assessment in basic photography
what is your set standard criteria in judging the technical and creative qualities of a photograph?Is there a standardized way of rating photographs?
John A. Lind
If your question is specifically about the monthly photo contest on this site, Jim Miotke should explain that.
Having entered large gallery presentation display prints into numerous "juried" photography shows, I will give you some general observations about the judging I've seen done in them and what my thoughts are about worrying about it (or even considering it). These are generalities and do not necessarily apply to any specific contest or show, including the monthly contest Jim sponsors here.
Judging is purely subjective, even though it takes into account technical aspects of the works. Every picture should tell a story about the subject material to its intended viewer(s) or audience. It can be simple, to the extent of being superficial, or it can be complex, including symbolic. The first thing most judges look for is the photograph's message: "What is the photographer trying to tell me with this photograph?" The next question is how powerful it is in telling that story: "Is it clear and compelling, without distractions that detract from the message?"
The creative aspect in the form of the message (as perceived by the juror) leads to evaluation of the technical methods used to convey that message. The only absolute rule about a photograph's technical qualities is there are no other absolute rules. The methods used in composing and technically executing the photograph are evaulated for how well they support conveying the photograph's message in making it clear, compelling and visually interesting.
How well a photograph fares with a specific juror depends heavily on who the photographer is, who the juror is, their common life experiences, and the photographer's understanding about the life experiences of the intended viewer(s). It is elements of these that a photograph triggers in its viewer(s) to convey its message. Some photographs convey a more universally perceived and understood message than others in how widely it spans time or demographics. This is what makes judging very subjective. A photograph can be declared "Best of Show" in one juried competition and not receive so much as an "Honorable Mention" in another held no more than 6 months and 30 miles apart.
For all these reasons, trying to make photographs specifically to win photography contests is nearly impossible. Instead of trying to satisfy jurors (or critics), I encourage you to think about satisfying yourself. Trying to do the former inhibits developing your own style, suppresses creativity, stifles originality, and invariably leads to frustration. It also tends to create "cliched" photographs that thinly veiled variations of the same things done thousands of times before. Working toward the latter allows you to better express yourself to others with your photographs, in your own style for doing so, is far more satisfying, and generates much more original work.
I select works for entry into juried shows based on how well they satisfy me in message being conveyed and how well I believe it is executed. In other words, it's done using my standards for my own work and not by using what I think someone else's completely unpredictable standards or expectations will be. If any of them win something, that's great. I won't deny that it feels good. If none attain any recognition from a juror, I still have photographs I like and that's more important to me.
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