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Judge Guidelines

Guidelines to Judges – this applies mainly to internal competitions

A look at the present system
Since taking on the role of Judges and Presenters Secretary I have tried to improve the status of Welsh judging by setting up the star rating system, removing the A and B judging lists and replacing the latter with a Main list and Supplementary list.  This may sound a different name for the same thing, but it is not.  The Supplementary list contains new judges, judges that have had no or few returns in the last two years, and judges that have not yet reached the WPF standard of three stars or above. Thus the Supplementary list has allowed me the freedom to elevate judges to the main list or vice versa, so that judges on the main list have been vetted by the clubs that they have attended.  Any judge that feels they should be on the Main list have only to look at the Judging list on the WPF website to see why they are not there.  The two numbers (2,1 for example) tell you that I have had two returns from the same club; 2,2 would mean two returns from two different clubs.  It is up to the judge to ask the club to fill in the online form after they have judged there.  Some clubs are very good at this, others need cajoling and some never fill in forms.

Before the Internet or my email inbox gets full of irate comments, these are only guidelines and are not WPF policy – they are meant to be helpful to judges and any positive and constructive comments to improve the guidelines will be gratefully accepted.  I have put them together after consultation with experienced judges and based on the most common comments that I have had on club returns over the past two years – and I thank all those clubs that have participated in this.  Also Jan and I held a very constructive Judges Training day as an experiment to see how it would pan out.  We kept the number to four and spent five hours in a structured but informal critique session.  The session was recorded so that the judges could take home a copy and listen to themselves.  They found it very helpful.  Some of the lessons learnt are incorporated in these guidelines.

Before arrival at the venue
Make sure you have the correct day and start time, the address and a contact number with at least one member of the club, preferably the comp. sec.  Arrive early if you can. Take a torch to read your notes by.  An astronomical tip!  place a red filter over the torch – a red light will not disturb your audience (you can purchase plastic film on the internet).  Do not use one of the high-powered laser pointers that nearly burn a hole in the screen!  They are dangerous and their use is banned in many institutions (see here).

Introduction before starting your critique
Keep your introduction short and not about yourself. Give some idea of the quality of work produced – you may even hint as to whether it was better or not as good as last time you judged at the club.  Explain how you have gone about assessing and marking the pictures, particularly a set subject.  If you have any queries about how the set subject should be judged, ask the comp. sec. what he/she requires beforehand.  As an example I judged a competition called ‘Night’.  One picture was actually called ‘Cardiff Bay at Dusk’, and there was detail in the sky.  I would not call that night – so I asked the club how strictly they wanted me to judge the set subject.  There are many other examples and judges often get criticized quite unfairly for taking too firm an approach.  A seascape is not a landscape, but is a seascape OK to be included in a set subject called landscape?  The great thing about the set subject is that it concentrates your photography, but the photographer should be careful to follow the remit.  In the absence of specific instructions, it is probably better for the judge to interpret the remit as widely as possible as this is an evening of entertainment after all.  If you don’t think a piece of work fits, don’t exclude it, just critique and mark accordingly – i.e. say you don’t feel it fits in as well as others in the set.

In the case of DPIs, say what equipment the judging has been made on.  The images often look completely different when projected on a strange projector.  I have even upped a score on the night if I feel the image has projected much better than when I viewed on my monitor.  Do not lower a score, however.  Either use a monitor or projector to make your assessments on, not a laptop with a small screen.  I have received several adverse comments where judges have used a small laptop to make their assessments.

 How to present yourself to your audience
If you need to, make simple notes to remind yourself of the key points of each picture.  Often one word is all you need – contrast (means lacking in or too much contrast) – pixelated, over-sharpened, bright top LHC (means lightest part of picture in top left hand corner).  Remember these are only reminders, you will already have decided what you are going to say.

 Talk to the audience, not to the picture.  This is one of the most common complaints I receive about judges. Look at the picture to remind yourself of the next point you want to talk about; then turn to the members to explain it.  Your voice will not carry with your head turned away.

