We had a great excursion on Sunday to the Mt Lofty Botanical Gardens. Head on over to Camera Clips and you can check out the gallery of images that has been submitted by those attending. Click here
The first judging at a photography club! Scary!
Alberto called me on Monday of last week – could I fill in at the last minute for a club south of Adelaide? According to Alberto, a bit of a trip, but they were a friendly crowd, a bit like our little happy troop. So on Friday, Alberto and I trekked down the Victor Harbor Road on a wet foggy night to South Coast Camera Club.
On the way we discussed (amongst other things) judging and how to be consistent. I’d re-read my judging school notes over the last few days, and thought about what I was trying to give back. There was lots to think about, and I didn’t want to be the type of judge I had complained about.
On the night, about 40 people were present, and about 100 images ready to be judged! Now I was scared – I’d been told there would be about 50 images! They must have heard there was a gringo judge coming down! Competition Secretary Brad Hodge, President Andy Mitchell, Vice President Mike Gillies and Club Secretary Wendy Hodge greeted me and led me through the procedures and informed me about the 100 images. The gringo judge was ready!
Brad and Mike presented the images and to be honest, the image quality was very good – similar to our little group. I had spent 10-15 minutes looking at the images before judging started to find what I felt were the top ones – judge between what is there on the night as Keith Seidel kept telling us at judging school.
The set subject was Macro – something I feel I do well. However, Brad led with Open Colour – so it took me a while to get into my rhythm. When we did get to the Macro prints, I’d already judged 40 images and I’d done my homework and felt better about this set. Moving on to set mono prints was a doddle in comparison – just a handful of images there. Digital was harder as they weren’t divided into set or open, and choosing the best after 1 pass is no fun at all. That’s one reason I always give the judge at least 5 seconds to look at an image (time me next competition). All the time, I tried to keep it light and put in the odd one liner or joke. President Andy scored a few references from me (he started it when this horse image was shown at the start!).
It’s amazing how you need to find the faults to tease out the scores. Yes – I dropped marks for poor focus, softness in the wrong place, composition that broke up what could have been a good image, not being close enough (Robert Capa strikes again!) and distraction (aargh – highlights!). I also docked marks for confusing or difficult images. Was that wrong? It is difficult to be consistent when there is such a broad spectrum of images. I did offer them the chance to beat me up after – in an orderly queue. To help novices, SCCC give the judge a little hint as to who is a novice – as a cue to increase the feedback – with a little yellow tag. And to be fair, a lot of the novice images were actually very good – and scored well.
Some images just didn’t click with me, and finding the right words is very difficult when you want to be constructive. However, in the end, I felt I had done my best, and no lynch mob lined up outside to give me rough justice in return.
Like our club, there were more colour prints than mono. There were fewer macro images than I expected, but I gave it my best shot. Some weren’t quite macro, but Brad requested I be flexible.
I did change my score once or twice (bad boy!) and dropped the dreaded “step to the left” comment once (it really did need it – but I qualified it by prefacing it with “many judges would say”). Nerves were part of it – but then again I can talk my way out of most things given time, and I felt I did get more consistent. Alberto coached me from the sidelines between sections (a bit like a footy match) and gave me the thumbs up when I got things right, and a subtle shake of the head when I didn’t.
My spread of marks was probably a bit high to start with (why so many 8s?) but I did settle down. I don’t think I handed out a 5, but a few images scored only 6.
SCCC finish each section by getting the judge to choose the Honour (one of them – thank goodness I handed out only one 10 in each) and Merit images (3 – I handed out too many 9s) and at the end of the night the image of the night from the top 4. Talk about putting me on the spot again!
Fortunately, when all was done and dusted, I felt I’d given out top scores to the best images, and given some reasonable and constructive feedback. And exhaustion was setting in. Remarkably, 90 minutes of judging flew by.
The night finished with some supper – a short talk from me on macro stacking, and the usual thank you’s etc. The stacking talk resulted in an invitation to come back for a workshop. I hope I’ve made some new friends at SCCC!
