Guidelines for Judges



Four Judges in the SCC are members of either Salon or Class A, participate in each image competition.

(Internet Nature is conducted separately with a different though similar process)

Monthly Judging Process

  1. You will be emailed a spread sheet by Bill Payne, Digital Coordinator, 5 days before the night of Wednesday night comment sharing on Zoom. Please download this and consider printing it as you may want to use it for jotting down notes or preliminary scores before and during the Zoom session.
  2. From 5 days before the Zoom session to 2 days afterward, you (and the comment taker) will be granted “Judge Photos” access to the month’s images on our website. Please look through the images before the meeting and formulate some preliminary thoughts. At this time, you may enter temporary scores on the website (please remember to click on the “submit score”. These scores will remain changeable until 2 days after the Zoom session.
  3. The date of comment sharing, Zoom will be opened around 6:30 with actual comment sharing beginning as soon as all involved are present. “Regular” category Images will be viewed in sequence and judges will be asked “what do you like” and “do you have any suggested improvements”. The comment taker will make notes and tell us when we can move to the next image. Please phrase your comments as though the maker were sitting next to you.  There will be no discussion of scores at this meeting. Judges’ may not comment on their own images.
  4. As there are no comments on “Special” category images, those will not be viewed in this session, unless a judge wishes to discuss a particular image for opinions.
  5. After the session is complete, please do your final scoring on the website within 2 days. After 11:59 pm on the second day after the Zoom session (i.e.: 11:59 on the 12th if the Zoom is on the 10th). The score that you last entered will become your final score. No written comments are necessary as we’ve taken care of that during the Zoom meeting. Our hope is that our combined vision will lead to a closer meeting of minds, or at least an agreement to disagree.

Thank you, and always remember – this is supposed to be fun

Judging and Scoring

Each of the four judges will score each image based on the “Elements of Photography” and assign a score of five (5) Below Average to ten (10) Outstanding, to the image.  (For more detail, see section on Image Scoring below). The final score for each image is the sum of the three (3) highest scores, with the lowest score being removed.

Individual images will receive a final score between fifteen (15) and thirty (30).

In the event that the maker of image being judged is one of the judges, that judge will abstain from voting and an average score of the remaining three judges will be used for the fourth score.

After the final scoring is tabulated, if scores differ by 3 points or more, the Digital Coordinator will contact the judges to give them the opportunity to adjust their scores, but only if they so wish.

Image Commentary (Regular Category images only)

During the Wednesday Zoom session, the judges take turns commenting on the image for all Regular Category submissions. The image commentary is meant primarily to be a teaching tool, a way to provide feedback on the maker’s image.  It is intended to compliment what is good and to make suggestions about possible ways to improve the image that may be helpful to the maker and others in making future images.  Comments are opinions and not verdicts.  As much as possible, judges should strive to be objective and specific in their comments and be aware that they are offering a personal opinion. Judges are also cautioned that, even though they may not like the subject matter of an image

( i.e.: “spiders are icky”), that personal bias should not affect how they score and critique the image.

It is suggested that judges:

– Start their comments with “To me, In my opinion, I feel, I see, I think…”
– also, use words like “may, might, consider…”
– while avoiding words like “always, never, must, should…”

In the end, the maker must always be left with the impression that the image commentary is only a suggestion and it is their choice to use or not use. Comment takers are encouraged to rephrase and edit judges’ comments (while always respecting their content) in order to comply with these objectives.

Image Disqualification

It is our goal, whenever possible, to avoid disqualification. Deficiencies in compliance with the theme of the competition should be reflected in a lower score rather than disqualifying the image. Whenever possible, an attempt will be made by the Judging Chairman to identify and rectify problems on submitted images with the maker prior to judging. Late submissions may not allow time for this process.

If, in the process of image evaluation, a judge feels that there is a serious rule violation (one that would require disqualification), please email the judging chairman first, so that he or she may address the concern privately with the maker. While many times these concerns can be dispelled, confirmation of a true problem would afford the maker the opportunity to withdraw or replace the image before the competition submission deadline.

That being said…

Images may still be disqualified for any of the following reasons:

  • Image previously submitted (simple conversion to monochrome does not allow re-submission)
  • Image bears the logo, signature or name of the maker
  • Image has the recognizable maker in it
  • Image is not in good taste 
  • Nature image that contains elements specifically not allowed in PSA Nature rules
  • Travel image that contains elements specifically not allowed in PSA Travel rules

Any Judge may request that an image be disqualified, however, the judges need to agree. In the event that the judges cannot agree, the judging chairperson has the final word.

There is no make-up for a disqualified image. However, the image may be resubmitted for another monthly competition if it was disqualified if the reason for disqualification can be rectified.

Deciding on a Score

Judge’s Pre-scoring Checklist

  1. Know the category’s requirements/definition
  2. Disregard your personal biases (re: subject, location, technique etc.)
  3. Use consistent reasoning based on the Elements of Photography

Guidelines for Number Scores

 “5” Very Below Average:

  • Not relevant to the category
  • Out of focus (unless intentionally)
  • Over- or under-exposed
  • Snapshot type of picture
  • Little impact or imagination

“6” Below Average:

  • Technically correct in many aspects (focus, exposure, etc)
  • Good color for the subject and background
  • Little impact or imagination
  • Relevant to the category

“7” Average:

  • Technically correct in most aspects
  • Good presentation
  • Good composition
  • Good pictorial treatment
  • Tells a story
  • Relevant to the category

“8” Above Average:

  • Technically correct in most aspects
  • Good presentation
  • Good composition
  • Good pictorial treatment
  • Tells a story or creates a mood
  • High impact to the viewer
  • Relevant to the category

“9” Very Above Average:

  • Technically correct in all respects
  • Outstanding composition
  • Tells a complete story or creates a mood
  • High impact to the viewer on first sight
  • Exemplifies the category

“10” Outstanding:

  • “Knocks your socks off”
  • No Flaws or Room for Improvements

Elements of Photography

We all probably approach analyzing a photograph differently, but all analysis should include consideration of the basic elements of photography. Nearly every image will exhibit these elements, some more strongly than others. These strengths and weaknesses should be reflected in the score. 

