Am I being judgemental? By Mike Owen

As we move into the final phase of the EIZO Student Award 2023, it is time for everyone involved in the competition to get judgemental. It is time for every judge to give their opinion, it is time for the judges to be subjective. When we were selecting the judges for this year’s competition we wanted to bring together as many different views, thoughts, opinions, and experiences as we could, and we hope that by bringing together as many different people as we have that we will give every piece of work a thorough and comprehensive review.

I have been fortunate enough to have sat in on a number of judging and reviewing sessions over the years. I am not saying that this makes me any more qualified to judge a creative’s work than anyone else, but it has helped to refine what I am looking for in an image. It has made me realise that providing you take the image individually and judge it on the merits as you see it then that is all the entrants can expect from the judging panel.

One of the many things I love about photography and the filmmaking process is that there is no right or wrong answer. Any number of judges can look at the same image and they will each have a different opinion because what any individual likes is subjective, the interpretation of an image will be different and what they like about an image will vary and what they dislike about an image will vary.

There is only what the viewer thinks of the individual image. Yes, you look at the subject, the composition, the light. You look at possible distractions within the frame, things that remove your attention from the primary subject, but when I look at an image, I have to make a decision of whether the points that I see as negative out way the positive elements of the image.

There are so many ‘rules’ in photography around composition including the rule of thirds, and the golden rule, then you can look at other compositional elements such as leading lines, diagonals, space, negative space, and frame within a frame. When it comes to images with people is the figure to the ground, is the centre eye dominant then of course you have patterns and repetitions, symmetry, and asymmetry. All of these are valid considerations when judging an image but more importantly for me is whether I like the image, does it provoke an emotion?

Good or bad, an emotion means a connection and engagement. If you have an emotional attachment and there are no major technical flaws in the image such as focus or blown highlights then it will be an image that I want to look at again, if I want to look at an image again then I consider that a good image. Sometimes technical flaws will add to an image, so how do you actually judge an image?

Judging will sometimes be dictated by the competition, if the judging is done by an organisation like the Royal Photographic Society to become a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society is very different from the judging that will be done for the World Sports Photography Awards, which I have been a judge of, for the last few years. The Royal Photographic Society is looking for technical excellence in both the image and the delivery of the image in print, and by some is considered to be a little stuffy and old school. The World Sports Photo Awards on the other end of the spectrum is fully digital, I love this format because we as judges get to review images in our own time and we get to score images on a scale. This can certainly throw up some interesting selections but usually, the best images still come to the fore.

So, what do I look for when I am judging images? Well, I am looking at so many facets of the individual image from the subject, the composition, the light, does it provoke an emotion, does it convey the excitement and atmosphere of the event?

Does it catch my eye amongst the hundreds of images that I will look through, will it make me want to look at it again, does it draw into the story that the photograph is trying to convey?

Things like composition, framing, and leading lines all help this process, but it is often stuff you do not want in the frame that will cause damage to an image. Is there a steward with a bright orange or yellow tabard in the frame or a bright spot of light that detracts from the image, it can happen.

There was an image I saw at the World Sports Photography Awards a couple of years ago, which had an amazing framing of a parkour athlete in the centre of a street, a stunning frame. On closer inspection, I could see some artifacts around the central subject which made me question whether the frame was genuine, but it turned out it was just a little heavy-handed work in Photoshop which caused me to question the image and as a result, I had to mark the image down.

The first thing I tend to do when looking at an image turns it upside down because it throws my brain off and quite often distracting or off elements become more noticeable…which is of course easier with a laptop or iPad rather than a desktop screen, but I will always do at least one through of the images upside down before making my decision.

Anyway, I am incredibly excited to see what the students from this year’s competition have submitted, and I am fascinated to see what the judges have to say about the work of the next generation.

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