** A Tale of '3' Pictures **

27th November 2017
This post is written in the hope that some NIPA judges might think twice before hitting the '2' and the '3' button - and start hitting the '4' and the '5' button more often.
I have gone to some lengths to try to 'critique' certain pictures, and explain how or why I believe the scores they have gained in NIPA competition have been out of sync with the quality of the picture.
Those who want to see nothing but negativity, will see nothing but negativity. But it is a sincere attempt to stop the low-scoring mentality of NIPA judges, by highlighting where I think the problems lie, and where the approach might be wrong.

After Round 2, I sent an e-mail to the powers that be in NIPA, voicing my disappointment at the standard of judging, and the "low scoring" in particular.
So what were my concerns? In NIPA, like most photographic competitions, the judges score pictures out of 5. '3' represents 'average photography' in NIPA; '2' is below average, and '4' is above average. '5' should speak for itself - the best pictures should get scored 5. Unfortunately in NIPA, pictures rarely score the maximum 15.

Let's take an example from Round 1 -

"Orangutan with Butterfly" by Hugh Wilkinson Scored 11 in Round 1. In order to score 11, at least one judge has to hit the '3' button for 'average.' The other two judges hit the '4' button. Is it more shocking that one judge hit the '3' button, or that nobody hit the '5' button? (It could also have been two '3's' and a '5,' but this is unlikely).

I don't think it is enough for me to simply criticise the scoring of the image. Let's be a bit more 'forensic' about it. Judging guidance, recommended by the PAGB, and available on the Western Counties website, says "A Judge should not initially look at how the picture was made but ..... should be looking at, and into the image and responding to its emotional content."


In NIPA, the judges are given every blessed print 'through the hands' prior to scoring. Every single one. What happens is that instead of sitting back and "looking at, and into the picture" they 'inspect it' up close - and clearly they dissected this image (i.e they looked at how it was made, which is what they are NOT supposed to do) and they decided that the butterfly was 'put in.' Even though the butterfly WAS put in, it was extremely well done, such that it could only be discerned from close inspection. The result was that they 'missed the overall picture and emotional content' and hit the 3 or 4 button.

How on earth a judge could look at this picture and not respond (positively) to its emotional content is frankly beyond me! The contrast of a huge Orangutan seemingly mesmerized by a delicate butterfly and a flower, bathed in beautiful light makes for an extremely powerful picture; a nice play on colour, with the complimentary colours of the orange fur and the blue of the butterfly. There are no distractions; the image was sharp and well printed. It is a '5' all day long.

Now, that is not just 'my' opinion. It was judged in the Guernsey Salon 2017 by a hugely successful photographer and acclaimed judge, Paul Keene FRPS MFIAP MPAGB EFIAP/P - and it was awarded a Medal as one of the top 3 images in the Colour Open Section - which had a total of 869 images! (In the NIPA competition it was up against a lesser standard all round, and significantly fewer images - probably in the region of just 90 prints, 24 of which would have been by novices - so effectively it was up against just 65 other prints!).

If that is not enough to convince NIPA that I am right to voice my dissatisfaction, it was also entered into the Catchlight Club entry in the PAGB Print Championships at Blackburn just a few weeks ago. In Round 1 it was scored by 3 highly qualified International judges and it scored (you guessed it) '15.' The Club made the Final, where the top 8 Clubs in the UK compete head to head over 15 prints. Again in the Final, it was scored '15.'
If you need any further 'proof,' it was also awarded this week in an International Exhibition in Moldova :

Let's look at an example from Round 2 -

"The Girl in the Blue Dress" by Ross McKelvey

This also scored '11.' So again, at least one of the judges must have hit the '3' button. The powers that be have attempted to assure me that the images have been 'scored appropriately.' One of my major criticisms over the years has been that too many judges in NIPA have no photographic Distinctions whatsoever. (I can understand how, in years gone by these people had to be used as judges because they were experienced club photographers and there were very few people with any credentials).

Again, I don't think it is enough for me to simply state that the scoring of my image was too low. It is a difficult, but nonetheless a good learning exercise, to learn to critique your own image. So let me have a try...
It is properly exposed with no blown highlights; there is a nice play on colours, with the orange glass in the windows mirroring the model's hair colour; and of course orange and blue are complimentary colours on the colour wheel, so the colour of her slightly sheer garment creates a very pleasing colour palette in the image. There is lovely soft but directional light, with a rembrandt triangle of light on the cheek below the eye on the shadow side. The model is 'filling the frame' with a nice diagonal aspect, and there are no distractions to draw the eye away from the subject. The viewer is invited to ponder her thoughts as she sits and gazes towards the light.
It is a visually pleasing image that should score 4 or 5 - particularly in 'NIPA' competition!
Did any of the above critique pass through the mind of the judge that hit the '3' button? I am not claiming this is a '15' by any stretch of the imagination or my own ego. But frankly, it pisses me off that a NIPA judge hit the '3' button on it. Surely it is either a '4' or a '5' which gives it a potential scoring range of 12-15. For instance just last week it was awarded a FIAP Silver medal in an International Exhibition in Norway:

A third and final image is a portrait called "Hope" by Paul Killeen of the newly formed 'Westcourt Camera Club.' It scored 8 in Round 2! In other words, one of the judges hit the '2' button for 'below average.'

What on earth would make a judge hit the '2' button? Again, it is not enough to simply state that it was scored too low. Let's critique it:
It is composed with a bit of thought, placing the model against the wall so that the lines on the wall act as a leading line, bringing you to the subject, and her eyes in particular. There is good use of differential focus (also called shallow depth of field) to make the subject stand out, and the background cannot be said to act as a distraction. It is sharp where it needs to be sharp, and strong eye contact from the model. The natural light is 'side-on' creating nice modelling light on the face. What is there not to appreciate about the portrait? It would grace any L panel for a start. So why would a judge hit the '2' button? I'm afraid I do not have an answer to that question, other than pure speculation that the judge is simply saying "I do not like this" and therefore marking it down. "I do not like this image" or "this is not my thing" is NOT acceptable photographic critique.

I totally get the fact that NIPA does not have enough qualified judges. So why do they insist on having 5 Rounds of Competition that require a total of 15 judges, when the quality of that judging is virtually guaranteed to be 'suspect?' All current 'judges' on the NIPA circuit with no Distinctions should be required to go and prove their worth by getting the minimum of an L panel or a CPAGB, but preferably higher. Otherwise their hitting of the '2' and the '3' button carries absolutely no weight whatsoever. Just because someone has spent a lifetime as a club photographer does NOT make them a good judge. Judging is not a matter of sitting down and pressing buttons based on whether you 'like' or 'dislike' something without being able to back up your opinion.
To quote (again) from the excellent PAGB article on judging, "a personal track record of good photography at an advanced level is essential, otherwise a judge's remarks would be based on theory and little practice." Judging is a 'skill' that many successful photographers have studied and learned. It helps you become a better photographer, and every time you achieve a higher Distinction or win an award, you are putting your own 'skills' to the test by selecting which of your own images are the strongest.