Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Here Come The Judge

Since I’ve been a judge on a few print/projection nights, I thought I’d talk about how I use the Boise Camera Club (BCC) scoring system.

The first category of judging (for me anyway), is Impact. According to the guidelines BCC is using, Impact includes:
* Striking color.
* Unique subject or lighting.
* Unusual camera position or tilt.
* Depiction of motion.
* Unusually high or low key subjects.
* Close-up or macro.
* Story-telling elements.
* Strong mood elements/emotional impact.
When I judge Impact, I use my immediate reaction, and there are 3 possibilities;
  • The photo makes me immediately say, “Wow!” It elicits an emotional response of some sort (either positive or negative). Photos like this score a 3. For a photo to score a 3, in my judging, it must contain an emotional aspect.
  • The photo makes me immediately say, “What?” It elicits no emotional response - in fact, often it elicits (nearly) no reaction at all. Photos like this score a 1.
  • Everything else scores 2. Photos like this might be great photos, outstanding even, but if they don’t contain any emotional characteristics, then it’s not good enough to score 3. For me, emotion can come from seemingly emotion-less photos. For example, I saw a photo of a rose bud - an inanimate object. And yet the subject matter was lonely (it was a solitary bud), and hopeful (the petals were just beginning to emerge).

The second judging category is Technical. According to the guidelines BCC is using, Technical includes:
* Proper color balance was used throughout the scene.
* Color was used to create a high or low key image.
* Color adds impact or tension to the image.
* If the depth-of-field causes sharpness to the entire scene.
* Selective focus is used to create mood or feeling in the image
* If the depth-of-field is used to blur or mute an unbecoming background.
When I look at photos, most of these characteristics are either/or decisions.
  • Either a photo has good color, or it doesn’t.
  • Either the pic is in focus, or it’s not.
  • Either it’s printed well, or it’s not.
  • Etc.

This is not to say there is only one “correct” color, or focus, etc. I’ve seen some B&W photos that because of the printing turned out having a greenish hue. But because the of the subject matter, I thought the greenish hue added to the photo. If a photo hits all the technical aspects, it scores a 3. If it hits none of the technical aspects, or one aspect is so poor it distracts from the rest of the photo, it scores a 1.

The third judging category is Composition. According to the guidelines BCC is using, Composition includes:
* Strong elements were used, such as (leading) lines, curves, circles and angles.
* Center-of-interest is balanced with the other elements.
* Elements were properly placed in the scene.
* Good use of foreground and background to provide spatial relationships.
* Negative elements have been eliminated.
Whereas the first two categories (Impact and Technical) seem mostly objective to me, this third one is much more subjective. When I see a photo, either there is immediate impact, or there isn’t (to state the obvious: it has impact for me, or it doesn’t. I don’t claim to know whether or not it will impact anyone else differently than me). The photo is either technically well done, or it’s not. Composition, however, is a matter of choice and personal preference.

First, I look for intentionality in the composition. I think accidental composition hurts what could otherwise be a good photo. For example, if a photo has a horizon that is off level by just a few degrees, it looks accidental, even if it was done intentionally. I think it detracts from the overall effect. It looks lazy too, as if the photographer couldn’t be bothered with correcting that small error. If, on the other hand, the horizon is 20° or more off level, it looks like an intentional choice. I may not agree with the choice, but at least it was intentional.
Likewise, I look at the compositional choices. Did the photographer use the Rule of Thirds? Or did they decide to break that rule? I’m fine with standard photographic rules being broken, as long as it’s an intentional decision, an artistic choice. Did the photographer crop the photo cutting off the model’s legs right at the ankle or knee? I see that as a big mistake. Did the photographer make a decision to include only half the face? I like those decisions, again, if they’re made intentionally.

Lastly, I think about how I might have composed the same photo. If the photo seems awkwardly composed, it can’t score a 3. If a better composition seems obvious to me, the photo will score either 2 or 1, depending on how far it is from the “best” composition.

Sometimes I think I might have composed it differently, even on perfectly composed photos. But my composition wouldn’t be any better - just different. Photos with perfect composition score 3, even if I think I might have composed it differently.

One last thing, the average score, according to our BCC guidelines, should be 6. When I think of the average photo on print/projection nights, I consider the average compared to club photos, not against all the photos on facebook or flickr. I think our average BCC photo should be above average when compared to the snapshots of most people; and they are. Our average photos are often really good. First, we’re better photographers than most of the people out there. Second, we judge our own photos, looking for the best of what we’ve taken. Third, we process our photos trying to bring out the best in that particular photo. The result is: Projection night receives the best of the best, and therefore, the standards should be high.

One other last thing (which makes two last things), I’m always open for critique, even critique of my critiquing skills. Just as I’m trying to improve my skills as a photographer, I’m trying to improve my skills as a judge/critiquer. I’m working to better understand why I like someone’s photo, why a particular photo impacts me, and why some seemingly good photos miss the mark - in my opinion. I want to be able to express my thoughts, not just praise a photo with, “That’s a great photo.” And I don’t ever want to say, “That’s not a good photo,” without being able to explain why I think that, including suggestions for how I think it could be improved.
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