Online Portfolio Appraisals – Limited Offer!

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Have you been frustrated by the lack of success when entering photo competitions? You keep entering awards & competitions and not getting the results you wished for. Ever wondered why some photographers have a monopoly on winning competitions. Or is the world of awards nothing more than a murky secret?
Here is your chance to discover the ‘mysteries’ of how an image is marked by the leading judges in the world of professional photography via the medium of 1:1 ONLINE portfolio reviews by Martin Grahame-Dunn.
The format is very informal and questions are invited and expected throughout. If you would like to see how your image will fare in a competition, you will need to book a session, download the ‘’ app and send a folder of images at 1000 pixels at 300dpi to Martin. A one hour session is only £40 until August 1st 2015. Contact Martin now on 07854 249710 or email at

Reflecting on 2014 – Moving into 2015

2014 proved to be a really interesting and varied one for me.

After a busy ‘Societies Convention’ working with Photomart demonstrating their new iLux Lighting range in January, it was followed a few weeks later to undertake an intensive weeks 1:1 consultancy of a photographer in Northern Minnesota.

In March I flew back to  Dubai for the HIPA Grand Event and portfolio reviews that achieved impressive feedback.

This spurred me on to design my own Mentoring Programme to develop a series of ‘hands on’ 1:1 time, combined with group training courses that delivered a combination of technical development for photographers coupled with business and marketing skills.  This took off really well and showed that demand in the UK is growing for high quality programmes such as this that are styled to fit the individual photographers work schedule and personal life.

The remainder of the year was no less eventful with further travels to The USA, Dubai, India, Tenerife and The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Judge and Lecture. coupled with my continued support of both and

In 2015, judging and lecturing worldwide will continue, repeating my Natural Light and Studio Courses as well as releasing limited places on my Mentoring Programme,  investing time and energy to support photographers all over the world to become the very best and achieve their full potential.

International Judging and Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 9 – “Creativity & Style”

I am publishing this post at the end of the 2014 PWS Annual Convention in Thessaloniki, Greece where I served as the Jury Chairman for the 4th year. The standard of imaging and the rise of competency and creativity in Greece and the Balkans has been meteoric. So, it only seems logical to feature the next criteria right here and now.

2. Creativity & Style

This is indeed the Million Dollar question. Is an image creative and if so, how do we attempt to define creativity? It is without question a thought process that demonstrates some degree of individuality or at the very least the desire for the artist to be ‘different’ from the masses. This is one of the ‘combination elements’ that can both positively and negatively affect an overall score. It can neither be ignored or denied that since the dawn of art let alone photography, an exponent learns their craft and techniques and therefore by implication, ‘creativity’ by emulating the work (copying) of their ‘Master’. In the case of Photography it is easy to see the direct influences of those who instruct. However, that should be the first step to improving technique and once those techniques are indeed mastered, the next step is to develop one’s own style. This may manifest itself in the use of light, composition or processing technique that may be identified as more ‘unique’. On the premise that nothing is truly new in Photography, one can only aspire to being different. Once this difference is noticed by one’s peer then it can be said that an image maker has developed their own creativity and style.

My 'Style' of Steampunk Photography. Natural light in Studio, processed with Nik Software

My ‘Style’ of Steampunk Photography. Natural light in Studio, processed with Nik Software


International Judging and Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 7

Part 7 – The “Combination” Elements

• Creativity & Style

• Centre of Interest

• Story Telling & Subject Matter

These are elements, which when coupled with the more powerful emotive factors can affect a score in both a positive and negative manner. These are in place to ensure that images that contain a high degree of technical excellence, even though the genre may have been seen a thousand times before, or indeed become labelled with descriptions such as “Classical”, “Old School”, “Dated” or other perceived negatives, are judged and scored with the respect and reverence they deserve as true examples of the art and craft of photography.

The “Technical” Elements

• Technical Excellence

• Photographic Technique

• Colour Balance

• Image or Print Presentation

These ‘Technical’ elements really speak for themselves and all are essential to the fine workmanship that must go into every ‘successful’ image. As discussed earlier, Image presentation, particularly in digital projection must have a degree of latitude and understanding by the Judging Panel. The remaining elements are essentially, camera craft and retouching technique and suitably qualified Jurors must have themselves demonstrated a good degree of understanding in these factors.

A Juror that says “Sorry, I am not very technical and don’t understand XYZ” is not a good choice as pointless discussion that is best reserved for the bar may ensue during a judging session.

International Judging and Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 6


Now follows a more in depth look at the ‘Ten’ criteria, but first I want to take a brief look at what I  have described as ‘combination elements’, ‘power elements’ and finally, ‘technical elements’ that all contribute to the decision making process.

