On being a Judge……..

I’ve been reading a lot of comments on social media recently about judges generally.  What they say, what they do – what they ‘might’ be thinking…

It got ‘me’ thinking.. what can we do to keep camera club members happy – and after much debate, inward thinking, and maybe 5 seconds later – the answer came – and it’s ‘nothing’….. there is nothing we can do.  Whatever a judge does or says, it’s going to upset / offend someone.  Even if it’s just the person who didn’t win that night.

I’ve written before about emotional ties to photographs – YOU, the photographer know exactly what went into the shot – you know what you did, what your thoughts were – you know the story behind it.  The judge doesn’t know any of that.. they come at it cold from the freezing wastes of wherever to see an image on which they have to pass some comments.

The comments they DO pass are usually the technical ones, about white balance, blown out areas, composition etc…. and the rest can be more personal ones, like how the image actually resonates with them.

I’ve been known to make some assumptions about how a picture was made, but usually qualify it with something like ‘but I don’t know for sure, this is only my idea’ – to try and get myself out of the hole I’m probably digging myself into.

However, we also judge emotionally – though I read somewhere today that judges apparently shouldn’t do that.  It’s hard not to…..  I’m pretty sure that if a picture came up of a hunter smiling over a dead giraffe – I’d find it really hard not to say something about how I didn’t approve of wildlife hunting…. and I’m pretty sure a lot of you would too.

So, why would that remark be OK (maybe) and not others about creating photographs.

The judge is a human being – with human ideologies, and personal feelings.  I’m pretty sure these will come out in the course of talking about photographs whether they mean to or not.

A camera club competition is not the end of the world – it’s supposed to be a hobby for most of us – not life and death, and your career certainly isn’t going to fail or collapse because one judge somewhere didn’t like your image, or incorrectly interpreted it.

There is normally no-one out there at a club anxiously waiting to reward your genius, because photography is art for which most of the general public have no interest, apart from maybe likes and loves on social media.  Which in my mind and observations has become more of an anti social media.

The photographs we make are mostly looked at by only a select few.  A small group create, promote, exhibit and may decide the success of an image, but social media opens it up to the world.  Once you exhibit your images, either here or in a camera club, you are, by default, opening it up to criticism.

Whether you like the critique or not, is up to you – but in the end it’s only the analysis of one person, on one night – and on the next outing, it might be loved…..

In spite of my ill-concealed conceit about such things (and the list grows longer the older I get) – the end result is that I reach a rather languid acceptance rather than a passionate objection.

Keep taking your photographs, stick them into competitions but please don’t judge bash – if if you feel you must – then get up there yourself and do it…..  You’ll find it’s harder than you think.



Author: Diane Seddon ARPS AFIAP CPAGB BPE3* - D Seddon Photography

I am a retired freelance photographer, based in Louth, Lincolnshire.

8 thoughts on “On being a Judge……..”

  1. Very interesting remarks about judges, judging and how much we expect or accept from a judge.
    Quite a few years ago, when digital A/V became available (as opposed to twin slide projectors, reel to reel recorders etc) I became really interested and spent a lot of time producing what I thought were quite good A/V Shows. I started collecting a few 1st & 2nd places at club level and also in a national A/V group and thought I was rather good at this new medium.

    However, at a local club I entered a couple of A/V’s that had done quite well in other competitions and the lady judge that night, (NO, IT WASN’T YOU DIANE!) , out of 14 entries, judged my 2 entries to be worthy of joint bottom! To say I was annoyed just doesn’t describe how I felt. I went off to sulk for a few days and ponder over how this judge couldn’t see in my sequences what other judges already had, maybe she was in a mood about mislaying her white cane that day!

    Several days later, having calmed down, I began to re-examine what had taken place and I started to have a more honest conversation with my self. I thought “come on Dave, you were more than happy to accept the 1st & 2nd places when they came, which were only the opinion of the judges at those competitions. Maybe you were lucky, perhaps having a good run, you finally met a judge who didn’t share your opinion of your work, that’s all”.
    My next thought was, if that’s the case then how much value, importance can I put on the occasions when I did well? They were just a judges opinion, that’s all. The only judge I need approval of is myself.

