Judging Instructions

Member print table by Russ Morris

Thank you for agreeing to judge for the NAPfS monthly competitions!

The competitions are designed to be fun and educational. While winning is a motivation for some, the larger reason for doing monthly competitions is to provide a live anonymous critique session for the club to observe. The critiques are actually the core element and everyone, not just the image maker, benefits from each critique given. We invite guest judges so that club members can benefit from their unique perspective.

Certain types of images speak to each person. By having rotating guest judges, we ensure that judging doesn’t consistently favor one type of subject, composition or post processing. Judging is subjective and we want judges to exercise their tastes as much as their technical know-how.

Competition Flow

Currently, the competition is split into three classes: Class 1 – Novice, Class 2 – Intermediate, and Class 3 – Expert. Images are displayed digitally.

The competition generally flows as follows:

  1. The judge will receive a password protected link to the images to preview them about 4 days before the competition.
  2. At the meeting, the images are previewed in a slide show for about 5 seconds each to allow the judge and club members to see them.
  3. The images the judge selected for critique are then presented one at a time while the judge provides comments and suggestions on the images.
  4. The winners will be announced starting with the Honorable Mentions, then 3rd place, 2nd place, and 1st When each winning image is presented, the photographer owning it states their name and image title.  Note the judge will have previously identified these winning images to the competition coordinator.

This is a general outline of the process, and can be modified if needed by the judge and competition coordinator.  The competition coordinator will manage the presentation of images for the judge.


Currently the club competes in 3 classes: Class 1 – Novice, Class 2 – Intermediate, and Class 3 – Advanced. To review an in-depth explanation about the classes, which the members are provided, please click here.

About Awards

At the end of the competition, 25% of the images in each class will receive some award. So, if 20 images are entered, there will be 5 awards: 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 2 honorable mentions. The other 15 images entered will not receive an award, but will still be critiqued during the competition. The judge will be informed when they receive the preview of the number/type of awards. The competition chair will make sure it is followed on the day of the competition.

About Themes and Image Restrictions

Unless you are told otherwise, the competition is not themed. That means images of any subject matter may be submitted.

For themed competitions, the competition chairs will pre-screen images to ensure that they roughly adhere to theme. Images not adhering will be rejected. The judge also may disqualify images for not meeting the theme, at their discretion. The judge does not necessarily have to consider theme appropriateness in awards, but may. For example, the judge may choose to bias the awards towards images she thinks fulfill the theme in the most interesting or creative way. Or she may simply judge the images ignoring the theme since all images have been accepted for the theme already.

The competition is for photography, but no restriction is placed on the type of photography or post production allowed. Image may be “photoshopped”, or otherwise highly manipulated as long as the core elements are photographic (produced by light shining through a lens on a light sensitive medium).  The judge’s subjective likes and dislikes for various photographic techniques and manipulations play a role. Judging is subjective. Some club members will even take notes so they can remember the preferences of recurring judges from year to year.

If there is a question of a image’s acceptability as photography, the judge’s ruling is absolute. The judge may also ask the competition chairs for direction. Any question of appropriateness will be handled in light of the first rule of club competition “competitions are for fun, inspiration and education.”

About Critiques

Since the core goal of the competition is to allow the entire club to learn from the images we collectively produce, judging happens live. Judge’s critiques should be between 30 and 60 seconds and focus on the key element that makes the images work or not work.

The club is made up of photographers of all levels from true beginners to lifelong veterans and professional photographers. Image making skill is equally diverse. Therefore, judges are asked to critique the image at the level it appears to be, focusing on it alone, and not in the larger competition context (judging/ranking is still across all images however). This way each image receives a useful critique.

During this critique, the judge should evaluate the images for the following, and focus on one or two key elements that add or detractor from the image’s overall appeal:

  1. Technique:
    • Focus: Is the image sharp where it should be?
    • Exposure: Is the subject exposed in a way that works? How about the background?
    • Lighting: Did the photographer use light (available and/or created) in an interesting and appropriate way?
    • Processing: Is the image appropriately processed in terms of white balance, etc?
      Note: artistic choices are fine, but should make sense visually for the image.
  2. Composition: Are the elements in the image arranged in a way that works for the image? This might be “pleasing” or “jarring” or anything thing else appropriate for the image. The judge is asked to rationalize and explain good or bad.
  3. Appeal: Some images just speak to the viewer. Is this one? If so, can the judge say why?

The three items above are simply guidelines and may be hierarchical. For some images, the judge will focus on point 1 entirely because that is where the photographer needs to concentrate their efforts. Other images will be technically “perfect” (no obvious problems) but will fail in point 2. Others will be judged and critiqued in point 3.

The hierarchy is not absolute. Judges are encouraged to see and comment on the most significant aspect of the image. If an image has exceptional appeal but fails some technical aspect, it may still win and the judge may choose to focus on the appeal of the image during the critique even if they mention the technical problems. A great example of this is Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” which is actually back focused significantly. Because of the subject and moment, the image is still exceptional and world class despite this technical mistake.

Critique the result, not the presumed process of creation. Production difficulty (or simplicity) should not be considered. Judges that violate this often do so when they say “this looks like an f8 and show up image.” While that gets at something, it gives the wrong message to photographers. It suggests that images that look hard to make are better. Often the opposite is true. The best images are those that look effortless.

The “f8 and show up” criticism is mistakenly used when the image fail on point 3 above. The image simply isn’t compelling and the judge is at a loss to explain why. It is perfectly acceptable to say “This image doesn’t speak to me. I’m just not interested in the subject as presented.”

In all cases, critiques should be constructive. That doesn’t mean the judge has to necessarily say something positive about the image unless something stands out. Focus on the key elements of what makes the image good or bad. In the case of negative aspects, suggestions for fixing the deficiency are appropriate. For example, an image of a human face with a very shallow depth of field that is focused on the subject’s nose might receive a comment “I like the choice of shallow depth of field for this type of image, but in this case, the pupil of the eye needs to be the sharpest thing in the frame. Make sure you focus on your subjects eye unless you have a clear reason not to.”


Competitions should be fun for everyone, including the judge. Club members will be respectful, win or loose. We appreciate you taking the time to come judge and share your perspective on photography. If you have any questions, please ask the person coordinating for you, or email the competition chair (competition@napfs.club).