Judging plays such an important part in our photography from being able to assess our own efforts, through the Club to National and International level.  Judging is indeed more important indeed than any book that proffers practical assistance.

This concise and realistic approach to the .subject cannot fail to interest and help those who are new to this aspect of photographic art and it will also assist towards standardising the ideas and approaches of many experienced judges.

We express our sincere appreciation to the author. GEORGE BILLING, President of Australian Photographic Society and the Camera Club Division of that Society.



Possibly the most popular activity conducted by Camera Clubs is the photographic competition. This takes the form of either ‘Open’, where any subject or treatment of the subject is eligible, or a ‘Set Subject1, where the subject is nominated. The competition is divided into Print and Colour Slide sections. In the not too far distant future we can expect a third section, that of Colour Print, to be added.

An extension of the Club competition is the Inter-club competition. Invariably the subject is ‘Open’ and a nominated number of Prints and Colour Slides, usually twenty (20) of each with a maximum of either two (2) or three (3) from each club member, represents each Club.

Special competitions are often included in the Club programme, such as an ‘Outing’ competition, where all the entries must have been taken on a specified Club outing.

‘Audio-Visual’ competitions are becoming quite popular in a great number of Clubs. Usually the only restraint is the length of the presentation, although Clubs which have adopted the ‘Audio-Visual* presentation with enthusiasm often make these competitions ‘Set Subjects’, such as ‘Our City* or to accompany the author’s choice of a gramophone record, etc.

Finally, the grand wind-up of the Club’s photographic year and the prestige competition of them all, is the ‘Print of the Year’ and ‘Slide of the Year’. Most Clubs limit the number of entries from each member, some restrict the entries to those winning the monthly competitions, other Clubs allow the member to be the adjudicator of the work he wishes to represent him or her.

The common denominator of all these competitions is that a photo­graphic judge is requested to undertake two tasks.

  1. To select a winner or allot points so placings in order of merit may  be   made.
  2. Comment on the entries. Which brings us to Chapter 1.


It must be realised from the beginning that a picture cannot be measured or weighed as may a length of cloth or a pound of potatoes. The photographic judge is dealing with tangibles in respect to Technique, and with experience he may measure this aspect of pictures and give a value in points. The other aspect of a picture, that is its aesthetic quality, cannot be measured as easily. The judge is dealing with an intangible, and it is in trying to weigh this aspect of a picture that difficulties occur.

Beginners to competition, in particular, are insistent on a judge giving points so they may decide whether their pictures are improving. Carried to the extreme, points are awarded to various aspects of the picture, e.g. Subject, Composition, Technique. The idea is the exhibitor will be shown where he is improving and where his weakness lies. This would be fine if it could work, but as mentioned before we are dealing with Art, not potatoes, and art does not lend itself to an absolute such as measure­ment.

The aesthetic quality of a picture appeals to our emotions. The judge can justly say ‘this picture appeals to me, therefore I will give it eighteen (18) points out of twenty (20). These two pictures do not appeal to me, therefore I will give them nine (9) points each*. So we have the situation  of two unsuccessful pictures equalling one successful picture, which is ridiculous. One thousand or ten thousand unsuccessful pictures do not equal one successful picture.

The photographic judge is being asked to accomplish the impossible; he is required to ‘Measure the Immeasurable’.

However, the problem of finding a winner exists and, imperfect as the system may be, a points system of one type or another is the usual method adopted.


Two types of Points System are in general usage.

  1. The Five (5) Points System.
  2. The Twenty (20) Points System.

Firstly, we should dispose of the suggestion that a picture may be broken into its component parts and points given to Subject, Composition and Technique, These then to be added together to give a total for each picture.

I must say I do not know of a simple competent judge who uses this system. If it is tried, the usual result is that the picture gaining the most points is not the one the judges consider the best picture.

On first contact with this system of breaking a picture into its com­ponents and dealing with each in turn, it appears workable and sound. So why has the system been abandoned by competent judges? The answer is the picture cannot be divided into clear cut components.

