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The 15-step process is involves four phases:
> Photographic intention
> Storytelling, narrative and composition
> Photo capture techniques
> Mobile photo editing to enhance the narrative

My process as a camera club monthly photo competition judge

My process as a camera club monthly photo competition judge

Have you participated in a photo contest or a monthly photo competition and wondered how the judge sorts through and assesses the images?

In this article, I am going to unveil the mystery and explain my process. Click the video link above watch me explain the process or listen to the podcast via the link at the bottom of this page.

Entering a photo competition or camera club monthly photo competition is a great way to have your work recognised. It is also a great way to receive some educated and experienced feedback from someone who does not know you.

If you only receive biased feedback from your friends and family, they will likely tell you to start selling your images at the local market. For us passionate photo enthusiasts that sounds amazing, because we want everyone else to enjoy our photos a much as we do.

As a smartphone photographer educator, I deliver presentations and workshops at camera clubs. I also have the absolute privilege of judging monthly photo competitions – either for a smartphone category or open theme. I love doing this because I too am a student of photography and analyzing images helps me to better analyse an image.

As a human, I am aware that I come with prejudices and that my assessments, interpretations and assertions are subjective. I also understand that submitting your images for assessment and review can leave you a little vulnerable.

Initial Formulated Sorting Process
As I have always been a technically minded photographer – I naturally start the process with a formulated approach to be fair and consistent.

When scoring submissions I have broken the process into five main categories with a maximum of fifteen points.

1. Intention – 3 points
2. Composition – 3 points
3. Lighting – 3 points
4. Equipment – 2 point
5. Editing – 4 points

You may have noticed that I have placed the least amount of value on your equipment. That is because I believe that great photography is not about the equipment. Do not succumb to lens envy! No one looks back at the photography greats of our past and reflect on what gear they must have been using.
1. Intention
This is the difference between a happy snap recording a scene and a deliberate capture to create an image intended for an audience. Whenever you lift your smartphone to take a photo – take a moment to pause and think about what motivated me to take this photo?

This process provides clarity of what the subject is and the contextual elements in the scene.

Telling a story in your images can assist you to make an emotional connection with the viewer. This can range from the context evoking a universal memory that we all share or something surprising, shocking or telling part of a story through visual cues.
2. Composition
Composition refers to the positioning of different elements (objects, lines, colours, exposure, tones) and how they all interact with each other to direct and hold the attention of the viewer. There are a number of basic compositional guidelines that I look for; including cropping, rule of thirds and leading lines.

I personally, place a lot of emphasis on strong composition in an image. In a world of filters – nothing demonstrates visual literacy more than composition. This cannot be automatically applied by the engineers behind our iPhone and smartphone camera technology.
3. Lighting
This is very under-rated in photography. The light direction, quality and quantity can add to the intention of the image. The most gorgeous location and perfect composition are better with beautiful lighting. Check out this article on the use of lighting in your smartphone photography.
4. Equipment
Many photographers place a lot of emphasis on 'getting it right in camera'. This minimizes how much editing you need to undertake after the image is taken. Although you can apply image sharpening in photo editing, there is no turbo button for fixing a blurry image.

Knowing the features of your iPhone or Android camera, apps and accessories extend the capability of your amazing photographic tool.
5. Editing
Mobile editing apps like Snapseed, Adobe Lightroom CC, Pixlr, PicsArt, Retouch, After Focus and Polarr are all available on the App store and Google Play.

As much as I am an advocate for editing every image – I also scrutinise photos for being over-edited. I like photos to have natural colours and realistic lighting with and demonstrated attention to composition.

Photo editing is a personal preference and subject to personal taste and preferences. Wining photos generally have a very clear editing strategy that manipulates my attention around the image – bringing it back to the intention of the image.
Deciding placements and feedback
For each image – I document one or two positive observations that work in the image. If it is the composition – I will provide specifics on what compositional technique, in particular, worked best.

Writing down and articulating considerations is time-consuming, as I am respectful of how much effort goes into submitting a photo to a club photo competition.

I will also provide one or two considerations. These are provided courteously and with the utmost respect – not knowing the photographer, their level of experience and visual literacy. My suggestions are that they are suggestions. Some people will like what I have to say – others will disagree. These comments are in good faith and with the honest intention of sharing my own lessons learned.

These suggestions are around the five stages of a great image, listed above. The most common suggestions are a re-crop to focus more on the subject and editing suggestions to make the intention of the image stand out further.
Camera clubs are a wonderful opportunity to surround yourself with like-minded amateur photography enthusiasts. I have found the many that I have presented and judged to be a supportive, non-judgmental environment for the accelerated learning of visual literacy and getting the most out of your camera. In addition to the monthly photo competition, some organise day outings and special guest presenters.

Many are now supportive of mobile photography and have been open-minded and progressive to include the smartphone camera as a monthly photo category. Just remember, it is not about the equipment – it is about those five stages of a great my subjective opinion!

"Mike James is an enthusiastic, energetic and passionate presenter with many years of experience using both cameras and phones. It is often hard to find good judges that can give positive and constructive comments about the images they are asked to judge."

"Mike has judged our photographic competitions in the past and his detailed comments, in jargon-free language, was well-received by all members. His comments enabled them to feel they could improve their photography in areas he highlighted. After the judging, Mike freely gave his time to talk to members individually when approached to gain further information in regard to their images"

"We arranged smartphone photography training with Mike for tourism businesses, which truly delivered on our goal of giving people simple tips and tools to help them capture more engaging professional photos using their phone."


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  • Intention
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