Photography Articles

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Judging Photographic Images

Larry Breitkreutz, FCAPA

Canada, 2017

Questions sometimes arise as to how a judge determines the score that a photograph deserves. Judging can sometimes be seen as controversial, and not all judges will agree on the merits of every image, for no matter how qualified or experienced a judge may be, there is always the human element that enters in. One of the processes that can be very helpful in judging is to look at the image in terms of it’s composition, exposure, depth-of-field, impact and technique. Whether the subject is a fine portrait, a panoramic landscape, a slum alley, a studio table top arrangement, or anything else, only with good composition will it achieve meaning and importance. The purpose of composition is to control the eye of the viewer. With good composition, the artist leads viewers through the photograph in a controlled manner. Composition is the artist’s way of bringing order into a non-ordered world.

But what is good composition? How can one tell whether an image is strong or weak? While there are many so-called rules of composition, it is best to think of them as ideas, or principles. They are not sacred rules carved in stone, but rather design ideas that can be used to control the viewers eye. To name just a few: leading lines, visual paths through the image, S-curve, repetition and pattern, balance, subject placement, direction of light, focal point, rule of thirds, scale, contrast and tone, etc. Not every image will display all of these ideas. But by careful placement of the elements in the image space using one or more of these principles, a stronger message may be conveyed.

Another factor that the judge will consider is exposure. Is the image properly exposed? The question then arises, what is proper exposure? The colors should not be washed out, or too dark. Detail should be visible in the dark shadows, as well as in the highlights. Unless, of course, the photographer is using a creative way of handling exposure, such as, high key or low key lighting. The judge must try to determine what the original intention of the photographer may have been, and perhaps more importantly, was this intention achieved?

Depth-of-field is another important aspect of any photographic image. Photos of landscapes generally require the image to be tack sharp from front to back. Any blurring in the image needs to be analyzed to determine if it is there for creative effect, or was it simply an unintentional accident of a careless photographer? However, many creative uses of depth-of-field are common where intentional blur is used for creative effect and to direct the eye of the beholder. This is often a very useful creative technique in macro photography. The judge must analyze the depth-of-field and determine how well the photographer handled this important element.

Most judges will have seen many good images, and even excellent images. So the photograph that makes the greatest impact will standout above the others. It will have a “wow” factor, and may reveal something new, creative and interesting. Many factors may contribute to the impact of an image; light, subject matter, color, something new, an ordinary subject shown in an extraordinary way, etc. This is where the photographer’s creative ability often shines.

Another aspect the judge will consider is the technique used to create the photograph. The outstanding image will usually display something new or innovative. The judge may examine the photograph to see if a technique such as, long exposure, motion blur, HDR, infrared, etc. has been used that enhances the image and sets it above the rest?

By a careful review of the composition, exposure, depth-of-field, impact and technique, the judge can assign an appropriate evaluation to the image. Meaningful comments by the judge can also be very useful in the photographer’s growth and development.