‘Mind and Heart’ in Judging Practice

Mind and Heart

Mind and Heart

Another excerpt from my recent Australian Judges Workshop Tour. The title of the presentation that underpins the ‘training’ and I believe, clearly illustrates exactly what the knowledgable, skilful and ‘trained’ judge should apply in the common sense of the process. Of course this requires that the judges have studied and researched beyond their practical skill base to ensure they can fairly address whatever may come in front of them. Many years ago it was easy for one to describe themselves as a photographer in a given discipline. But this is 2015 and needs must if one is to survive as a professional photographer. The ability to shoot pretty much whatever is before the lens perhaps makes us ‘jacks of all trades’ but it does not follow that we may be masters of none.

The essence of great judging is “Mind & Heart”. I was asked recently by a very knowledgeable and talented photographer who is now involved in judging, “When should I disregard the ‘rules’ and let my instincts take over when I feel I am looking at a great image that breaks rules?”. My answer to him was simple…

Use your mind to assess the Technical elements that are essential in the creation of a photograph.

Use your heart to ‘feel’ the image, see the stories, bathe in the light and if it stirs your soul, regardless of any so called ‘rules’ into which you have been indoctrinated over the course of your photographic career…

Score high, award originality, outstanding creativity and celebrate a fantastic image. As judges, in an instant you can make a photographer or break their heart. Such are the responsibilities we face and endure.


Mind & Heart – Workshops for AIPP Judges 2015

Ethics-cloud crop

Having left the UK on August 7th for Australia, I now find myself over half way through this workshop tour, thus far visiting the State Capitals – Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth. The theme, ‘Mind & Heart’ has focussed on the psychological and ethical facets of the evaluation of images and the language used by jurors in expressing their evaluative thoughts to a ‘live’ audience. All too often, what we may say as judges, can be harshly misinterpreted by our fellow jurors, let alone by the eager audience awaiting much needed guidance in the possible remedies to faults within images that if actioned, may result in more successful, and we hope, award winning entries.

Indeed Australia operates an  ‘Award’ system whereby images are indeed rewarded for being outstandingly innovative and creative by awarding Gold and Gold Distinctions. At the same time it acknowledges excellence in professional practice with flashes of inspiration and creativity, reinforcing and substantiating the very highest consistent standards seen in the world, by granting Silver and Silver Distinctions to images of particular merit. The system is fair and offers sincere encouragement to those aspiring to higher degrees of achievement.

The issue faced universally is how to recognise images that are simply good professional practice and explain to an entire industry that what you may produce day in and day out, may not be ‘AWARD WINNING PHOTOGRAPHY’. I hope that by continuing to work in cooperation with so many professional bodies that the education of those who fit into this bracket continues and evolves to promote far higher standards. It is a laudable and daunting goal, as trainers and educators walk the thinnest of tightropes with so many who are inextricably emotionally attached to their images.

Online Portfolio Appraisals – Limited Offer!

Film Strip of 4
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 ‘join.me’ 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 mgrahamedunn@mac.com

CBRE UPOTY Awards – Chairman’s views

imagesI’d like to share some questions and answers in relation to my participation as Chairman of Judges of the Worldwide CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year Awards or UPOTY for short….




  1. Do you have a favourite photographer?

Not really although who wouldn’t be impressed with artists like Seb Salgado et al. Looking backwards I’ve always admired the simplicity and honesty of Irving Penn.

  1. Why do you like their work?

Salgado as a documentary photographer applies his distinctive processing style adding continuity of presentation while Penn was a commensurate lighting technician who emphasised the mastery of natural, directional light.

  1. What is it you enjoy about the UPOTY competition?

It’s uniquely defined brief that focuses the mind with singularity. Cities at work can be interpreted in so many ways and asks the question – what is work and requires a fundamental difference from observation ‘travel’ photography.

  1. Do you have a favourite camera?

My favourite camera? The one between my ears that enables me to conceptualise, analyse, assess and create. As for the mechanics, give me any camera as it’s just a tool.

