The After-competition Whine and Cheese Party

By Ellen Bedrosian

It happens after almost every competition. Members gather in small groups and complain about how the judge scored their images. Sure, there are times when it seems as if the judge completely misses the point of your image. I remember one image submitted by another member that I thought was pretty cool. It was a selective focus shot of one mug out of rows and rows of “I Love  NY” mugs,


and the judge’s critique was that the entire image of out-of-focus. I remember thinking: We gotta get some new judges. But more often than not, judges have legitimate criticism of our images, and if we listen to what they have to say and try not to get defensive, we can learn from their comments and in the process, become better photographers.

Here’s five things I’ve learned after entering competitions over the years:

1) Learn from your mistakes. I loved this image, and the judge did too.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He thought it was an excellent composition of a very simple subject. However, his main criticism was that it was over-saturated, and he could see the artifacts that resulted. He suggested that when you use the saturation tool, try not to go beyond 10.  I scored a 6 and learned a good lesson.

2) Learn from others’ mistakes. When I first started competing, I was always confused by beginners who left as soon as their images were judged. It was as if all they cared about were their scores. I often learned more from judges’ critiques of photographs in Advanced and Salon classes than my own. After all, there’s a finite amount of mistakes one can make in their own images.  So when a judge suggests that a maker put a small, 2-pixel border around a dark image so he can see where it ends, take note and use that tip the next time you have an image that is dark around the edges.

Conversely, Salon class photographers have been shooting and competing for a long time, and judges will point out what makes their images so appealing. Listen to these comments and incorporate these techniques into your own images.

3) Don’t take it personally. I’ll never forget the time a judge gave me a 6 on this image.


I thought it was one of my best shots that I had taken on my trip to Australia, and all I got was a 5! I tossed and turned all night thinking about the humiliation. I emailed the photo to another member and asked her if she thought the image was that bad. I told her I hardly slept the whole night thinking about how mean that judge was. Her most excellent advice was: Never lose sleep over what a judge says about your image. It was good advice, and I was able to think rationally about the critiques that the judge gave of this image. The whites were blown out, the bright blue on the edges of the image were distracting, and the spider would have been better facing a different way. Looking at the image six years later, I see how correct the judge was.

4) Judges are only human. And because they’re human, their opinions are subjective. If your image is technically sound and the judge’s only comment is that he doesn’t particularly deer (as one judge recently admitted) then he’s likely to score your image lower than he would an image of a bear. By the same token, one judge may score an image a 7, and that same image can win a Medal in an NJFCC competition, as Gisela’s image below recently did.



5) Don’t over think it and HAVE FUN! When I first started competing, I noticed that some judges really liked portraits, some liked flowers, and others liked birds, so I came up with this strategy: I would enter an image in each of those categories to cover my bases. I told a long-time member of my plan, and he just laughed. I didn’t understand back then what was so funny, but now I do. If new members ask my advice about competing, I just tell them to enter what they like. To hell with the judge. Just don’t give him any reason to knock off points for technical reasons that are easy to correct. Most judges are fair even if some can be tough. But on those occasions when a judge just doesn’t get your images and scores you low even though you think you deserved a higher score, there’s always wine to go with the whine.



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  1. Bob Sayegh

    Great article, Ellen. It’s packed with the wisdom that only comes from both disappoinment and success.
    However, Tom, Jerry and I whine all the way back to Fair lawn after a competition. Please don’t take take that away from us; it’s part of the fun.

    • Ellen

      Thanks for your kind words, Bob. My group and I whine at the diner.

      • David

        Ellen, we don’t whine at the diner, that’s over with. We just hammer Joe for shooting Pentax 🙂

      • I do remember your spider image. You were very upset about that image. And you make an excellent point about people leaving after the judging of their own images. I don’t think they want to learn; I think all they want is to have their narcissism fed. BTW, it is not restricted to just beginners.

        • Ellen

          Thanks to your advice, Jill, I never lost sleep over a judge’s score again.

      • Matt Grippi

        I have always agreed with every comment every judge has made in all the competitions I’ve been present at, except for the ones they’ve made about the images I’ve submitted; then they were dead wrong!

  2. Rachel

    Excellent article and oh, so true!!! LOL We have all been there, done that and still WHINE… that’s what makes it fun!
    Great job…

  3. Joe Giordano

    After many years of competing in TCC competitions I realized that you can only take the judge’s comments for what they are worth (and some are worth it) but his scores are his decision and should not be taken seriously. Ellen’s article is on the money. And Dave, leave my PENTAX out of it. I do the best I can with if LOL.

    • Joe, we all know that you criticized the sheriff’s department for buying Nikons. You tried to talk them into buying Pentax instead. But you do very well with you Pentax.

  4. Pingback: Zen and the art of competition – Teaneck Camera Club

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