In colour pictures, exposure (technique) determines colour saturation, and strong colours not associated with the centre of interest can destroy composition. Does the judge take points off Technique because the Composition is weak? If he down marks Composition he is misleading die exhibitor who has really made a technical error. The print maker who mistakenly renders a baby picture in low key weakens the Subject, but again it is Technique which is at fault.

Let us examine these components one by one.

  1. Subjects No subject is unsuitable for a picture. It is true some are more difficult than others, but in regard to Subject, it is the treatment of the Subject, not the Subject itself, which is important, This treatment will be largely dependent on Technique, lighting, quality of negative, and hence of print, or skill in exposure determination and hence colour value; the relative size of the subject and placement in the picture area, which embraces Composition, and many other aspects.
  2. Composition. Composition is dependent on the tonal scale of a print and the colour balance of a colour picture as much as the arrangement of the elements within the picture, e.g. a red phone box taking attention from the centre of interest, So we could go on showing how Subject treatment, Composition and Technique are so bound together and inter­dependent they cannot be isolated from one another.

The Subject, Composition, Technique method has been discredited. Judges who oblige exhibitors by filling in the three columns sometimes printed on judging sheets normally give a total first and then divide this up into three. Surely this is proof enough that the method is ill conceived and gives false results. The Five (5) Point Method.

The method uses five (5) points as a possible total. Panels of three judges and also judging machines mostly use this method. Judging machines are instruments which simplify conveying the points the judge wishes to award to the steward, who enters the points onto a master list. Each judge has a switch-box usually having five switches marked 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. On pressing a switch the corresponding number lights up on a central box placed in front of the steward. The steward enters the three numbers voted by the judges onto the master list, plus the total for that picture.

The judge awards points as follows:

One (1) Point. Poor subject treatment  or  poor technique.

Two (2) Points. Below average. (Record shot?).

Three (3) Points. An average picture aesthetically acceptable and technically adequate.

Four (4) Points. Above average.

Five (5) Points. Very good. It does not have to be perfect.

This POOR – BELOW AVERAGE – AVERAGE – ABOVE AVERAGE and VERY GOOD classification is probably the best method for new comers to the judging task. It results in a number of ties, but then this in itself is not a bad tiling. If pictures are of equal merit they should receive equal points.

Most competitions need a clear cut winner and maybe a second and third. The judge makes his selection of these from the pictures gaining five (5) points or four (4) points if there are not enough gaining five (5) points.

The final figures can be juggled by half points so the winner gains more than the second, who gains more points than third. This juggling of points is quite honest. Having admitted we are measuring the im­measurable, it would be wrong to allow mathematics to make the choice of the winner. The judge selects the picture he thinks is the best and gives it more points than the one he considers second best etc. In no other way can a judge preserve his integrity. The selection must come from the emotional response the picture engenders and not from an imperfect mathematical formula. The Twenty (20) Points Method.

A common method of using twenty (20) points as a possible total is to give ten (10) points to a technically adequate record shot, below this for poor technique or poor composition, etc. Twelve (12) points for an average successful rendition of a pictorial picture. This spread of below ten (10) to twelve (12) points will encompass the majority of entries in the average club competition. Pictures above the average will gain one (1) point more up to the winner which usually, in the ‘B’ grade will gain in the majority or cases somewhere in the thirteen (13) to fourteen (14) points bracket. In ‘A’ grade we can expect the winner to be in the fifteen (15) to eighteen (18) bracket.

Rarely does a judge award less than eight (8) points or more than eighteen (18) points. There is no reason why this should be so, it is just common usage. In fact the twenty (20) point system is in practice a ten (10) point system. Some judges mistakenly think they cannot award twenty (20) points, this is not so. In the event of a judge awarding the full twenty (20) points, he is not saying the picture is perfect, he is just using the full point scale available to him. The fact that in practice the full point scale is not used indicates twenty (20) points is too unwieldy.

Irrespective of the scale of points being used, the judge should always adopt trie same standard, irrespective of the grade or skill of the exhibitors. If the standard is made lower to suit less skilled exhibitors the judge will not build up experience in even marking.

