Guidelines for Judges



Three volunteer judges (usually club members) will score all images in the Intermediate and Basic classes. Each judge will be assigned approximately one third of all images for a written critique (to be inserted in the critique section on the website for those images). Each judge will also provide oral critiques for three images per class for a total of six.

Submitted images are all reviewed by the judges prior to the competition. Images become available for review approximately 15 days before the competition meeting. Judges must then open the online judging page on the NAPFS website. First click on the Judge tab and then select the Judging Queue option. Pick the upcoming competition. Note that there are usually two competitions listed for the month. Please select the one for Basic and Intermediate classes. Now, pick your name from the list of judges and then pick one class to evaluate. The images will then be displayed in random order. By cliquing on the “C” button in the box containing an image, you will proceed to the critique section.


For all images, judges must enter a score (1-100) at the bottom of the critique box. Note, as an aid to scoring, judges should rearrange the images in the order of preference, from best to worst by dragging and dropping them while viewing all of the thumbnails on the judging page. Please note that we are no longer using the sliders and they should be ignored.

For images assigned to a judge, checkboxes in the critique section should be used to point out well executed features and areas for improvement. Also, for assigned images,  the judges should provide summary comments in the free text box. Although not required, judges are free to do this for unassigned images as well.

This process is repeated for each class. Judging should be completed by midnight, the day before the competition.

Image Commentary:

If this is your first time judging a NAPfS competition, watch the following short videos for a visual introduction.

How to Judge Using the Website

How to Critique Competition Entries Online

At the time of the competition, judges will make oral comments on three images in each class. These should come from the set of images that were assigned to them. This way, only one judge will comment on any one photograph. The image commentary is primarily a teaching tool, a way to provide feedback on the maker’s image.  Image should be positive in nature, emphasizing what the judge likes about the image and then suggesting ideas that might possibly improve the image.

The judges should offer comments on the image in support of the score they have given the image.

They try to be objective and specific in their comments, but they recognize they are always offering a personal opinion.  And they are aware, that even though they may not like the subject matter of an image, 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
  • And use words like May, Might, Consider…
  • And avoid 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.

Image Scoring:

Each judge scores the image using the score box in the critique section. At this time, do not use the sliders for categories. Scores should be awarded in each category as follows: Each judge awards a score as follows:

  • 50 or less for photographs that are very below average
  • 51-60 to photographs that are below average
  • 61-70 to photographs that are average
  • 71-80 to photographs that are above average
  • 81-90 to photographs that are very above average
  • 91-100 to photographs that are outstanding with Impact and no flaws

Judges should take into consideration the expectations for photographers in the different classes, but each image within a class should be judged by the same standards.

Note: There are at least 10 scores in each of these ranges. This gives some flexibility when posting scores. For example, two images in the Advanced class are outstanding in every way, but one has slightly more impact on the judge than the other. The score can be adjusted accordingly.

Elements of Photography

For the person who may feel they would not know what to say in analyzing a photograph, here is how it is easy. Simply memorize the elements and when confronted with an image, begin going over them in your mind one at a time and apply them to the image. Nearly every image will exhibit or not a majority of the elements. It is up to you how you use the elements; the important thing is to use them. 

Impact: Does the image evoke an emotion no matter how subtle?

Story or relevance to the monthly theme: Does the image tell a story of some kind? If there is a theme for the competition, does the image address the theme?

Composition: How are the subjects in the frame arranged?

Interest area: What, if anything, in the image is of interest to you or not, or is missing?

Creativity: Does the image convey a different point of view, use aperture or shutter speed in an unusual way, show something you have not seen before or something familiar done in a creative way?

Color: How do you see the color being used in the image or not being used?

Light: How has the light been used in the image? Light should enhance an image, not detract from it.

Technical: Focus, depth of field, exposure (ISO, aperture, shutter speed), camera handling, white balance, noise – technically done well or not? Is the image clean without spots or other issues?

Remember, any of these elements may be seen in various ways 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 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. Once you get past a bias, the true impact may reveal itself.

An important fact about impact is that it is just one of the elements of a fine photograph. You might not want to put too much emphasis on impact positively or negatively.

Technical excellence is the image quality 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.

Interest Area is the point, or points, on the image where the viewers want to stop as they view the image. These are called fixation points. There can be primary and many secondary interest areas. There may be 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. Interest areas serve to keep the viewer’s mind from wandering and create pleasant fixation points.

Creativity is the original, fresh, and external expression of the imagination of the maker and the viewer. 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.

Color harmony supplies structure to an image. An image where tones work together, effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Color harmony is not always comfortable and may supply a very unstructured image and may be used 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.

You may consider black and white. Tonality may take the place of color and serve the image in a similar way. Color tonality is also a part of color harmony.

Light - The use and control of light refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is manmade 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.

Presentation affects an image by giving it a finished look. The stroke around the image used, should support and enhance the image, not distract from it. Making sure there is not any Sensor Dust showing on the image.

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 profound 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.

Because or judging software currently only uses six scoring sliders, the above elements have been configured to conform.

Reference Material

N4C Judges Manual

The following PDF manual is included here courtesy of and with permission from the Northern California Council of Camera Clubs. (N4C)

It has great information and recommendations on judging photographs.  The first half of the document (PDF pages 1-34) contains excellent articles written by a variety or people.  The second half of the document (PDF pages 35-65) contains a "Judging and Analysis" workshop.

Since the document is so large, it is recommended that you start by reading "P-Essay, An Analysis of Judging", parts one and two by Dr. E.R. Sethna on PDF pages 8-14.  It contains recommendations on how to judge and how not to judge.


"The Pain and Pleasure of Critical Analysis" from PSA

The Pain and Pleasure of Critical Analysistxt.txt

Visual Pursuits Videos

The basic Visual Pursuits instructions are shown in these videos: [Note: this website,, is hosted by Visual Pursuits]

Helpful Information About Critiquing

The following pages have some helpful information about the art of critiquing:

Critique Example Video

This video has some examples of critiquing. It was made in (or before) November, 2017.

Popular Voting

In addition to the judging, all full, competing members of the club are allowed to vote for their favorite photos in each level.  The explanation of this voting method is shown on the home page.  Popular voting winners can receive gold, silver, and bronze certificates for their photos.  The popular voting is for fun only; the results do not affect the first, second, and third places and the honorable mentions and they do not count toward the December awards (e.g. photographer of the year).


Competitions should be fun for everyone, including the judges. Club members will be respectful, win or lose. We appreciate you taking the time to come judge and share your perspective on photography. If you have any questions, please ask the person coordinating for you, or email the competition chair (

This website is hosted by Visual Pursuits, a service provided by Software Pursuits, Inc.