    That was about 6 or 7 years ago and until very recently, I’ve not entered any more competitions, either A/V, print or PDI and I’ve found it to be such a liberating experience, no more wondering what the judge might like or whether I’ve broken any stupid PHOTOGRAPHIC RULES! Pleasing myself has allowed me to enjoy photography again, and that might have been the end of this story but……..I’ve been dipping my toe into the photo comp world again recently but this time genuinely not caring what the outcome might be and I’m finding I can either take or leave what the judges have to say and sit back to enjoy the event.


    1. Thank you for your considered reply David, it’s much appreciated. I remember seeing your A/V’s a few years back, when you were doing ‘dad and lad’ – I was very impressed with them.

      I agree, there’s no use in getting all het up about what a judge says – it’s one persons opinion, and the next trip out it might achieve the exact opposite.

      Sorry I’ve not been commenting on your blog – I can’t seem to get access – I’ve no idea what I’m doing wrong…. 🙂


      1. You’re not doing anything wrong Diane, to comment on a “blogspot” blog you have to have a Google Gmail email account. This is one of the drawbacks of using “blogspot” and why I used to share my blog posts on Facebook, to enable people to leave comments there if they wished to, you were one of the few that did.
        However, I had issues with Facebook so deleted it and have no “Social Media” platform at all now, which is great, life is so much better without it.
        I have email alerts for your new blog posts and always read them but only comment if it’s a photo post. This post however resonated with me so I thought I’d add my thoughts. David.


      2. That’s really odd, as I do have a Gmail account…… I’ll take another look and see what’s going on…..

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well Diane, some interesting points, and as you correctly say, it is your view at the time as the judge in a club competition. you always look for the positives in any picture however good or bad it is, you try and encourage that author to see other points of view, in a nice way. In large salons the judge has but a short time to evaluate an image. What ever you say, some people will agree with your comments, and others not, but what the heck, you have done your honest best. My advise to the latter, get a life, listen to what people have to say and keep your thoughts to yourself and try to improve.
    Carry on with your excellent judging, please.


  3. I find myself agreeing with most of your comments; it is all very subjective. Those that would suggest that an emotional response to a photograph is invalid -well, I imagine that reflects something about his / her own life. Over recent times, I have noticed that not all judges behave in a way which I suppose could be described as professional; at the club where I used to enter competitions, we had one judge who was rude, had not prepared and, at times, simply offered no comment. His worst moment was ‘eurgh’ followed by a comment which went something like ‘and that’s all I have to say about that.’ Obviously, the club haven’t invited him back. I heard today that he ‘judged’ last night at a battle and ‘ruined’ the occasion. It is a shame that feedback to a region and some sort of review of accreditation has never been put in place. I agree that once you enter your work into a competition, you expect critique. Some perhaps just don’t know how to give it in a way that actually helps the author improve.


    1. Hi Linda – thank you for your considered remarks. I agree…. some judges should not be on the circuit, and I think we have all experienced rudeness sometimes – usually by someone who is not able to express themselves clearly. The L&CPU, and NEMPF both run days to help judges, and are keen to help them work in a professional manner. I can’t speak for any others. There are also feedback forms for both speakers and Judges on the federation websites – the Lincolnshire Photographic Association has them too I think.

      In return, there are forms for judges to fill in about clubs. There are rude, disorganised ones of those too, but they are not talked about ..

      Preparation – that’s a hard one, as I don’t think for the last 5 years I’ve had any images sent to me in advance to mull over… however, the judge should be experienced enough to work with them on the fly.

      I suppose the only way to sort them out, is to look on the Federation website, and see if there are feedback forms – use them if you feel it’s necessary, and the other way is to not invite judges back. It’s probably worthwhile contacting the judge directly afterwards and explaining what your issues are. I’m sure polite, constructive feedback will be welcomed. I’d like to hope so anyway.


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