This skill in giving the same number of points to all pictures of even value is necessary when judging an inter-club competition.

Often judges ask to see a sample of the pictures before beginning the task of allotting points. This has a value, in that the judge will have settled down and will be more likely to give the first picture the same treatment as those following later. But it should not be done to establish the standard of the entries. A twelve (12) point picture should always be a twelve (12) point picture. If the standard is low it might be the highest mark awarded.

Again the integrity of the judge is involved. It would not be honest for a judge to award twelve (12) points to a picture he would normally award ten (10) points, just because the standard happened to^ be low. Providing the judge is consistent with the points he awards the ‘B’ grade exhibitor, for instance, will be able to see where he is in relation to the ‘A’ grade exhibitor.

Exhibitors look for reliability and consistency in judging; uncertainty and lack of faith in his ability to place pictures in order of merit must be avoided by the judge. The beginner to judging is well advised to develop a standard whereby he always gives the same number of points to pictures of even value irrespective of the grade or standard of the pictures he is judging.


Judging is carried out by one of a number of methods.

  1. ‘On the Spot’ often adopted for Club competitions. The judge has not seen the entries beforehand. Usually he is very aware that until he arrives at a decision the Club’s programme is held up, and so he is working against the clock. He must, nevertheless, deliver a considered judgment. He may be required to select first, second and third, with possible Highly Commendeds, or he may be asked to award points for each entry.

If a large number of prints are involved, it is good practice to walk along the stands selecting those points which stand out above their fellows. It is usually not practical to remove these first selections from the stands and place them together, so the judge notes these prints on his judging sheet. The judge dismisses from his mind all the prints except those in the selected group; these he proceeds to place in order of merit and then awards points or placings as required.

If colour slides are involved, the better pictures are put aside as they come up\ in a preliminary run through. It is usually convenient to comment on the pictures during the showing. The extracted selection of pictures is then placed on a viewing box and the final selection is made. The judge can usually remember the projected image so the small picture on the viewing box is acceptable. On no account should a judge be required to judge on the viewing box before seeing the projected image.

It is good practice to request a quick run through of the slides after the selection has been made on the viewing box before announcing *he results. The judge can make any re-adjustments to the placings ana then announce the result with confidence that he has given every picture a considered verdict.

  1. ‘The Pre-judgcd’ method allows the judge second thoughts. The pictures arc delivered to the judge maybe two or three weeks before the result is required. He can view the entries a number of times until he is confident of his placings. This method gives the exhibitor a considered result and avoids the snap judgment’ inherent in the ‘on the spot’ method.
  2. A panel of three judges is sometimes adopted to even out individual prejudice and preference. Mostly the three judges work independently and do not consult one another until final placings are reached, when it becomes necessary for discussion to take place.

The judging machine is probably the most convenient way to record the panel’s score. In the absence of a judging machine, and, presuming the club docs not wish the judges to know how their fellows are awarding points, the following procedure may be used.

Each judge has cards numbered 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The judge passes the appropriate card bearing the number of points he wishes to award to the steward, who marks the master sheet and passes the cards back to

the judges. If the cards are in three colours it is easy for the steward to place the points in the correct judge’s column on the master sheet and pass back the cards to the appropriate judge.

  1. The Co-operative Panel’ method is not often used. The three judges view the same picture and discuss it among themselves before voting the appropriate points. The system is slow and, unfortunately, most com­petitions are judged in rush conditions. It would appear photographers are more interested in a quick result than a fully considered result.

However, notwithstanding the normal rush to complete the judging task, the co-operative system is used to determine the top place getters after the independent system has separated the entries into groups.

Normally the independent system will result in a number of entries gaining the same number of points. The three judges will work together, pointing out the good and bad points of the various pictures, until by majority decision they select the winner and such place getters as are requested.

Often the original points awarded by the judges independently will have to be altered to suit the result obtained by the co-operative panel. This is quite fair and ethical and in keeping with the philosophy that Art can only be measured by its emotional appeal. It is very wrong for mathe­matics to dictate the result. The picture is designed to communicate with man, that is its purpose. The better it does this the better it is as a picture, and so ultimately man must be the instrument which measures the picture. To have numbers impose a result is very bad judging. The judge uses numbers for convenience in the mechanics of judging, numbers must be his servant, to be altered at will to suit the judges selection.


