Final Judging for San Diego Fair 2017

Bright on early on Sunday the 21st a bunch of us gathered in the Photo Exhibition area of the Del Mar Fair Grounds for the 2nd tier judging of entrants for the 2017 international Juried Photography Exhibition.

It was a beautiful morning, and quite on the fairgrounds.  Workers were beginning to erect the stages and vendors starting to set up booths and eating concessions.

blog Fairgrounds stage set up 01

This is the Paddock area and in the center of the shot, one of the stages is being set up.

In a few weeks this will be a madhouse as fair goers descend on the grounds to see the exhibits, taste the latest in Fair Food (I can hardly wait to see what will be this years gross-out offering though it is hard to imagine topping deep fried butter…).  But the greenskeepers have been busy and flowers are everywhere at peak bloom.

blog Fairgrounds flowers 01

The judging went as per normal.  Here is a shot of a typical 3-juror panel to show you how it proceeds.

blog judging sequence

Here is a judging panel in action.  Sorry for the bizarre look; this was shot on my Canon P&S and I accidentally flicked the setting to one of the presets.  I don’t even know which one it was but it is NOT one I would choose on purpose…

The process is that the work to be judged is in the boxes (1) toward the back; a volunteer or helper then takes them one at a time and shows them to the panel (2) which renders its verdict whereupon the records keeper (3) records the data for that print.

The goal is to determine 1st through 4th place and some “honorable mention” images from among those images that passed Tier One oversight.  Unless some rules infraction is noted or the submitted print simply does not live up to the potential of the electronic version seen earlier, all others will hang n the exhibition hall floor.

Once all of the categories have been judges, the first place winners are laid out and the combined jurors then vote for “Best of Show.”  This year took about 4 ballots to get it down to two and a final round determined the winner. (Sorry you will have to go to the fair to check out the results.)

As usual I took my own notes plus chatted with other jurors to get their input on common problems to pass on to help you all in improving your photography as well as your chances for better showings in this and other exhibitions.  Sadly, the number one issue was…

READ THE RULES.  I’m not sure why this would be necessary to mention but it seems to be.  We disqualified a couple of images and downgraded a few others for the simple problem of ignoring the rules as laid out in the data sheets provided for those wanting to submit work.  And do pay attention to the categories.  If you get approved at Tier One for a color shot, do not THEN decide you like it better in Grayscale and turn it in, still in the color category, as a black and white image.

When the rules clearly state that a digital stoke around the image needs to be black or white, that does not include gold or tan even if it would be a better choice for color compatibility.

After nearly ever year’s judging, the coordinators and judges confer to see what mods might be made to the rules to reflect changing technologies and sometimes even evolving image trends.  No set of rules is perfect.  But for any given year, when the data sheets go out, THOSE ARE THE RULES.  Period. You cannot decide unilaterally that you are above them and expect anything other than to have your work kicked out.

FOCUS.   When some element (or elements) in your image need to be sharply focused, THEY NEED YO BE SHARPLY FOCUSED!  How many of you are aware that your electronic auto-focus lens may or may not come from the factory with dead-on focus capability.  Professional and pro-sumer cameras allow you to use software to correct for this so that what seems to be in focus in the viewfinder really IS in focus at the image plane.  This problem is far more prevalent that you may think and many vendors and manufacturers deny it altogether.  But just like ISO/Noise calibrations and sensor calibrations for color bias require your attention, so does this if it is giving you a problem.  It can happen for any lens but is much more common on zoom/variable focus lenses.  And is especially noticeable in macro/close up work were precise focusing is what makes or breaks the image.

It may look great on your camera monitor or on the screen but when sharp areas are critical, zoom in at 100% or more and check it out.  You may be surprised to see how often the focus is off a little but that is enough to kick you image down a peg or two at judging time.

SIZE.  Bigger is not always better, especially when you enlarge past the point where the file can properly resolve the detail.  Several prints would like great when seen across the judging area but when brought around for closer inspection simply fell apart.  You are far better off making a top quality 8×10 image mounted on the mandatory 16×20 mat than you are trying to do a full bleed 16×20 when all that does is show off file flaws.

FINAL PRINT QUALITY.  A printed image is NOT an electronic image.  The printing process, especially enlargements (as noted above) simply make errors and slip-shod editing more obvious.  There are really two issues here:  (a) Editing of the image and (b) printing of the final image.  Both have an effect on the look and quality of the final but are separate issues.

  • EDITING.  It was irritating how often we saw a reasonably well composed and well shot image that suffered from really shoddy editing.  I think there are two possible reasons for this, each with its own solution.
    • The first is that the photographer simply does not know what can or should be done to improve the image so has to real place to start.  No matter what tools you have available to you, if you do not know what you want to accomplish, those tools are worthless.  The more work you see the more opportunities you have to see good editing, to get inspiration and ideas.  And the more chances you have to apply that to your own work.
    • The second issue is that the photographer knows what they would like to do to improve the final image, they simply do not know the tools well enough to actually perform the appropriate edits
    • Both of these issues are resolved with education: learning more about the work being done by others, the potential artistic options available to you.  And there are classes and workshops flooding the place where you can learn to use the tools with expertise.
  • PRINTING.  Whether you are printing on your own printer or are using the services of some professional printer, it is your responsibility to either know how to properly profile your own printer and properly prepare you file for it, or to be able to direct, monitor, and oversee the work of another printer to guarantee the work quality.  Assuming your file is good, it is still up to you to spot and fix any color biases or mismatches, tonal issues and muddiness, and also any presentation issues.  The judges won’t know and do not care why a print is less than perfect when they are looking at them to determine acceptance or rejection.

So that’s it for this year.  Do try to get to the judges panel and/or critiques for input on how to improve your images; and come up to se the show.




About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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2 Responses to Final Judging for San Diego Fair 2017

  1. Doug Faber says:

    HI David. I entered a photo last year that was rejected, but find your judging info interesting. Looking at the photo with the flowers along the path, appears to look like a blue brush was used to enhance the color. Looking at the right side as you leave the shadow into the light the blue is not touching the concrete arch. Thought I’d inquire. thanks. Doug

    • ndking says:

      I would need to go back and look at that shot, Dough, to give a proper answer. We looked at so many I am afraid I do not recall it specifically. I can tell you that in that category, there were a couple of images we judges liked but thought violated the rules and called the coordinator over for a ruling. In one case he agreed it was not OK and in the other, after some deliberation, decided it was “iffy” but to allow it.

      When it comes to “enhancement” remember we were not judging something for its objective “straight” character but its overall result. And, it is important to note we have very little time to make a call on a shot so do sometimes miss something — both good and bad — that more deliberation time might have caught. We are far from anything approximating infallible, even with multiple sets of eyes looking at the shot and sometimes we dismiss one or accept one that a more careful examination might have viewed differently. I’d like to think it does not happen a lot and we do try our best.

      In the end, however, once all of the easy errors are dispatched and all of the normal reasons for rejection — at least those we noticed in the short viewing time — are covered, we have run out of quantifiable reasons to say, “No” and are simply left with some very subjective reasons for acceptance. In that sense, judging is no less a matter of preference and style than is taking the photos in the first place.

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