From the Front Line of: Judging Club Photography by Angy Ellis

Durham Photographic Society’s Vice President Angy Ellis is a newly qualified Judge on the NCPF circuit. This article first appeared in Photography News magazine Issue 8 in the feature, “Before the Judge” in May 2014

Meet the Judge

.Angy Ellis – Lives in Sunderland. I stumbled on photography 6 years ago before then I had never owned a camera

Home Club – Durham Photographic Society which is close to my home town of Spennymoor where my family still live.

Years in Photography – 6

Favourite Camera – the one I am currently using, my Nikon D600

Favourite Lens – I like having fun with my 16mm fisheye.

Favourite Subject – creative portraits

Awards won – At this early stage I’m not interested in obtaining letters but know I will be, eventually. I enjoy the club and International competitions and am proud to have been awarded two Gold medals; one achieved in my first year entering Internationals. I have also been awarded Ribbons, many acceptances as well as club successes & trophies.

Before the Judge

So what gave me the urge to enter into the world of judging club photography? Simply the fact that it’s part of my personality to get involved in everything I do as much as possible; and no other hobby, so far, has taken over my life as much as photography. To be totally honest with you all I had paid £475 for a 30 x 20 inch family portrait that I never wanted to pay again. I bought my very first camera, an Olympus E410, and walked into Durham Photographic Society 6 years ago expecting someone to help me understand all the dials and letters around it. It was a competition results night and when I saw the quality of images projected, and overheard the technical discussions, I realised I had an extremely steep learning curve ahead of me. That is where the excitement started, and my love of photography grew.

I entered the competitions immediately and what became clear to me early on was that I was winning club competitions and doing very well in Internationals, with my gold medal/ribbon and many acceptances without really knowing the ‘rules’; rules that I have heard many Judges use when visiting the club. Such rules as that thirds, leading lines, the centre of interest needing to be bright, red is a good colour to highlight, use 3’s & 5’s, the horizon needs to be away from the mid –point, keep body parts away from the edge of the image. I could go on and on and on. Now in my 6th year I am fully aware that these rules will hopefully stop the author from making a bad picture but I do feel that if you live by them they could restrict the creative side of your photography and inhibit you from producing a really good interesting image. Back then I had no constraints. This is why now, when I look at an image it is my initial reaction I’m after rather than the implementation of the rules.

So, how did I get here? I started by expressing my interest in becoming a judge to our president. He informed me of a Northern Counties Photographic Federation judging workshop and I went along. It was very well organised, the room was full of new faces, all passionate about photography and all with different photographic styles. It was great fun getting to meet them all. We all participated in group activities as well as standing up in front of everyone to put into practice what we had been taught that day on assessing images and, of course, to be assessed ourselves.

I had been a successful sales coach for a large high street bank for many years so standing in front of an audience giving constructive feedback was my normal stage. I’m fully aware that I don’t have the extensive photographers’ vocabulary, printing knowledge or past dark room experiences but I don’t think that hinders me at all when deciding what I enjoy about an image and which one I like the most and why.

The great thing is photography is subjective, but it can be judged. If I prefer one particular image or style to another, that does not make me wrong. I’ll be honest. I do prefer an image that is creative, that is outside the box, that offers something extra than ‘the norm’. I get bored with ‘the norm’ unless it’s done really well. I do need more to impress me. During the past few years I have seen similar but at the same time different in other judges. It may not be a style that a judge focuses on but a technical issue. I’ve heard judges concentrating totally on sharpness. They judge the work unworthy of being placed if it’s not pin sharp. I personally don’t believe an image should be hit over the head with the ‘Unsharp mask’ tool, if I can see the detail in a competition entry that’s fine by me and this is why competition nights are so exciting because we are all different and you can’t predict the judges likes, dislikes, decisions and final results.

So here I am at home with my images to judge, all over the house if they are prints, if they are PDIs I download them onto my iPad and take them everywhere with me so I can look whenever I get a chance. After my initial viewing, where I’m hoping for a reaction, I then look closer and the skills & experience of the author will sometimes become evident, but not always. So when judging I feel that my gut instinct works best to be able to place the images. I am comfortable and confident with my decisions as well as the way I make them. Personally, at club level, I would never consider looking at Meta data or changing PDIs on my own computer to try different things, as I have heard other judges say they have done. Let me be clear I’m not at all saying that this is wrong. If you need to do this to arrive at your own final decision that’s all fine by me – I prefer my emotional reaction first and then I’ll look at the basic expectations of a competition entry and that’s where I stop.

If an image that I view has impact based on various factors such as mood, imaginative work, subject matter and my initial response is a “Wow!” “Oooh!” or “Aahhh!” then it’s off to a very good start. How can you top, or deny that gut reaction. Add to that the technical merit and I have my winner.

So we come to the results night where I visit the club for the first time. The images are without author’s names so I have no idea if it’s a new member or a long serving, experienced photographer and why should I? It wouldn’t make any difference to how I feel about the image; everyone likes to hear some encouragement no matter how experienced they are. On the night I try not to describe what’s in the image ‘here we have a bird sitting on a branch of a large tree’. I describe how it makes me feel, why or why not the image has impact and the reaction I got from seeing it the first time. When feedback is needed I will gently point out any minor or major technical faults as well as the strengths. I try to find 3 positives about each image that I can say on the night. Everyone should feel appreciated for their efforts.

I do feel it’s not necessary or obligatory on every image to search for a negative or an area for improvement. I strongly believe you can have a box of images and like them all. I don’t see the need to ‘look’ for something negative to justify why it’s not placed when it’s simply that others made more of an impact: perhaps due to the subject matter; something that’s triggered something emotional in my own genetic make-up to make it special to me; enjoyed more by me or admired by me.

My style is fast paced, I’m quick.. I’m quick in most things that I do. If anyone has heard me speak or worked with me it’s go go go.. I’m not one to talk at length about an image, I get straight to the point and this makes a fast moving, energy-filled experience, after all it means that we will have more time for tea & chat this way.

I do try to add my own personality & humour into the night. I’m fully aware that people may be sitting and listening for up to 2 hours on not the most comfortable of seating so let’s have fun where we can as the pins and needles set in places best not mentioned.

So after a night of judging if get a letter of thanks or even to be asked back (which I have) I know I’m on the right track. It’s only been 8 months! I’ll get better in time as we all do. As long as I’m having fun I’ll keep doing it, as of now I’m thoroughly enjoying all that it has to offer.

Angy Ellis

Queen of Hearts by Angy Ellis

Note: the next NCPF Judges Seminar will be in 2015. The date will be appear on the NCPF website in due course

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