As photographers become more experienced they lose their enchantment with points systems, realising the imperfections of these systems, the inherent fallacy of using the pure science of mathematics to measure an abstract such as Art.

A system based on the emotional appeal of pictures, without restrictions on the judge, the merit system allows the judge more freedom to give a result dictated by him alone, without pressure by formulae, pre­determined first, second and third places or whether the pictures are worthy of such places.

Primarily pictures are successful or unsuccessful. The unsuccessful (in the judges opinion) are rejected and no longer take part in the judge’s deliberations. Among the successful, we will call them ‘acceptances’ to use a commonly accepted photographic term, may be some outstanding pictures, these will gain a ‘merit’. So the judges award ‘merits’ and acceptances’.

In order to adapt the merit system to Camera Club operations we have to fall back on points once again. However, instead of the usual method of giving the winner a lot of points, with the result the rest of the exhibitors fall hopelessly behind, in the merit system the number of points is kept very low.

All exhibitors receive one (1) point per entry, as the rules usually allow two or three entries, so each exhibitor will gain two or three points as the case may be.

The Acceptance will gain an additional point and Merits one point more.

The outcome of this system is a very close score throughout the com­petition year. Whereas most Clubs experience a run-away score where the leader is in an unassailable position with little more than half the com­petition year completed, the Merit System is often a cliff-hanger up to the last competition, with as many as half a dozen exhibitors in a position to win the yearly points score competition.

It needs little imagination to see the advantage to the Club when the lead is being constantly changed month by month and most of the exhibitors in a position where they could win the yearly points score competition.

Enthusiasm   is   engendered,   excitement   in   the   monthly   competition result is intense and the Club can be fairly well assured there will be as many entrants in the last competition as the first. The fundamentals of the Merit System are:

One (1) point per entry.

An additional one (1) point for Acceptance. •

Plus one (1) point for each Merit,

Thus an Entry gains one (1) point.

An acceptance gains two (2) points.

A Merit gains three (3) points.

These points are awarded to each entry in the competition. The judge is free to set the number of Acceptances and Merits. Although it is hardly conceivable there would be no Acceptances how many will be awarded is entirely at the judge’s discretion. In the average competition the number is often 20% to 30%. Merits are not awarded unless the pictures are worthy. In ‘A’ grade a Merit would be of a standard where it could gain acceptance in a National Exhibition and in ‘B’ grade a Merit would be equal in standard to an ¥A” grade acceptance.

The ‘B’ grade exhibitor should show perception in how he attempts to portray his subject, but allowance must be made for the execution of the picture. We can expect good ideas from the ‘B’ grade exhibitor but we have to make allowance for lack of skill and experience in technique.


Although competition brings the desire to improve the standard of club photography, it is the judge’s commentary which makes this improvement possible. The exhibitor has the opportunity to see his picture through another’s eyes; it shows him if the message he wishes to communicate is indeed conveyed to his viewer.

The judge’s commentary justifies his scoring; it should be aimed to firstly help the exhibitor and secondly to assist all the photographers in the audience.

~    A commentator should always tell the truth, but he should not tell all the truth. He should encourage the exhibitor; his criticism should be balanced with praise.

By definition an amateur photographer is one who finds fault with pictures. Reflect on this, is it not true that the usual response to showing pictures to an average Club member will be a list of all the faults but no mention of the good points? Show the same pictures to a lay­man and the response will be praise and little criticism. Now you know how to distinguish an amateur photographer from the common herd.

The judge should aim to give a balanced criticism: he should lean towards the successful aspects of the picture and not feature the faults. Summed up in a few words, the judge should point out the good aspects before mentioning the faults.

