object is dissected by the edge of the picture. I think of it this way: if I were to attempt to paint the scene that I wanted to photograph, would I include everything I could see? Probably not, so why include it in the photograph if it can be avoided?

  10. Black backgrounds – If the subject is a close up of a flower, for example, avoid a solid black background. Some judges like black backgrounds, some don’t. Always try to have at least some out of focus detail just visible preferably complimenting the main subject.

  11. HDR/tone mapping – Avoid excessive HDR/tone mapping, or any other ‘artistic’ effect, some judges are just not appreciative. It’s too much of a gamble. Play safe.

  12. Light edge areas – Avoid light areas near the edges of the image. Some judges don’t even like dark areas or high colour contrast areas near the edges if they contrast too much with the main subject. Judges tend to say these areas ‘draw the eye’ away from the intended point of interest even if you don’t think they do. Additionally, even if there aren’t light areas near the edge, it is sometimes helpful to slightly darken the corners/edges with a soft-edged vignette. This can help to concentrate the viewer’s attention on the intended subject. I find it surprising how little is needed to produce the desired effect, it shouldn’t be obvious so don’t overdo it. Toggle the effect on and off to see the difference. Adobe Camera Raw ‘Post Crop Vignetting’ is a good tool for achieving this.

  13. Colour saturation – Don’t be tempted to boost colour just to give more impact, it can be beneficial but often isn’t. If the image is a landscape, judges love to pick on ‘digital-green’ grass. If you really think more colour is required, first try reducing the saturation by quite a bit, let your eyes adjust, and then return the saturation to as it was before. You may decide the colour is just fine as it is. I find this technique is used to help decide on other tonal adjustment settings as well.

  14. Composition rules – The ‘rule of thirds’, which is possibly the most, well known, is a reasonably good guide, but only a guide, and has many exceptions. At least a judge is less likely to criticise the composition from this perspective.

  15. Despot – Remove any sensor dirt spots that are visible especially in areas of low detail like sky etc. Blemishes like this have a habit of becoming more visible when viewed on the club projector or print-viewing box.

And finally – Enjoy your photography, as for judges there are good ones and not-so-good ones, but they all try to do their best. Try to put yourself in their position.

If you have any questions on the above, please email Graham Welsby (grahamwelsby@gmail.com)




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