Photography Judges…..they don’t know everything….

Well, most of them don’t and that’s pretty much all you need to know when it comes to entering your photos in competitions. Having sat through some pretty awful judging I’ve learnt that lesson many a time. Sometimes they can be pretty damn inconsistent too- there is nothing more frustrating than seeing your image shot down in flames for an alleged “flaw” and then see someone else win with the same type of “flaw”, but even worse that yours. I remember sitting in the audience once when a fellow competitor’s image of a plane was shot down (pardon the pun) because its propeller wasn’t quite blurred enough. Sure it was blurred, but to that judge, it wasn’t blurred enough. And that meant the plane would fall out the sky, as far as that judge was concerned anyway. He then went on to award first place to an image of a helicopter over the Alps. Were the rotors blurred? Not a sausage. In fact they were pretty damn sharp. Completely stationary it appeared. So going by that judges’ theory of flight, the helicopter shouldn’t have even been in the air in the first place. Oh, and the snow on the Alps was completely burnt out too. But if they aren’t paying attention to consistency, then they won’t be paying attention to something like that either.

But one of the biggest problems is that judges weren’t there when the photo was taken so they don’t know what was happening when the photo was taken. And that can lead them to making some pretty poor decisions particularly if they aren’t well versed in the type of photography that forms the basis of your subject. I’ve heard some pretty poor comments from judges who don’t have a clue about macro photography, portrait photography, studio photography, off camera flash photography (“…I think that person has been added into the photo….”)…. the list is endless. Basically it encompasses anything that can be classed as slightly specialist.

Now you can argue that your photograph should be able to tell the judge everything they need to know as to how the photo was taken. Wrong. In a lot of situations this is pretty damn difficult, and if it did include everything then you can guarantee that the image would contain too much information, or not cropped close enough or poorly exposed… or something else the judge wouldn’t like. Here’s an example.

Nick Ferris

Nick Ferris from ‘Whole Lotta Led’ playing the distinctive twin necked Gibson.

Now I love photography, and I love music, so when I’m listening to music and doing photography at the same time I’m a pretty happy chappy. Once a year around Christmas time, Whole Lotta Led come to the Gloucester Guildhall to rock our socks off and banish the cold winter blues and you can pretty much bet your bottom dollar that I’m going to be there.

Now having photographed a few gigs, I know a thing or two about gig photography. Such as when there will be some classic poses from the band members, where and when the lighting is going to be at its best, and perhaps more importantly when it’s going to be at it’s worst.

So queue up “Stairway to Heaven” and you know that there is going to be a lead guitarist going solo who will be solely illuminated on stage by a spotlight and who will be doing some pretty cool poses and expressions.  Everything else on stage is pretty much going to be in the black. The other band members might as well be off stage at this point. Even if you could see them, no-one would be looking at them.

The spotlight is so bright that any background detail just doesn’t appear in the exposure.  The only way I could would be to overexpose and that would mean badly blowing the subject detail and ultimately including a lot of crap in the background which would detract from the main subject. Anyone who has seen a music stage would hardly call it “tidy”. It certainly wouldn’t add to the image. Besides the whole point of the image is to portray a band member enjoying “his moment”. There is no need for anything else.

I know that, heck even the rest of the concert goers who aren’t photographers know that.

But this is where the problem lies. A judge who just takes images of mid-day specials, dinky toys, and poorly lit studio flower shots isn’t going to know that because they’ve never had the experience of the difficulty of shooting gigs. In fact, they might even mistake this for a studio shot because of the angle and intensity of the lighting because they simply don’t know about concert lighting. And if they don’t like studio shots then you are stuffed. They don’t know that there is going to to be a single bright light, on a single subject, and they’ve probably never seen a guitarist who is passionate about their music enjoying themselves in front of a crowd of people. They aren’t going to know that light is constantly changing colour (red light on skin is awful and causes no end of problems) and causing you lots of grief in trying the get the shot.

And that is precisely what has happened to me.

So what can you take away from this?

Well, knowing your judge and their experience (or lack of) can help. Putting an image in that mimics their forte isn’t going to get you very far unless it is a truely good image, and probably putting an image in that they aren’t going to understand isn’t going to get very far either.

Not much help is it? It puts you in a difficult position.

The only advice I can offer really is enter images that you truely like, that you believe represent the best photography in your portfolio and hope for the best and don’t take too much to heart. One judge will love your image. Another will slate it. It’s a game of chance.

Just do what you enjoy doing and do it to your best ability. That’s something I have learned from personal experience and a world renowned photographer. If that’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

Syd Matthews LRPS Judge