The judge should speak up so the members in the back row can hear. He should face the audience, not the print or screen. He should not obstruct the picture being commented upon. He should be positive. The audience will not appreciate a commentator who is indecisive. If the judge is unsure it is better for him to avoid the aspect he is unsure of, rather than have his audience given the impression he is not competent Otherwise even aspects he is sure about will be regarded as suspect The judge should not compare a picture with one not present. Such comments as ‘I have seen this done before’, ‘I won the Bullamankanka National with a similar picture’, ‘Graham Leech-Williams has a better picture of this subject’ are ill mannered and useless comment, unless the audience has also seen the picture to which he refers.

The judge should make every endeavour to see the picture as the exhibitor presents it. Too often the judge will give little attention to the picture but too quickly tries to turn it into his rendition of the subject presented. This usually results in suggestions to trim off this, that and the other, until little of the author’s picture remains-.

The judge should criticise the picture as presented, then, and only then, suggestions as to another presentation may be made. Always leave the picture with a comment which encourages the author, the aim should be to help the author to make better pictures in the future. If criticism is too strong it may make him feel he will never be a good photographer, then he will soon give up.

On every judge’s heart should be engraved the motto ‘encouragement and instruction’. If he lives up to this he will have done his job truly and well.


The isolated Club has special problems, especially if all Club com­petitions are judged by the most experienced member or the town pro’.

No matter how skilled or experienced the local judge may be he has individual preferences and prejudices. He unintentionally encourages the members to practice the type of photography he prefers and use the techniques he favours. The result will be a type of inbreeding. As a result some subjects will be taboo, some techniques untried, and idea stifling sameness will prevail. Eventually the members’ pictures will have the appearance of having all been made by the same author.

Picture ideas are stimulated by change and new view-points expressed by photographers with more experience than Club members. Few will disagree that a regular change over of judge is desirable. However, the senior member or town ‘pro’ is a valuable asset of the Club and it cannot afford to dispense with him altogether.

The sole local judge has probably given valuable support over the years and he probably has a deep-seated interest in the Club. He will probably be deeply hurt and consequently withdraw his support if the Club sends pictures away for judging. Yet for the members good the competitions need the variety of outlook inherent in having a number of judges on which the Club may call.

Firstly, the local judge should be made to feel he is not being displaced; that the Club, in seeking new judges, still needs his experience and instruction.

Request that each competition night the local judge be on hand to instruct the members how to execute the suggestions the ‘foreign judge* makes. In this way the local judge will not feel he is being passed over.

At the same time the local judge must not fall into the error of disagreeing with the ‘foreign judge’s* decision. This would to a large degree negate the good coming from the new view-point The local judge should rather take the positive line of explaining how to practise the suggestions the ‘foreign’ judge expresses and answer the members’ questions on technique, composition, etc. as the ‘foreign’ judge would if he were present. If the Club members explain they need the local judge’s experience all the more when coping with suggestions from ‘foreign judges, the local^ judge will feel wanted and will not regard the new policy of using ‘foreign’ judges as an indication he is being thrown over and no longer needed.  The problem or keeping the interest of the local judge having been tackled, we now turn our attention to methods of introducing the desirable variation in judging outlook. Two schemes come to mind:

  1. Adopting a Sister-Club.
  2. Contacting City judges.

Both schemes will operate in a similar manner; the members’ pictures will be collected, and, having been suitably packaged, will be mailed, using certified mail, to the ‘foreign’ judge. He will adjudicate, giving points or places as the Club instructs, and return the entries with an accompanying tape recording commentary, again using certified mail.

It will be good public relations practice to allow the local judge to see and hear the material before club night; he can then ‘brush up’ the questions likely to be asked by the members.

Some State bodies conduct Sister Club schemes. However, in the event this activity is not in operation, most Clubs will co-operate. The result sheet of the last State Inter-club competition will be a guide as to which clubs will have the experienced photographers needed.

The alternate method of using city judges could be operated by selecting say five (5) judges culled from Club programmes, or personal knowledge, or successful exhibition photographers selected from salon catalogues, A request to these ‘foreigners’ that they each judge (say) two competitions will usually result in complete co-operation.

Remember to provide

  1. Return postage,
  2. Four inch recording     tape,    and    specify speeds available on the Club recorder.
  3. Substantial packaging.
  4. Allow sufficient time   and    mention   date

needed to show at next Club meeting.