Try to always start your critique with some positive comments.  Not always easy to do, but I am told it comes with practise.  Then look at the issues and things that could be improved, and end on a positive note.

Never try to guess how a photograph was created – it invariably leads to disaster.  Use phrases that leave you some room to manoeuvre like ‘it may have been’ or ‘possibly it was’ and not ‘you obviously used’ or ‘this was cloned in’.

Do not dwell too much on technical issues – try to assess the photograph as a picture and what it tells you, or the emotional reaction it provokes – point out what may improve this further.  Some judges say that titles are not important and that the picture should speak for itself.  Many disagree and think that titles can be useful.  It gives the photographer the chance to add a little more information about the picture, or why he/she took it.  Some pictures can be very obscure and a title may help. Remember – entertain – don’t recount your own images – way of working –  except in cases where it is of real benefit.  Do not recount your life story, and most of all DON’T REPEAT.  This is a common fault, especially at the end of a long evening when the judge is tired.

Marking internal competitions and deciding on the range of marks – your contractual obligation
Many English clubs do not have scores, just a critique, but they offer awards at the end of the judging session; gold (20), silver (19), bronze (18), HC (17)and C (16).  In effect this covers the marking range from 20 to 16, with everyone else getting a 15.  This should be quite sufficient for clubs to use the marks to determine an overall winner at the end of the year, and refutes the old argument that clubs need marks to determine this.

The advantage of issuing awards is that the important critique is remembered and not a low mark that the photographer feels they were unjustly awarded.  I would like to encourage all clubs to drop the marking system in place of awards.  Some clubs already use this system and it is a pleasure to judge there.

Scoring is probably one of the most controversial subjects both with judges and clubs and you may well not agree with what is suggested here – but these are guidelines!

When a judge agrees to judge a competition he/she is obliged to follow the conditions laid down by the club.  Thus if a judge is asked for one winner or one twenty, then one winner  or one twenty is what should be provided – regardless of whether the judge has his/her own views.  There are experienced judges out there who feel that there are times when it is not appropriate to offer a twenty.  Why?  What are they basing their judgement on?  They are supposed to be judging the pieces of work set in front of them which will vary from competition to competition.  Thus the best piece of work on that night should earn a twenty whether or not it is of salon quality.  By all means make a statement that it may have scored a twenty in this competition, but is not, in your opinion of salon or inter-club competition quality.  In any case if the club has specifically asked for the top mark to be a twenty then you should abide by that.

Just one comment here made by one of our judges – he noticed that when he gave a top mark of 18 or 19 it produced a sombre atmosphere in the evenings entertainment, but on evenings where a twenty was awarded, members went home with a satisfied look on their faces.  Since then he always awards a top mark of twenty, but he always qualifies this decision.

Reminder!  Before you begin to make your assessment, make sure you read the remit carefully, where one had been provided by the club – and stick to it.

Once you have had a good look at the pictures you will have decided the best and the weakest piece of work.  From there you can fill in.  I seem to remember something called a normal curve, where the majority will fall in the middle range.  Thus you may end up grouping your pictures 17 and above, 15s and 16s, and 14 and below.  The lowest score awarded is up to the judge.  Some do not like to offer a mark below 14. Equally I have online forms sent in where some clubs complain that the marking range was too shallow and they would prefer marks below 14 to be offered.  I would suggest that a judge does not go below 9 but it is only a suggestion.  We do not want to put photographers off competing.  In any case if the standard is high on the night the lowest score will be much higher than 9 – judges have reported that on a really good night they did not feel justified in awarding a mark below 14 or 15.  Once you have decided on a mark, justify why you have given the mark, but never apologise.  A few judges do apologise and this suggests that they are either embarrassed by their decision, or would rather not have made it at all.  It is rather demeaning of their status as a judge.

