Photo art adjudication guide

Judging photos is quite subjective. Different people will pick different winners even after applying the same set of adjudication rules! The results are even more random with a constant rotation of adjudicators! Don’t be disheartened if your prize entry doesn’t score in the first couple of competitions, there is always the next one! We don’t put racehorses down when they fail to win the first couple of races; we keep at it until its’ value is obvious by share statistics!
I have refined my judging technique to four parameters:

  1. Technical quality and presentation
  2. Dramatic impact “WOW-factor”
  3. Strength with theme—where there is one
  4. Personal appeal

Technical quality covers exposure, sharpness, depth-of-field, composition, colour and tonal qualities of a photograph, while crop and framing add to presentation. Dramatic impact focuses more on the image than the photograph. It encompasses the creative elements that generate “WOW-factor”!
Wow-factor is a three-fold expression incorporating two fronts—the visual experience and the implied:

  1. The expression or mood portrayed within the image (implied)
  2. The emotional impact you feel when you look at the image
  3. The cognitive intrigue that holds your attention

There are two ways to generate WOW-factor:

  1. Implementation of creative concepts that come with natural talent, education and time (experience)
  2. By fluke—right time, right place, right settings, right application

In other words “WOW-factor” is not something you can just conjure up. We all strive for it and sometimes achieve it in all its’ glory, but often have to settle for less!
It is usually a fairly unique image through perfect timing on the shutter capturing a rarely seen moment frozen in time, or a dramatic enhancement of tones, colours, texture or unusual lighting effects, or mood expressed by subjects within an image impacting on your viewing experience or cognitive thought processes, or a combination of all these elements. Often even nature can provide “WOW-factor”. All we have to do is capture it in unique ways.
Strength with theme is subjective—short of having no bearing at all. I consider this element as bonus points in scoring that most will get in full.
Personal appeal: For photo competitions as opposed to commercial photography, this element provides the final say on separating a tight field and is based on whether I would hang the image on my wall or feel it has good editorial value.
Whether you bias your scoring toward technical quality and presentation, or dramatic impact is up to you. It is this subjectivity that makes adjudication rich and dynamic so there is no fixed good or bad, just good and not so good at the time…tomorrow is another day, another story!
Written by Gavin Lardner, a freelance photographer and member of the Photo Arts Club of Tweed, NSW, Australia.

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