  • Composition: How are the subjects in the frame arranged, and does the maker employ the rule of thirds, leading lines, symmetry, balance, etc. well?
  • Focal point: Does the image display a center of interest to which your eye is drawn?
  • Creativity: Does the image convey imagination in choice of point of view, use aperture or shutter speed in an unusual way? Has the maker employed interesting treatment in post processing, or shown something with which you may be familiar, but presented in a different way?
  • Color: How do you see the color being used or not being used effectively in the image? Do colors compliment or distract. Would monochrome have been an interesting option?
  • Light: Has the maker chosen a good time of day to take advantage of favorable light? Has the maker overcome a difficult lighting situation? Has positioning of the subject in the light, natural or artificial, been used effectively to enhance the image?
  • Technical Considerations: Have basic image qualities such as focus, depth of field, exposure (ISO, aperture, shutter speed), camera handling, white balance, noise been managed well? 
  • Impact: Does the image evoke an emotion no matter how subtle?
  • Story: Does the image tell a story of some kind?

Remember, any of these elements may be seen differently by different judges. Any element may be well done, not well done, or missing altogether. Where the particular element fits in these categories will be up to you, and others will not necessarily agree with you. There is no consensus on the application of the elements. Makers, however, expect the judge to discuss them.

The Elements of Photography Expanded

Impact is the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder, horror or any other emotion. There can be impact in any of these emotions. Impact may also be found in any or all of the elements of a fine photograph. Photographers may be impacted by a fine composition or something finely focused.

Just because you do not feel any of the above responses to an image does not mean that is has no impact. This just means it may not have any impact for you. Impact is only one of the elements of a fine photograph; so do not put too much weight on the impact element. The quality or lack thereof, of all elements should figure into image impact.

Bias may be one reason, and the worst of all reasons, to think an image has no impact. If you do not like cats, recognize this fact and do not think that a picture of a cat has no impact just because it is an image of a cat. Your perceived lack of impact may be true; it does not have impact in your mind. This may be your problem and not the maker’s. There must be other reasons; look into it a bit deeper. 

Technical Considerations are to be taken into account when assessing the quality of the image as it is presented for viewing. Retouching, dirty sensor spot removal, proper removal or inclusion of distracting elements, proper or improper use of a vignette, removal of a distracting background, sharpness, exposure, depth of field, presentation, and correct color are some items that speak to the qualities of the image. Technical excellence encompasses all the things you have learned about photography that have to do with visual excellence of the image presentation. It may not be emotional in any way and the viewer must understand the concepts as well as the methods for creating a technically excellent image. 

Composition is important to the design of an image, bringing all of the visual elements together in concert. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to create a meaning from the image. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker, or your perception. You will not know what the maker’s intent was, so you must create the meaning for yourself before you can discuss composition. All images have some form of composition whether it is good or bad. Rules are meant to be broken and your perception of composition may very well see beyond them. 

Focal Point is the point, or points, on the image where the viewer’s eye is drawn as they view the image. These are called fixation points. There can be primary and many secondary interest areas. There is no mandate that an image must have a single center of interest. Occasionally, there will be no specific center of interest at all when the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest. Too many points of interest can be distracting.

Creativity may be demonstrated in an original or fresh take on a subject produced through the imagination of the maker. It may be a new or creative way you feel the maker has presented a tried and true subject or an imaginative presentation of a very new subject. In either case the creativity will manifest itself in your mind as something a bit different.

Tonality and Texture may work together, effectively supporting the image and enhance its emotional appeal. Color harmony supplies structure to an image. It, however, may not always be comfortable and may be used intentionally to supply a very unstructured image to evoke diverse feelings for effect. Color may very well be used to enhance composition by balancing the image much like a scale. Dark colors may appear heavy and bright colors conversely may appear light. This apparent distribution of color balance may not have much to do with color manipulation in a computer, but more to do with the visual equilibrium of the color parts within the frame. Color tonality is also a part of color harmony.

Tonality and texture may be enhanced by use of monochrome in the place of color. This can create a visual harmony that may have been less apparent in the presence of color.

Light use and control of light determines how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is man-made or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image in every way including, but not limited to, color, highlight and shadow, exposure, distractions, and as mentioned, dimension or the impression of the depth. The maker’s choice of shooting during the more favorable light early and late in the day, as well as their skill in handling of a difficult lighting situations, should all be taken into consideration in scoring.

Presentation affects an image by giving it a finished look. A thin stroke around the edge of the image should support and enhance the image, not distract from it. It is particularly helpful in defining the edge of darker images. Making sure there is not any sensor dust showing on the image is helpful in improving presentation.

Story Storytelling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination in the viewer. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or read her own story in an image. Therefore, there may be an argument that the viewer, as well as the maker, has a responsibility in the process. The maker has a responsibility to present an image that correctly fulfills as many elements as possible. The viewer may need to create a meaning for the image if it is not obvious. A vivid imagination may be one of the most powerful tools in reading a photograph.  It is not necessarily the maker’s responsibility to present you with something you recognize.