I have suggested that clubs may like to inform the judge of the range they prefer – though controversial, clubs may like to consider adding it to their instructions to the judge (see The role of the club at the end of these guidelines).

Marking inter-club battles and external competitions
Much the same applies to these competitions, except the standard should be a lot higher with clubs putting in their best work.  Thus one would expect the lowest mark to be higher.  Because of the style of this type of competition, judges should be aware that if they offer a very low mark (say 9 or lower) to a piece of work, they may wreck the chances of that club competing for the highest spots because even getting 19s or 20s for their other pieces of work will not be enough.  Common sense should be applied.

Keeping to time – assessing the time required to carry out a fair critique
The time available to critique each piece of work will vary depending on the number of entries so the first thing to do is divide the time available by the number of entries.  Remember that some clubs have to be out of their clubrooms by a certain time and you have to allow 5 minutes for announcements and some time for the tea-break.  I make a point about club responsibilities to judges at the end of these guidelines.  Some pieces of work require a longer time spent on them than others – often beginners work takes longer to critique because there are more issues such as composition and technical faults.  The top pictures may be so good that all you need to say is ‘this is great – I love it’.  Check your watch occasionally to see how time is progressing.  You will probably find you will slow down towards the end of the evening as you get tired.  Ask the comp. sec. to warn you if you need to speed up.

Judging beginners work
I have suggested that clubs asterisk beginners’ work to allow the judge to adjust their critique accordingly.  This has been met with conflicting views.  I will discuss this further in ‘The role of the club’ at the end of these guidelines.

 Judging Nature, Wildlife and Natural History
This is a very specialised subject and at internationals there is usually at least one specialised judge present to help with difficult appraisals of a picture.

WPF judges cannot be expected to be experts at all forms of photography so the advice is to play safe when you are not on firm ground.  There are rules that apply to wildlife photography as used by associations such as the PAGB, the PSA and FIAP usually under the sections Nature or Wildlife.  The WPF use the term Natural History rather than Nature.  The rules are basically the same except that Nature includes landscape, geology, weather including aurorae, and the rules are not so strict regarding animals which may be filmed in places such as zoos.  Please read the definitions and understand them before marking Nature or Wildlife.  While it is useful to understand these rules, in CLUB competitions these definitions may be relaxed and the picture treated like any other with manipulation being allowed,  unless the club has specifically stated that it is a nature/wildlife competition abiding by PSA/FIAP rules.

Note!  All wildlife/nature images in an OPEN competition are allowed to be manipulated.

It is unfortunate that recently there has been a lot of cheating in wildlife competitions with animals having been cloned in. This has largely come about because the required standards are so high in wildlife competitions that to even get an acceptance the main subject has to be doing something.  It is not enough to have ‘a bird on a stick’ to use an old phrase.  The animal or bird has to be on a kill or have something in its beak.  This has led to judges becoming suspicious.

My advice to judges is that unless you are absolutely certain in what you are about to say – don’t say it.  Trust that all is as it should be and mark accordingly.  After all, if your suspicion is correct, the photographer is only cheating him/herself and their fellow club members.  I suspect they will soon be dealt with internally.

It would help the judge a LOT if wildlife photographers marked their work with ‘Wild’ or ‘Captive’ or ‘Nature Park’ to remove some of the doubt, but this is somewhat controversial and should probably be left as an individual choice.

Before leaving please remind the club to fill in the online feedback form.


The Role of the Club

I have produced a standard form and would appreciate it if all clubs would use it to send out to judges.  It contains:  The title of the competition, the club name and address with a map and postcode for satnav., at least one contact telephone number of a person in the club who can be contacted on the night, the start time of the event, the name of the judge with his/her distinctions, a comprehensive list of instructions for the judge (some of these discussed below), the amount of the judges’ expenses.  As a guide this may be the WPF mileage rate which at present stands at 0.35p per mile.  Some judges charge a lot less that this, but some include a fee.  This should be agreed at the time of booking.  As this can be as much as two years in advance, some allowance for inflation should be agreed if it applies at the time of the competition.  Also a list of the prints/DPIs with titles and space for comments and a mark, and instructions on the order that you want them presented (see below).