On the trip home I had my debrief with Alberto. Pretty good for a first time and I gave the top scores to what he would have. A few things though – don’t change the score, try and keep the constructive comments up as much as possible – particularly with the really difficult images, don’t refer to other images with faults as an example of why an image worked. Ok – I need more practice.
I dropped Alberto at his house at about 11:45pm – and got home at about 12:15am. I couldn’t get to sleep. Had I given the images the justice they deserved? Did I offend any one? I hope not. I had probably dropped a couple of clangers and as I said, tell me what you are trying to achieve.
Overall, I was reasonably comfortable with my first effort – not perfect, but not disastrous. I’ve learnt a few things and appreciate the effort good judges put in more. I promise to try harder for more consistency and constructive comment. I need to make sure that even the most difficult image gets given a positive comment. If I don’t – let me know!
This little web page has been a source of much discussion – heated and rational – about the judging standards in photographic clubs. We aren’t the only ones, but in our little corner of the world we were a squeaky wheel.
Our web page and the articles (in March 2011 and April 2014) about judging have been used as ammunition in a battle both in South Australia and South America (I kid you not). There are probably others (drop us a line if you did). I’m sure many people have read our blog and nodded or shaken their heads. Felt our pain. Shared in the angst of inadequate judging.
The discussion began due to the frustration many of us felt about the quality of photographic club judges. They seemed mired in the past. The technical aspects were the only thing examined. Trends in modern photography ignored. Were we pursuing art or were we aiming to be good technicians? I confess that I’m one of the instigators of this discussion. I had seen my photography decline as I tried to please a bunch of people that to me seemed locked in a time warp somewhere around 1970. I realised what I was doing and started to climb out of the abyss. It took some time.
The squeaky wheels – not just our little club – started to be heard around the photography clubs in this state. Judges were discussed in both whispers and loudly.
How could we change things? We discussed this many times. The suggestion – change it from within. “No” many of us cried. “Too hard”. “Don’t have the time”. “It’d be a lone voice lost in the wind”.
At the same time, the SAPF executive noticed – and set about reform and change. Training more judges. Getting a broader range of opinions. Keith Seidel and John Hodgson took on the task. SAPF President Alberto Guirelli talked at club meetings around the state about changing the culture. He even became a judge!
Judging schools were revised. Other opinions sought. The SAPF now had more and varied judges. We started to notice something new in the judges that came to our club. We were often told that the scoring was their opinion. That our own opinion of our images counted as much. What? Hang on? What happened to the 1970s technical judge? That rule of thirds guy? They were starting to fade. Technical issues were still considered – but as a method to refine down to what was the best image of the night. Not as the only arbiter of what was a good photography club image.
And then one night last year I was asked to put my own voice into the mix by Keith Seidel after a particularly poor judging effort we had both observed. “Come along to the judging school. Be part of the process.” said Keith. I had to put up or shut up.
So in February this year, 10 of us went along to SAPF head quarters and spent the day learning about how to judge. We went through a range of topics led by Keith, Peter Phillips (who judged one of my first images when I started) and Des Berwick.
We heard about what made a good image – Visual Impact, Composition, Interesting, Purpose, Originality. Oh – and then some technique. But not to exclude the other aspects.
We discussed distractions in an image. Balance was considered. Flat lighting. Things that diluted what could be interesting.
And then the crux of it – judging is relative and not to some pre-conceived standard. Judging should be diplomatic. A good judge should recognise a good image and have an open mind to other image types. Bias should be left outside as should ego. Cliche’s abandoned. Keep up with new trends. Be an active photographer. Understand photographic camera and processing techniques. Be Consistent and Constructive and Entertaining.
Ye Gods! This sounded like our wish list! What had happened? People had listened!
The day progressed with some technical discussions about defining set subjects, handling standard images (pelicans and meerkats!), what is “someone else’s art”, image border sizes, photographic quality (golden means, odds numbers, diagonals etc), plagiarism & copyright, types of paper suiting the image. There was a lot more……
The differences between solo judging and panel judging were discussed. We got to do a panel judging of our own just before lunch – a very sobering exercise.
