‘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.

Taking back control – Medium Format IS the way forward!



Seeing the world through a viewfinder smack bang in front of your face sure hides everything outside that tiny field of view. When we as Professional Photographers used film, most especially those bastions of image quality, the medium format camera, mounted on a tripod, we were forced to initiate the process by taking care of the technical requirements of FOCUS, APERTURE and SHUTTER SPEED relevant to obtaining that perfect exposure.

Once done, our ‘Focus’ became the command, control and observation essential to capturing that perfect image in one solitary frame by looking at our subjects, engaging with them and eliciting that expression appropriate to the mood and flattery of our subjects. We saw the world as it should be seen and the camera was the tool of capture over which we had control.

To shoot like you are using film, that precious and costly silver based commodity made us conscious of doing our job efficiently and in a manner that set the professional apart from the enthusiast and amateur. With this in mind, let’s take back control and consider the enormous advantages and virtues of Medium Format once again. My aim? To get my hands on a new Pentax 645Z and go back to doing what every ‘Pro’ did so well.

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.

Martin’s ‘Renaissance’

Having had a deep and meaningful love for Art since my youth I am reminded of the stories of Salvador Dali and his wife & muse, Gala. Throughout their lives he continued to paint her as a key figure in so many of his most famous works. Not an obsession but a passion. I now find myself sharing such a passion with my very own ‘muse’.

So, these images are inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Shot on my trusty Nikon D700 with my favourite 105mm f2 DC lens, Lit with a single iLux RD 300 Parabolic Octabox augmented with two strategically placed reflector panels, processed in a combination of Adobe Photoshop CC and Nik Software. Two versions for my enjoyment. My deliberate journey and re-kindled love affair has begun again…

My Lilith in Colour

My Lilith in Colour

My Lilith in Sepia blend

My Lilith in Sepia blend

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.