Guidance for Judges

Many of our internal competitions, such as the bi-monthlies, are judged by members. While experience is always helpful, judging is something most people can learn to do and there are members on hand who will be willing to help you if it’s your first time. This page should serve as a useful resource for judges new and old.

Before we dive in, I’d like to remind you that judging images for the club is greatly appreciated by your fellow members. It gives you an opportunity to hone your public speaking skills and to take a longer and more considered look at many of our member’s work, to learn from their strengths and weaknesses. You’ll also be able to offer your own insights and experience to help members improve their photography.

Before you get started

  • Make sure the screen you are viewing digital images on is well calibrated. That means it is accurately reproducing colours and not clipping shadow and highlight detail.
    Particularly if you choose to view images on a HD television – many of which will make images look over sharpened and saturated by default. Consult your owners manual for how to turn off special effects and processing, and take sliders for saturation, sharpness and contrast to neutral positions.
  • When judging prints be sure to do it under neutral white light. Daylight is ideal, but otherwise try and view them using a daylight temperature lightbulb – the club may be able to lend you one if you don’t have one at home. Viewing images under warm incandescent light will shift colours towards the red side of the spectrum.
  • Have a notebook handy. You’ll want to keep notes as you view and score the images. These will come in useful when presenting your scores to the club and will mean you won’t get stuck for something to say.
  • When making your notes, try and find something positive to say about every image. Even if you really don’t like the subject matter, if it is technically well done you can at least praise that. On the other hand if the technique is poor try and offer suggestions on how the author could improve. This kind of feedback is usually most gratefully received!
  • If you have questions or concerns, your competition secretaries will be more than happy to help.

Judging Technical Qualities

Issues arising from the techniques and equipment used to capture and edit an image.

  • Is the main subject of the photograph sharp and in focus? If not, has the author deliberately tried to use blur to evoke movement for example? The title of the piece may be helpful in making that determination.
  • Are parts of the photograph blown out? (All white or black with no detail). Is this a deliberate feature of the photograph, (e.g. to create a silhouette against a bright sky) or accidental? Does it enhance or detract from the photograph?
  • If the image has been heavily processed, has it been done well? For example for a nature image are the colours realistic? Are there halos, colour fringes or other artefacts around certain elements in the image that detract?
  • Are there optical issues with the image such as dust spots visible in the sky, lens distortion making straight lines bow, chromatic aberrations (coloured fringes) around high contrast areas, unwanted lens flare etc?
  • How much skill has gone into crafting the image? Has the author simply stood in front of a scene and hit the shutter or is there evidence of a more considered approach? For example an image with a long exposure requiring a tripod shows the author has taken time to setup and frame the scene.
  • Is the horizon level, or if it isn’t, has this been done deliberately or by accident?

Judging Subjective Qualities

How the image compares to accepted norms and your personal taste.

  • Is the composition pleasing? Has the author deliberately placed the main subject in part of the frame or does it appear accidental. We often talk about placing subjects on thirds (rule of thirds) but if the subject is elsewhere in the frame, does this help or hinder the image?
  • Are there leading lines in the image? Are they effective in leading your eye through the scene?
  • Does the image tell a story or have an emotional impact? If so, does it do so successfully?
  • Does the title help or hinder your interpretation of the image?
  • If the author has exaggerated the colours or converted them to monochrome, does this improve or detract? For example using black and white can be highly effective in revealing textures or concealing drab colours in a winter landscape, but might spoil a photograph of flowers where you’d expect to be able to see colour.
  • If there are people or animals in the frame, can you see their eyes? Do they have catch lights to bring them to life?
  • Do elements in the background of the image distract from the main subject or do they simply add more context?
  • Does the photograph give the subject enough space? Is it overly cropped or would it benefit from a tighter crop?
  • If there are multiple subjects in the frame, is the grouping visually pleasing to you?
  • Does the image feel lopsided with lots going on in one part and nothing in the other? Does this enhance or detract from what the author is trying to convey?
  • If the image doesn’t have a clear main subject does it work in another context, such as a pattern or abstract?
  • How well has the author met the requirements of the competition in terms of subject or theme?


  • The weighting you give to subjective and technical qualities is up to you, but it’s generally considered that subjective qualities are more important overall in making a successful image. If you look at many of the most iconic and famous photographs of the last century, many aren’t technically perfect in every respect for example.
  • It’s important to recognise and reward creativity and experimentation to avoid club photography becoming samey.
  • Like many clubs we score images out of twenty marks. We do not allow half marks.
  • Out of convention we very rarely ever score an image below 10. Scoring an image at or around 10 should only be done if it is extremely poor. For example showing severe technical failings such as the subject being completely and unintentionally out of focus with other distracting elements clearly in focus behind it. Another case may be where the competition asks for images of a specific subject matter and the author ignores that requirement.
  • It will often be tempting to reserve the top scores for your 1st, 2nd and 3rd place entries. However this approach isn’t ideal as it compresses the available scores you can use for other images, leaving you with a very narrow window of say 14 to 16 marks.
  • In addition to a numerical score, images can also be awarded “commended”, “highly commended”, 3rd, 2nd and 1st place. Each image may only have one award – an image can’t be highly commended and 3rd for example.
  • There is no limit on the number of commended or highly commended awards you can give, but being overly liberal with them will lower their perceived value. There can only be a total of 3 images given 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, so if for example there is a joint 1st, then there will be no 2nd place, and one 3rd place.
  • Make full use of the awards (commended, highly commended etc.) to expand the range of scores you can give. For example one image may score 17, and another 17 and commended. Equivalent to the difference between a C and a C+.
  • There is no rule against scoring multiple 20s or requiring you to reserve 18, 19 and 20 for 3rd, 2nd a 1st.
  • Similarly if none of the images truly strike you as outstanding you don’t have to give any 20s at all!
  • Try and be aware of and resist your own biases towards certain subjects and styles of photography when scoring. E.g. If you specialise in nature photography, consider whether this is influencing your scores for nature photographs in the competition one way or the other.
  • You have to assume the decisions of the photographer are generally deliberate, so you are scoring them based on how well they have executed on their vision, rather than how you would have taken the photograph yourself.


Perhaps the hardest part of judging for many is having to stand up and give their views and scores in front of other members. For most of us public speaking does not come naturally, so it can be a slightly scary experience the first few times you do it. Just remember you are among friends and have your notes prepared and rehearsed and you’ll be fine. Here are some general tips for presenting your scores:

  • Please don’t simply describe each photograph back to the audience to fill time, if you don’t have much to say simply give the score and move on.
  • Be aware that images may project differently to how you saw them at home – slight alterations of your scores on the night are permitted if you feel them warranted.
  • Try to be consistent between your praise or criticism and your score. For example if you heap praise on an image and give it a low score and then criticise another harshly but still score it highly, it can be confusing for the audience and frustrating for the photographer.
  • Be wary of making sweeping statements or making assumptions about the veracity of elements in an image.
  • The club has clipboards with reading lights to help you read your notes in the dark.
  • We have a number of members who are hard of hearing so we ask all judges to use the PA system so all members can fully enjoy the evening. We now have a high quality lapel microphone which means you don’t need to worry about holding anything when presenting.