  1. Do you have a favourite city? What is it?

I have always loved the ancient cities of this world but M’dina on Malta would be right up there.

  1. Why do you like that city so much.

The history and culture within its high, fortified walls. To me it’s a bastion of culture and not simply an exquisite walled city with centuries of stories to tell.

  1. What have you noticed that has changed in cities in your lifetime?

Overcrowding! As our world continues to overpopulate, as an image maker I feel forced to watch people more than the environments we inhabit.

  1. What do you think has stayed the same in cities during your life?

This is a difficult one. I see so little that has stayed the same in a modern city. Take Dubai for instance. It’s a constant metamorphosis that even in its tender years continues to sweep away the old in favour of the new. That’s why I love our ancient cities where modern architecture has been forced to harmonise wherever possible with the new.


For further information and to enter UPOTY 2015 http://www.cbreupoty.com

HIPA Grand Awards 2015



I have recently just returned from the HIPA grand awards event which the main theme was “Life in Colour.”  The winning image above by Anurag Kumar was perfectly suited to the brief.  In fact all of the winners selected by the judging panel of the 2014-2015 competition categories amply reflected all the category briefs, which is the essence of any good competition.

My part in the events was again to deliver a four hour presentation during which I was able to set criteria, analyse images and give constructive critique and feedback to a substantial amount of attendees.  As part of the event, I involved the attendees in learning how to critique images which provided an invaluable learning experience for the photographers.


HIPA 2015


This week I will be running a Portfolio Review workshop for HIPA in Dubai to take place on Friday 20th March at the Origami meeting room in the Radisson Royal hotel.  Looking forward to supporting and teaching a wide range of photographers at this event.


WPPI 2015 – A reflection…

It’s been a few short days since we have returned from the glitz of ‘Sin City’ and the phenomena that is WPPI. Judging for the first time at this event has opened my eyes to another world of imaging,  that to the point of receiving my judges notes from Melissa Ghionis, I had never realised was so vital to my own professional development. The ‘new’ criteria and guidelines applied represent a massive shift in attitude and the dissemination of information that is now supplying a vital educational role that no other organisation on earth is doing so well.

Throughout the 27 intense hours of judging, each and every image received constructive criticism and if the creators were in the room,  they went away better educated and prepared for the years to come. And if not, that can look forward to viewing some 150 hours of recordings that will prove to be an invaluable resource.

My partner Kate is NOT involved in our world of photography. But she has seen plenty of Award Winning images. So, she is truly a consumer and I can tell you, was totally blown away at the quality and volume of stunning images from all over the world. That my friends is the acid test! WPPI members and entrants have truly made a massive impact in the world of photography on every level and to the envy of every other organisation.

Colors of Saudi

Martin at SCTA


I could not have envisaged a trip to The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the Autumn of last year and to Judge their ‘Colors of Saudi Forum’ awards now in their 3rd year. The Awards are the brainchild of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities under the patronage of HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, whose prime goal is to increase awareness of the cultural wealth of the Kingdom. As yet there is no such thing as a ‘Tourist Visa’ to the Kingdom but I have no doubt that will come in the not too distant future.

I was overwhelmed by the ancient sites and that most of us in the Western world simply have no idea exists. Historical cities that are being awarded UNESCO recognition as World Heritage sites, a National Museum full of treasures literally from the dawn of time and the Saudi people themselves, the true cultural jewel of this country in the cradle of civilisation.

I returned just before Christmas to educate appreciative Saudi photographers and meet so many of them from Royal Princes to enthusiastic amateurs and professionals at the Saudi Colors exhibition and awards. My reception was overwhelming and their Social Media channels were alive with my teaching and walkabouts. I can’t wait to go back one day to deliver more.


