UK Club Photography Circuit Judges


Several years ago I was persuaded to join a local photographic club. My interest in photography had been rekindled and with the spread of evermore competent digital SLR cameras and I was keen to learn and improve my photographic skills. This then, seemed like an ideal opportunity and a chance to meet some like minded souls and some highly experienced ones at that.

I was more than a smidgen dismayed however to find out that the whole UK camera club community is focused (no pun intended!) around seasonal photographic competitions between members, local clubs and other clubs within the region. In fact I found out that there was a whole plethora of awards a club photographers could attain from various photographic institutions such as the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain, Associate of British Professional Photographers, British Photographic Exhibitions and the International Federation of Photographic Art. iStock_000014086898XSmallIf one becomes sufficiently proficient and gains a certain number of photographic acceptances to any of these institutions a photographer may become entitled to add letters after their name such as ABPPA, BPE1, AFIAP, CPAGP, which I must admit I still find more than a tad bizarre. I hold a B.Sc. but don’t think I’ve once ever written my name John Birch B.Sc. in over 34 years since I graduated.

Never the less, I too became engrossed within the club competition psyche, and have enjoyed a certain amount of success within my local club. The competitions certainly provided a good platform to see one’s work compared to others, and in particular provided inspiration from other members submissions. In that respect I have to say that I have learnt a great deal and that has been reflected in what I consider a to be a marked improvement in my personal photography.

The competitions are judged by a seemingly select number of club circuit judges who tour clubs within their region or other parts of the country and award marks out of 20 for each print, slide or digitally projected image. The general rule is that if your pictures regularly attain a mark of 15 or over your photography would be considered to be advanced, below that and you would be categorised as a beginner or of an intermediate stage. New members commence within the lover categories but may attain promotion to the advanced status if they average 15 or above. However, all the pictures are generally judged together by the visiting judge.

Now without sounding too ageist, it would be fair to say that the majority of circuit judges are of the ‘grey-haired’ variety. With that comes a substantial wealth of photographic experience of course, and through listening to their comments, both critical and complementary, I have gleaned a significant amount of information on the art of photographic composition. I would imagine that the vast majority, if not all of these judges, have grown up from the era of film, slide and dark room photography, and of which they possess invaluable knowledge. However, what has become increasingly apparent to me, and is of real concern, is that they are still somewhat naive in the art of digital photography. By this I specifically mean how image files are processed through software like Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture and the like.

I obviously don’t mean that this applies to all judges, as some are well versed in digital processing techniques. However, I have become increasing dismayed by the inability of some judges to recognise poorly processed images, vastly over-sharpened images, HDR images and composites. To me most of these images stick out like a sore thumb, and anybody who has a modicum of Photoshop ACR skills can spot many of these traits a mile off. Yet many judges are talking about these images as if they were take on film, had received no processing what-so-ever and had come straight from the camera. Before you criticise my comments I don’t have any problems with processed images, composites or HDR, it’s just the judges blatant inability to recognise these that I find most worrying.

This seasons judging I find has been particularly poor at my local camera club, so much in fact that I have become quite disillusioned with the competition ethic. I know judges have their favoured styles, locations and scenes, which will always gain advantageous scores. I can put up with a certain amount of that, but’s it’s when some exceptionally good photographs get marked down (and I don’t mean mine) and some poorly processed, over-process or technically poor photographs gain marks that they are not worthy of, that I sometimes find hard to fathom.

You may think there’s a touch of sour grapes about this, but I want to ensure that is not the case. Photography is evolving at a rate that has never been witnessed before with cameras, lenses and software all rapidly changing. Club photography needs to move and adapt with the times or it is very soon going to become out-dated. If club photographic competitions are to continue the world of judging very much needs to come of age too .. something I feel it is currently struggling to do.

One comment

  • Nice précis of the camera club attitude, I can only go along with your sentiments, I too have become disillusioned with the Thursday evening local competition so much so that I moved to a club that doesn’t centre it’s programme round the monthly competition. Not sure where you are based but have you thought iof Yorkshire monochrome group as I now visit East Midland Mono for a different sort of stimulos

    April 1, 2013

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