The broadening outlook engendered in the Club’s photography under such a programme of variety in judging will improve the Club’s standard dramatically.

The results will amply repay the effort in conducting the scheme. Remember to thank the judge, invite him to call in if he visits the area, and a card at Christmas would be a nice touch.


Firstly, enter the details of Club, type of competition, time of arrival and phone number of President or Secretary in your diary. Many Clubs follow up with a telephone call or with a letter, the more efficient Clubs also phone a reminder a day or so in advance of the meeting. However, the judge should keep his own system and not rely on others reminding him.

On arrival at the Club at the agreed time, the Judge should seek out the competition director and ascertain, if this is not already known, whether a points or place system is to be used, the number of awards required, which entries are ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades, and how much time has been allowed in the programme for the competition.

If the competition has been pre-judged, it is likely the entries are arranged in order of merit. It is good practice to take a few slides from the middle of the entries and place these for displaying first; followed by the poorest, then proceeding through the remainder of the middling, and finishing with the winner.

Announce the best slides will be shown last but the first pictures shown are not in order of merit. This is to soften the blow for the unfortunate beginner whose very poor effort becomes lost in the anomaly of a random arrangement, rather than having the beginner flattened by the dishonour of first on the screen.  Remembering the dictum of the ‘Truth but not all the truth’, mention a good point about each picture, then its main failure, how it might be over­come and, finally, if warranted, another way the subject may have been tackled. Do not repeat yourself.

Although a great number of pictures tend to have a sameness about them, which normally would engender the same comment, this must be avoided. The same comment repeated will bore the members. Avoid caustic remarks, or reference to ‘record shot* or ‘snap shot* in derogatory vein.

In fifty years the ‘record shot* and ‘snap shot* will be far more in­teresting than the ‘pictorial’ effort which wins the night’s competition.

Keep an eye on the clock, but do not let the audience see you looking at your watch; they will only become aware how long you have been talking. Arrange a signal with the projectionist if slides are being shown, to avoid the repetitious ‘next slide please’. It can be a simple look towards the projectionist or in a well organised Club it will be a wire lead with a press button which lights a bezel light near the projector.

On the projection of the first of the place getters, usually a ‘Highly Commended’, announce its place and then proceed with the commentary on the picture. Continue in this manner to the winner. Allow the Com­petition Director to announce the award winners and then resume your seat. Either the President or a Club member appointed for the task will thank the judge, followed by acclamation, to which a simple ‘thank you* is sufficient response.

The judge should keep up-to-date with local photographic activities. He can render a service by bringing the Club members’ attention to State body functions and exhibitions. The ‘commercial’, as it is usually known, is likely to carry more weight coming from the visiting judge, even though it has already been read up by the Secretary.

Photographic functions and exhibitions are designed to make amateur photography more interesting and improve photographic standards. Both aspects are very much in line with the judge’s function. He should lend his weight to support such activities.

It is true to say a comparatively few dedicated officials spend a great deal of effort in promoting amateur photography, but the response by the Club members in general is not in direct ratio with the good which these functions are designed to do. Any support the judge can engender in his audience will extend the good work.


Rarely does a judge fail to arrive on the appointed night. However, accidents do occur, and it is well to prepare beforehand. The Club should consider the problem and plan for such an emergency.

One method is to select the most experienced panel of three (3) ‘A’ grade members present. The panel judges ‘B’ grade, using point or place method as is usual with the Club. Each panel member then comments on one picture until they have dealt with them all.

On reaching ‘A* grade a difficulty arises in that the judges will often have entries. The method adopted is for each judge to stand down when bis entry is being considered. In the event of the remaining two (2) judges being unable to arrive at a decision, the Club President will make the panel up to three (3) again for that particular entry.

A variation on the method of commentary is for each exhibitor to go forward and explain how and why he dealt with his subject.

Naturally questions from the audience will be welcomed.

Far from the night being a disaster, it is likely to be one of the high­lights of the year. It is amazing how members rise to the occasion when the event demands it