Photographers – Artists or Tradesmen? – Part One

Only a few short months ago in London, when the Sun was sort of shining, on and off,  meeting my best friend from school and walking around the National Gallery was a wonderful way to recharge life’s batteries and put many things into perspective. Recently I have had many people ask me what photographers have influenced me creatively and my answer is always the same….none. It’s not that I don’t have respect for fellow professionals past and present or admire their work, it’s way more than that. Let me first ask who or what are photographers in the 21st century? Surely if there had been cameras around in the Renaissance or the Baroque, wouldn’t they simply be called artists? Isn’t a camera simply another tool of capture and expression as much as a paint brush, palette knife or canvas? Wouldn’t they have been driven, patronised and commissioned by exactly the same people back then? Those being the Church or the extraordinarily wealthy wishing to commemorate their status in society and buy their way to immortality via the Pearly Gates?

What made them artists in those halcyon days was their use of light and its importance in showing a three dimensionality to their subjects. So if I have to identify a great difference, then it would be that on the whole, photographers have extremely poor lighting skills and simply forget that our art and craft is all about flattery! I think if Lorenzo de Medici commissioned your average photographer back then, it would not have been long before their heads adorned spikes in St.Mark’s Square! So here’s a wake up call to all those who have poor or no skills and scream “It’s all about expression and the moment”. How wrong can you be and if only it were as simple as that!

I remember my first day on my Fine Art Foundation Course just like it was yesterday. A bunch of enthusiastic, idealistic Art students proudly turn up with mahogany boxes loaded with Windsor & Newton oil colours, palette knives, sable and hogs hair brushes only to have them gathered up and locked away in a cupboard. Our tutor, a crazy Yorkshireman called John Yeadon, whose idea of a holiday was throwing stones at the troops in Chile, travelling with his beloved Cello and wrinkled clothes crammed in its battered case, handed us each a toothbrush with the immortal words “You buggers will learn to see light in all it’s beauty AND learn to paint with this!!!! When you’ve learned that, you can have your posh boxes back!” Talk about a wake up call!

Next instalment coming very soon….

To enter, or not to enter…that is the question!

Debate rages all over the internet on Photography Awards with a plethora of choice out there, just what should you consider when choosing and entering?

The primary question seems to be one of motive. Why exactly are the organisers offering such amazing prizes or huge financial rewards? What do the organisers get out of it? Will they steal my copyright? Will they hijack my identity? And possible the real big one, are the results ‘fixed’?!!?!

So what makes a great award well worth entering? First of all, integritity. One where the honoured judges are not compromised by being given a whole list of do’s and don’ts that undermine and potentially embarrass them. After all, the final results are firmly pinned to the reputations of the judges rather than the organisers themselves! If a worldwide award purports to truly represent the very best of imaging then ‘censorship’ is highly inappropriate at any level including cultural or religious differences. One shining example of ‘Best Practice’ is the World Press Awards which are probably the most sought after and highly valued accolades. If its ‘Press’ then there are no holds barred which results in a massive diversity of imaging that illustrates or highlights issues, situations or conflicts that affect us all. Their judging process is clean and efficient and their judges are drawn from the upper echelons of the press. Practitioners who have truly seen it all and as they say, got the T Shirt.

Another renowned competition is HIPA, The Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum International Photography Award. With a 2014 prize fund exceeding $400,000 USD and a top Prize of $120,000 it is indeed the World’s richest award. This year it has four categories with it’s flagship being “Life in Colour”. This is not what it appears to be at first view. A more understandable interpretation my be more culturally termed, ‘life’s rich pattern’. I am sure the Judges will be looking for far mote than a kaleidoscope of actual colour within images! The other categories are ‘General’ (essentially an open category), Faces (especially for Black & White submissions) and ‘Night Photography’. For more information you can visit http://www.hipa.ae/en/life-in-colour-2014-2015/categories

Finally, and this is one close to my heart for many years as its Chairman of Judges, is the CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year awards with the acronym, ‘UPOTY’. With a single theme, “Cities at Work”, it poses an exciting challenge to its entrants which for the last two years has been worldwide. Historically there have been prizes for each of the 24 hours of the day with a top prize of a photo safari somewhere in the world. Once again, for more information please visit http://www.cbreupoty.com

Good luck, share your images and be successful!