International Judging & Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 1

Over the course of may years, I have been faced with a huge number of questions questions regarding image competitions. If I had a pound for every time someone asked me “Martin, why didn’t this score a Merit?” (A ‘Merit’ is an image scoring 80 points or more in the system of most well known photographic organisations in the World) then I would be an incredibly wealthy man with no aspirations on winning the lottery! But perhaps I can at least go into the criteria and scoring systems as adopted by the majority of the professional and vocational bodies in the world together with reputable worldwide, international and national competitions and shed a little light on what should not be one of the great mysteries of our age. The true aim of this is to enlighten those who aspire to Qualifications and Distinctions or simply want a fighting chance in an image competition!

Thus follows a 12 part series on the science, systems, magic and mystery of International Judging and Scoring Systems in Photography…


So how are images judged? Well this too varies considerably but in those countries who have adopted the numerical scoring system images are ‘judged on the box’, which is to say using five judges who enter scores on a keypad attached to what is essential a big calculator that averages out the scores that are announced by the Chairman of the panel. If there is a significant variance in the average scores by a margin of 10 points or more the machine goes into overdrive, begins flashing and alerts the Chairman of the anomaly. At this point an ‘automatic challenge’ takes place by which the judges are called upon to justify their respective scores. This process is certainly one of the most valuable and entertaining in ‘open judging’ where so much is to be learned by an eager and enthusiastic audience hoping to glean words of wisdom and interpretation from esteemed ‘experts’ that constitute the panel of judges.

Wherever and whenever an electronic system is unavailable then there is an option to score manually, using an Excel Spreadsheet or similar to undertake the calculations. This is quite straightforward.

Some countries are in the process of developing or having already developed systems to function as “Apple iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch applications that basically equate to the old ‘electronic box’ option as originated in the USA.

These are the ‘Mechanics’ of judging and scoring a traditional ‘Print’ Competition, but the world of digital presents many new challenges. In essence, the methods remain the same but the Judges MUST be sufficiently experienced to understand the limitations of digital projection or online assessment on unmatched monitors in multiple locations.*



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