Thinking On Your Feet – 10 Years As A Photographic Judge

I attended the first Presentation Camp London last weekend and gave a talk on my experiences as a Photographic Judge. I thought I would jot a few points down in case you missed it, or if you are just interested in what a Judge’s life is like!

My Background


  • No formal traininging, most of what I’ve learned has been self-taught.
  • I gained my LRPS in 1995.
  • I got my ARPS in 1999.
  • I’ve applied for an FRPS a couple of times, but no luck yet!

Amateur Photography in the UK

  • UK governing body for clubs in the UK is the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain (PAGB).
  • My local area is the East Anglian Federation of Photographic Societies (EAF).
  • The PAGB Handbook publishes lists of approved Speakers and Judges for local clubs to consult when they are looking to arrange their programmes. There are three levels of Judge:
    1. ‘C’ Panel
      Used for general single-club competitions.
      I was appointed to the ‘C’ Panel in January 2000.
    2. ‘B’ Panel
      Used for local inter-club competitions, print battles etc.
      I was promoted to the ‘B’ Panel in January 2002.
    3. ‘A’ Panel
      Used for Federation-wide or inter-club events and competitions.
  • The EAF (and some other federations) run annual Judges’ Workshops each October, where people who would like to become a judge can gain some training and experience, There are three levels of workshop:
    1. New Judges’ Workshop
      For those seeking to gain experience of judging with a view to joining the EAF ‘C’ Panel. Also suitable for photographers who have attended previous New Judges’ Workshop but have not yet joined the ‘C’ Panel.
    2. Intermediate Workshop
      For current ‘C’ Panel judges. This will focus on the development of candidates’ judgine skills with the prospect of promotion to the ‘B’ Panel. Current ‘B’ Panel judges may like to come along for a ‘refresher’.
    3. Advanced Seminar
      Bringing together both ‘A’ Panel Judges and those seeking promotion from the ‘B’ Panel. This workshop will provide an opportunity to share knowledge and experience, and discuss the judging of work of the highest standards. The course will include practice in the use of an electronic scoring system, particularly relating to the selection of exhibitions.


There are a few skills which are needed to be a successful photographic judge. Some can be taught, others have to come naturally!

  • Improvisation
    You most often do not get to see the pictures before the evening when you judge. A 10-minute preview for prints or run-through of projected images is all you are likely to get to make an assessment of the overall standard of the competition. As each image is then shown individually, you will have to come up with something unique to say about each, on the spot.
  • Fairness
    Even if you don’t like a picture, you must give it a fair assessment and critique, and say why you weren’t keen on it, and how it could be improved upon.
  • Diplomacy
    Nobody wants to hear a damning criticismn of their work, especially if they are a new member who might have entered the competition for the first time. Be diplomatic, and try to use non-confrontational language.
  • Encouragement
    Try to find good points, even if a picture isn’t up to scratch. The “Kiss-Slap-Kiss” technique is often useful – tell them something good, give them constructive criticism, then finish on another plus point.
  • Entertainment
    Try to keep comments light, add a touch of humour at times. The club members will be sitting listening to you for the best part of 2 hours (often in the dark), so a monotone delivery is going to send them to sleep!
  • Timing
    100% important this one – if you run over time, everyone will get bored and some clubs might be charged if they don’t clear the hall by a certain time. This is one of the hardest things new judges find to get right, but it takes practice. If you’re unsure, ask the Competition Secretary to give you an indication of how far through a class you might be, and how long you have left before the break/end of evening.
  • Bad Habits
    Try to avoid bad habits when judging – waving your arms about, pacing up and down, and (worst of all), rattling change in your pockets – it drives people nuts.

Technical Points

As a judge, you will be expected to comment on most of the following points about each image:

  • Exposure – has an appropriate exposure been used for the subject matter – look at burnout on highlights and blocking of shadows.
  • Focus/Depth of Field – where is the main point of focus, is the DoF sufficient for the subject?
  • Composition – does the composition make the best use of the scene, can anything be cropped from the edges (intrusions around the frame) or should a wider viewpoint have been used (things cut off the edge of frame).
  • Lighting – how does the lighting affect the mood of the image – harsh shadows, soft tones, texture, etc. Sometimes it might be a great composition with the wrong flat lighting – this isn’t going to help the overall effect.
  • Print Quality – if judging a print competition, you should also mention the print quality of the image – is there any banding, colour casts etc.
  • Post Production – if any obvious post-production has been done on the image, is it appropriate for the subject? It helps to know a little about image maninpulation techniques yourself, such as the Orton Effect, HDR, Sepia Toning etc.


The way you make your comments is just as important as what you say:

  • Eye Contact
    Talk to the Audience! Don’t just turn your back on them to examine a print carefully, and talk to the easel.
  • Clear Enunciantion
    Don’t gabble, take a breath at the end of each sentence and slow down. What seems like an age-long pause to you, will probably be unnoticable to them. Try to project your voice to the back of the room, whilst not actually shouting.
  • Language
    Try to use a wide variety of adjectives and avoid the repetitive use of words such as nice and lovely. Nobody wants to play Vocabulary Bingo at the back of the hall. Try not to “erm” during a pause, it gets really annoying after a while.
  • Euphamisms
    They can be useful at times, phrases such as “The light didn’t do you any favours” can really mean “it’s a terrible picture, I would not have bothered to take it under those conditions” ! But choose your words wisely.
  • Don’t Be Descriptive
    Any fool can stand up and describe what’s in front of them. “There’s a tree and a lake with a boat on it”. That tells the audience nothing. What they need to know is your response to the image, and how it makes you feel. Ultimately, photography is a subjective medium, and if you don’t explain your feelings, someone might well be disappointed with the mark you decide to give to their picture.

Presenting The Upminster Outings CupGood Signs
If you get asked back for repeat engagements, and receive glowing Thankyou letters in the post after your visit, then you know you are doing something right. I’ve had many of both, and have thoroughly enjoyed the last 10 years as a judge. If you would like to hear me judging sometime, why not come along to one of my next engagements and say hello.

So if this has whetted your apetite to become a photographic judge, and you live in the East Anglian region, you can get in touch with the , Sue Dobson, and enquire about the next workshop dates for 2010. Places sell out quickly, so don’t leave it too late! Unfortunately, I can’t link directly to that information on the EAF website as it’s built around frames. Argh!

[Picture Credits – thanks to Steve Reid and Peter Crane for their images of me presenting trophies]

One thought on “Thinking On Your Feet – 10 Years As A Photographic Judge”

  1. Super article Caz, I’ll definitely point any potential judges in the direction of this article if I get asked “what do I need to do to become a good judge”.

    How right you are regarding how hard it is to get timing to perfection, I’ve cracked it now but I really struggled at first. Now the hardest part for me is language, I just don’t have the command of the English language that I’d like to have. I’ve listened to some judges and their rich descriptions would earn them a prize in the best literacy circles. Oh to be like them.

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