Being a competition judge on Zoom has its pros and cons. One disadvantage is that the judge is speaking into the ether, rather than in a packed room – and can’t pick up signals as to how their comments are being received. On the other hand, judges now receive the images in advance and are not pressurised to make up their minds on the spot at the meeting. Another advantage, pointed out by tonight’s judge, Ian Brash, was that there was no need for judges to stay near the door in case they needed to make a quick exit!

Right at the start, Ian warned that he was going to be ‘a little bit critical’ and that he was ‘a little bit disappointed’ with the Advanced Level entries. At that level he was looking for extra creativity, thinking ‘outside the box’, communication of idea and emotion, and complete mastery of the basic skills of photography. There were 50 entries: 18 at Standard Level and 32 at Advanced Level and it soon became evident that many of the Advanced Level entrants were going to receive a salutary ‘kick up the backside’! Indeed, in Ian’s estimation, some, at least, of the Standard Level images eclipsed those entered at the higher level!

I wish I’d researched Ian’s preferences beforehand, by reading blogs from other clubs where he’d judged. I would have added a keyline to my images and maybe squeezed out some extra marks! Here’s a quick checklist for next time: he clearly enjoys simplified shots, abiding by the rules of composition, dynamic diagonals, good graphic design, interesting skies, good lighting, eye-to-eye contact in portraits, subjects that interest and hold attention, a good storyline, cropping out distractions whilst showing enough of the context, and animal action-shots. Ian doesn’t appreciate unvertical verticals, wonky horizons, wrong exposure and burn-outs, halo lines, lack of separation and poorly applied Gaussian Blur (whatever that is!).

The key thing he hammered home was the need for monochrome images to have good contrast with plenty of intermediate tones. They had to be punchy and post-processing should make the picture jump. Too many of the entries tonight were ‘flat as a pancake’ and just ‘muddy’. They were too grey, with too small a contrast range, and they lacked three-dimensionality. There was plenty of sound advice on offer from tonight’s judge. He was being ‘cruel to be kind’ and we appreciated his honesty.

I had a brief chat with Ian Brash after our meeting (via Zoom). I asked him what he most enjoyed about being a judge and what he would say to anyone disappointed by their scores:


Here are the top-scoring entries (with Exif data where available):


‘Somewhere to Sleep’ – Steve H (10+ WINNER)

Canon EOS 700D; 1/160 sec; f9; ISO 400; focal length 100mm

‘Learning the Basics’ – Kevin B (10)

Canon EOS 6D Mark II; ISO 100; focal length 28mm


‘High Finance’ – Alfred C (10 WINNER)

Pentax K-5 II; 1/320 sec; f14; ISO 200; focal length 14mm

‘Old Ned’ – Dave S (9)

Panasonic DMC-F27; 1/140 sec; f5.6; ISO 80; focal length 51mm

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