The “POWER” Elements

• Impact

• Composition

• Lighting

The ‘Power’ elements combine strongly to become the greatest influencers on any given score. Judges are historically more likely to be more forgiving of certain technical deficiencies when presented with what they determine to be a powerful image. As an example, an image which has what may be described as a Wow! factor will inevitably contain subject matter that invokes a strong emotional response. When combined with great lighting skill, powerful composition and pleasing aesthetics, images of this type result in very high scores and prompt extremely emotive discussion. The question then often begs, ‘Is it creative?”. In such cases where the judges overwhelmingly decide it is then they are immediately inclined to disregard minor technical deficiencies.

On the other hand, the ‘Power’ factor can be extremely negative. This is often manifested where the subject matter itself is deemed to be either shocking and distasteful, evoking powerful negative emotions and sometimes, repulsion. In this scenario, the judges must be very careful to strongly assess the other essential factors. As an example, a powerful documentary or press image of an atrocity that contains vital and important social narrative must not be underscored due to personal revulsion or taste. The maxim, ‘If it tells an important story and must be seen” must be applied and an appropriate score given. Jurors must remember that it is down to the hosting organisation to set the criteria for entry and not for any judge to criticise where the submitted image has been deemed suitable for entry. In such cases a good Jury Chairman will simply instruct his jurors to simply “Judge what you see!”

Judges will have been selected on their ability to assess what is and is not a great use of lighting technique and should be sufficiently versed with the technical as well as innovative aspects of lighting. In digital assessments, poor lighting technique will become even more obvious due to the increased contrast ratios incurred in digital projection.

Composition is a subject that is endlessly debated and an area where Jurors must be extremely careful not to impose their own values and notional ‘Rules’ when making their assessments. Many of the so called ‘rules’ in photography are simply notions that have been translated, moderated, shaped and moulded to fit photography, which in the course of time and art, is still in its infancy. Essentially, great judges ‘feel’ a composition is right without the need to quantify what is almost a genetic imprint of what we as human beings find pleasing or disturbing. Images that demonstrate a great deal of symmetry and balance induce feelings of peace, calm and equilibrium. While poorly composed images invoke feelings of disorder or chaos that we found both displeasing and disturbing.

International Judging and Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 5

PART 5 – The “10 Category Assessment System

6. Lighting… “The use and control of light refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is manmade or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image.”

7. Colour Balance… “Supplies harmony to an image. An image, in which the tones work together, effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Colour balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.”

8.Technical excellence… “Is the print quality of the image itself as it is presented for viewing. Sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting and correct colour all speak for the qualities of the physical print.”

9. Photographic Technique… “Is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, ‘digital negative’ exposure, film choice (If used), digital output to file, paper selection and more are part of the technique applied to an image.”

10. Story Telling & Subject Matter… “Story Telling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or read her own story in an image. The subject matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.”

International Judging and Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 4

PART 4 – The “10 Category” assessment system

The essence of image critique is based upon a 10 category system which is used to assess submissions for Image Competition entries and in some instances Qualifications. Theoretically, each section is divided into 10 points giving a total of 100 points.

So the next question is, how do the judges arrive at those scores? Below is a step by step division of the constituent elements of an image used notionally to arrive at those magical figures.

1. Impact… “Is the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder or another intense emotion.”

2. Creativity & Style… “Creativity is defined as the external expression of the imagination of the maker by using the medium to convey an idea, message or thought. Style is defined in a number of ways as it applies to a creative image. It might be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognizable as the characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject. It can impact an image in a positive manner when the subject matter and the style are appropriate for each other, or it can have a negative effect when they are at odds.” 

3. Composition… “Is important to the design of an image, bringing all of the visual elements together in concert to express the purpose of the image. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to look where the creator intends. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker.”

4. Image or Print Presentation… “Affects an image by giving it a finished look. The mats and borders used should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.”

5. Centre of Interest… “Is the point or points on the image where the maker wants the viewer to stop as they view the image. There can be primary and secondary centres of interest.  Occasionally there will be no specific centre of interest, when the entire scene collectively serves as the centre of interest.”

My Personal Professional Targets for 2014

I have decided to share my Personal Photographic Targets for 2014 and two years beyond. Having made a number of New Years Resolutions, it seems logical to put some realistic aspirations into place and as a firm believer in Continuous Professional Development, here I go!

  1. PPA (Professional Photographers of America) with whom I serve on their International Committee and having been honoured in 2013 with the ‘Warren Motts Service Award’ for outstanding contribution to the international photography community, the current situation is I still have 15 ‘banked’ Merits after gaining a second bar to my Craftsmans Degree in 2013, of which 4 are Print Merits and 11 service Merits. Now I have asked my good friend and Texas School of Photography Director, Doug Box, to be my ‘Mentor’, I have targeted of a minimum of 4 Print Merits per year for the next three years.
  2. Re-Join the BIPP and undertake to do a BA (Hons) in Photography. I have discussed this at length with BIPP CEO, Chris Harper and Kevin Wilson who will be in the difficult position of mentoring me! I’m signing up for this one at the beginning of February.
  3. I have decided to assist Mike Weeks with the establishment of an assessment system for the Event Photographers Society as they desperately need recognition for the abilities of Event Photographers who conduct their work under extraordinary conditions.
  4. Obtain my Masters in Portrait Photography with MPOC (Master Photographers of Canada) as well as assisting in Mentoring and Judging in their new awards.
  5. Finally in cooperation with Ross MacLennan of Wildhighlander, I will assist with continuing to build the CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year competition into a world leader. Now in its 6th year this award deserves a poll position in the photography community and with my considerable experience its a key goal.

