Foolish Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Judging

By Ellen Bedrosian

After a recent competition, the Executive Board was asked to write guidelines for judges to use when scoring images. It seemed that some members felt that judges were being inconsistent in their critiques and subsequent scoring. Since I’d been judging for over a year, I volunteered to write it up. I got as far as explaining TCC’s unique scoring system before I drew a blank. How could I presume to tell other judges how they should score an image?

Just like creating a photograph is matter of personal taste, so is judging. Who was I, or anyone else for that matter, to dictate to a judge that if an image had a technical flaw, no matter how compelling, it cannot score a 9.

I know how aggravating it can be to hear the judge knock points off your entry because it had a hot spot only to see other members’ images score higher even though they had hot spots, too. Yes, the inconsistency of some judges really can be frustrating. But maybe the judge saw something in the other images that overshadowed the technical deficiency. Should the judge then be compelled to score those images lower despite her affinity for overall composition or impact? As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in Self-Reliance, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

We always have the option of re-entering an image if it scored a 6 or lower, and we believe the judge was wrong. The image below, a reflection of a bass player, scored a 6 the first time I entered it. I re-entered it and the next judge scored it a 9. So, the best advice I can give is to try not to take the scoring too personally and remember that judges are human, too (believe it or not).



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  1. Ellen, who annoy me the most are judges who are so hard nosed that they refuse to give 8’s and 9’s just to show how demanding they are. Rather than a set of rules for judging maybe the judges should understand we are avid amateurs who need encouragement as well as critiques. Some judges even make jokes at the expense of the photographer. I’ve experienced that.

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