Then we got into some examples – using stills from television programmes. Yes – some of the best photographic art is in TV and film. The creative use of light, focus, placement, viewpoint, perspective. Look at the great artists such as Turner or any of the impressionists. The history of photographic techniques. Trends from modern photographers like Trent Parke (Australia’s own and only Magnum photographer). Learning from the great photographers of the past and present and why they are great.
More aspects of judging – what to say and what not to say! Get rid of those cliches that add nothing.
We covered country judging too – supporting those who can’t have a judge on site every meeting. (For reference 1/3 of South Australia lives outside of Adelaide and deserve better). I’m pleased to say I’ve signed up to help Jeff Venning and his country judging team.
The day had a lot to take in. I’ve got pages of notes and thoughts and ideas.
To finish we judged ourselves. We’d been asked to send in 10 images which were mixed up and presented to us. We judged each of them and noticed the mix of scores around the room. Some were instant hits, other images divided the scores. In that session the broad church of judging was clearly exposed.
At the end of our day – and it was a long one – Keith announced that he and the others felt we were all ready to go out into the big wide world of club judging. A surprise perhaps, but Keith has been watching and listening to us. At the recent SAPF AGM and Delegates Meeting Keith reported exactly the same thing.
Thanks Keith, Peter and Des – I promise to do my best.
So there you have it – a mea culpa of sorts from me. I’m now a photography club judge. Will I bring a new perspective and more balance? I’m a bit apprehensive – but will give it a go. If you find my judging inadequate let me know. Tell me about what you were trying to achieve. I’m not perfect and have never claimed to be. But I am empathetic – and maybe that will be my saving grace.
The images – 116 incredibly varied photographs.
The judge – David Smith.
The Outcome – BPC members with music in their souls!
About 45 BPC members and visitors attended on a night with colourful and intriguing images of music being performed, danced to, instruments close ups, musicians in action and lots more. Some images obviously came from the archives (a very young Cliff Richard was observed). And some images were so fresh they had titles like Music 1 and Music 2. Mad March in Adelaide supplied a lot of the images from the Clipsal 500, the Adelaide Festival of Arts, the Adelaide Fringe and WOMAD. There was something for everyone! Even beer (well – a picture of beer).
Judge David Smith worked through the images with care despite the large number, giving constructive critique and a fairly large number of 10s in the process. Not that the recipients complained!
Keep on dancing to the music!
Arthur Farmer was guest speaker at our March meeting. I can say that I really enjoyed his presentation. He gave a talk on Black and white photography. Arthur has a preference for monochrome slides. With the switch to digital media it is getting a lot harder to do nowadays. His favourite film has gone out of production and he needs to send it away to the US to print his slides. I took some rough notes from Arthur’s talk. I would like to put some of his images into this article. Hopefully I will be able to add some as they become available.
It was apleasure watching the skillfully crafted images. Arthur mixed his slides with explanations of his approach to photography. “Photography is representational and not just representative”. He quoted widely, Will Nolan, Ken Rockwell, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston. “Simplify and Exclude” was the mantra of Ken Rockwell. The ‘s’ from simplify and the ‘ex’ from exclude make the acronym sex. “Removing colour stripped back an image to its elements”, Arthur explained, “black and white is the essence of the subject, the root of art.”
Arthur exhibits a high level of technical competence. His landscapes are sharp from the foreground to the back ground. He handles highlights and dark areas well, preserving detail where possible. He uses texture to good effect. Arthur explains, “The first impression of an image is emotional and therefore important and often better than analytical or logical evaluation.”
Quoting Edward Weston he exhorts us to pre-visualize the image before taking it. Arthur believed in composing pictures. He uses lines to lead to the subject. Silhouettes can be powerful, as can movement. Curves, textures, Shadow, foreground details are all important. Real life has too much detail. The photographer has to simplify things. Get in close. It is OK to crop things out of the picture. Keep it sharp.
A longer article from this session has been posted in Camera clips. So make sure you have a read. As said previously, I really enjoyed this session. It gets back to the joys and pleasures of taking photographs. To quote Arthur, “’amateur’ comes from the Latin word ‘amore’, meaning to love. That’s why we take photographs, because we love it.”