Perhaps ambitious but I believe its important to have goals that drive your personal ambitions and are a source of inspiration to others. Here I go and watch out world!

International Judging and Scoring systems in Photography – Part 3

Welcome to part 3 in my series. I hope you all find the scoring matrix a useful tool…


So what exactly do the scores received relate to? I hope that in the matrix below the terminology may shed light on some of this mystery. This matrix that may be used to gauge the scores you may receive in an image competition but the descriptions and point breaks may vary slightly but nevertheless is pretty accurate worldwide.

Image Competition Judging –  Average Formulae across multiple bodies

0  –  49   Below acceptable ‘Professional’ quality in any area

50 – 59   Very poor but with evidence of some potential

60 – 65   The beginnings of understanding required technique

66 – 69   The absolute basics of technique are understood but largely ignored

70 – 75   Competent in the expectations of professional quality

76 – 79   Well crafted and demonstrating potential

80 – 90   Images of particular distinction

91 – 100  An image of outstanding quality


In many countries a score of 80 points would be the mark at which an actual award is made and may be called a ‘merit’. The achievement of a ‘merit’ may honestly denote the ‘Artist’ as an ‘Award Winning Photographer’ but certainly not below this internationally recognised benchmark. As to what constitutes a score of 80 and above is concerned, that will always be a ‘moveable feast’ dependent on the general overall quality of submissions into any given competition. A skilful and experienced Chairman will always run the previous years winning entries (if available) in front of his current panel of Jurors to ‘warm them up’ to the judging process. It is therefore essential to set the benchmarks as early as possible to ensure a smooth and effective judging.


International Judging & Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 2

Welcome to part 2 in the series…


So, how is a ‘Panel of Judges’ selected and composed? Essentially there must be a minimum of three and maximum of five ‘Qualified’ judges, selected by a Chairman in consultation with any professional organisation or governing body concerned. Above all, that Chairman must use all of his or her skill and judgement to select the best possible and ‘open minded’ range of Judges that are best suited to the task in hand.

Each Judge must have clearly demonstrated that they have an ‘open mind’, able to accept and assess, without prejudice, bias or personal preference, all genre’s of Photography. They must also show a healthy respect for their fellow Judges and be prepared to change an opinion on any given image when suitably presented with compelling or ‘enlightening’ evidence.

Rules? What Rules? Photographers have nearly all experienced a degree of ‘education’ from numerous books, internet resources, so called ‘Guru’s’ and ‘Legends’ in the industry. The monotonous references to ‘rules’ are almost endless. But do many photographers and Judges honestly know what they mean or indeed, their origins? And just how are some of these ‘rules’, that were conceived centuries before the advent of photography, even applicable? Should they be determining, rigid criteria in the scoring of competition images? If a team of Judges are presented with an outstanding image that appears to ‘break the rules’ or simply does not adhere to the principles with which they have been indoctrinated and yet, still score it highly, does that not seriously question the ‘rules’ in the first place? A lesson here is to let common sense and emotion prevail. Common sense in the application of a Judges technical knowledge of the mechanics of photography and the only valid rules…the laws and physics of light. Emotion, in the effect that the contents of the image itself has upon the viewer and invokes a positive response. In essence, let go of life rafts that are full of holes and take the plunge into the unknown in your evaluations.

Above all, the Chairman is totally responsible for the behaviour of the Judges and the effective management of his or her panel. He must be prepared to show discipline and authority if any judge ‘steps out of line’ and only intervene in the process if it is evident that there are prejudicial elements at work.

It is a harsh fact that in the history of Judging there has undoubtedly been evidence of ‘cheating’. Often this is manifested in the conspiracy of one or two Judges who are determined to pervert the natural course. Again, it is the Chairman’s responsibility to be the Policeman and if necessary, Judge, Jury and Executioner by removing any offending Judge who has demonstrated clear evidence of corruption.

In the ‘Mechanics’ section I briefly referred to the advent of ‘Digital Judging’ either by projection or on individual monitors. This in itself presents both the Chairman and Jurors with a whole raft of new problems. The IT backup is essential to make this work. Such problems as incorrect screen resolutions, mismatched proportions or simply files submitted at the incorrect size, add to our problems.

It is essential that the Chairman ensures that the Judges selected are sufficiently versed digitally not to waste time with pointless discussion on some of the issues previously mentioned. It is a hard fact that there will be significant differences in contrast and brightness, let alone colour, on a projected image. And although recent years have seen massive improvements in digital projection technology, it still cannot match a physical print. Therefore, Jurors must be capable of making ‘appropriate’ allowances within clear tolerances, when scoring projected images.