If possible make sure there is a parking space available – some judges are disabled.  Provide a glass of COLD water in a CLEAN glass (let the tap run a bit and try some before putting it before the judge).

Pay the agreed expenses – the judge should not have to ask for them.

When emailing a judge (or speaker) please ensure that on ALL your emails there is the name of the club you represent.  Judges and speakers cannot always put a members’ name to a club, especially if they are in demand and have lots of emails to deal with.

Include with your prints/DPIs a hard copy of your standard form and a hard copy map.  Preferably include a Google Earth map with your clubhouse clearly marked with an arrow.  A zip code is not accurate enough.  Have a copy of these on a USB stick.

A full list of written instructions to the judge should be included with a list of prints and DPIs with titles and a space for comments and marks. These should be in printed form, but also present on a USB stick, either as a table in Word or as an Excel file. The judge can then, if they wish, fill in his/her comments and results directly onto the form.  These may be given to the comp. sec. after the meeting so that a copy is available for members who could not attend the meeting.  The instructions should include any specific rules that the club wants to give the judge regarding marking (discussed above) or awards should be stated.  For example:

    • How many 20s are allowed and whether it is one twenty for the whole competition, or one for each section (i.e., colour print, mono print, colour PDI, mono PDI, etc). Whether to judge the pictures as a panel or individually.
    • Preferred range of marks if the club considers this important (and from the returns I get, this is important to some clubs).
    • The list of prints/PDIs with asterisks against beginners work (optional, but would be helpful), and space for comments and a mark and the preferred order of presentation.
    • How DPIs are to be projected – in the club order, or has the judge the freedom to re-arrange them.

The prints/PDIs should be given to the judge well in advance or it should be agreed that this is to be judged ‘on the night’.  Many judges will not judge ‘on the night’.

Clubs should keep their announcements short, or carry them out before the meeting begins or during the tea-break.  It is unfair to cut into judges’ critique time, particularly if there are a large number of pieces of work.  This is particularly important if you have to be out of your premises at a certain time and the judge is not able to ‘over run’.  If time is precious – keep the tea-break short.

Treat the judge with respect – they give up a lot of their time for you – make sure someone in the club is responsible for looking after them, especially if it is their first visit and they may not know anyone.  Remember, by definition, by entering your work you are asking for it to be critiqued.  You may not agree with the judge, but you have to accept his/her decision.  One club actually has the following statement as part of their club rules and the WPF fully endorse this:

“Please treat all visiting judges (and presenters) with the utmost respect at all times. They are honoured guests who have been invited to give their opinions. Under no circumstances should a member challenge those decisions or make derogatory comments. Any such outbursts will be regarded as a serious breach of club etiquette and could be regarded as bringing the club into disrepute.”

Remember also that many judges have done a full day’s work and may be tired – they certainly will be by the end of the evening.  It is also unfortunate that due to timing most judges have to get to their venue during the rush hour which is stressful.  Make sure that there is someone at the premises half an hour before the meeting begins, not ten minutes as happened to me recently.  In the case of a presenter, they should be offered help in and out of the venue with their equipment.  How many times do we see a mass exodus at the end of the meeting with no offer of help?

Please send in the online form - the judge has spent a lot of his/her spare time assessing your pictures and deserves a little time spent by you to give feedback.  It is your feedback that is improving judge performance in the WPF allowing me to inform each judge on a twice yearly basis with a summary of your comments.  Much of this document has come about through your feedback.  It has been made very quick and easy now with the online forms.  Please keep it up, or join the other clubs who regularly fill in the form.  A big thank you to those who do.

Ed Cloutman January 2015
WPF Judges and Presenters’ Secretary