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Black-winged Stilt and reflection

By czech  
This photo was recently submitted to 2 national competitions/exhibitions. One is run by the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain and the other by the Royal Photographic Society's Nature Group, and I've just received the scores in each - which are 13/15 and 9/15 respectively. I'm very pleased with 13/15, which was the highest score given to any of the 15 photos submitted by my local club; and I'm a little disappointed with 9/15. Anyway, the point I want to raise is the fact that there is a significant difference (25%) between the 2 scores. This either illustrates the extent to which judging is subjective, or it could be explained by there being different standards in the 2 competitions. My guess is that it's the former.
Does anyone have any thoughts or comments?

Tags: Judging Black-winged stilt Wildlife and nature

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This photo is here for critique. Please only comment constructively and with suggestions on how to improve it.


James_C 9 36 56 United Kingdom
5 Mar 2012 3:50PM
I should think its the former. The judging of art will always be subjective. It may also be to do with the quality of the other work submitted. Another factor is that there may be a particular style that is "in favour" with one body and "out of favour" with the other. I shouldn't get worked up over it, but you may learn quite a lot by looking at the style of the pictures that got high scores/awards.

I like this picture a lot, but if I was to be hyper critical - and bare in mind that this may be caused by resizing etc for this site - I would point out that there is noise in the outer areas of the picture and there is some white banding round the tail, right leg and beak that suggest over sharpening...

Please don't take this the wrong way, but it may be what has been taken into consideration by one competition/exhibition and not the other.

Best regards,

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5 Mar 2012 4:10PM
For what it's worth, I wish I still had my User Award and this one would have it. I think it is 15/15 worth. Regards, Peter Howe
TonyDy Plus
9 10 3 United Kingdom
5 Mar 2012 4:15PM
I agree with James about the subjectivity of judging. I am a PAGB judge and do many photographic clubs competitions and, whilst I strive to be objective, there are occasions where there are several images of an equal standard and the only way to reach a 1,2,3 is to use a bit of personal preference. It will always be an imprecise art - I have entered images in comps for many years now and have had widely varying marks from different judges.
I always make the point at the start of my presentation that it is only one man's opinion at the end of the day.
Bear in mind also that the standard in Nature photography presently is incredibly high and when you enter these competitions, you are often competing against the best in the world or, at least, the best in the UK!
I also like your image a lot.
mugshotmyk 7 3 9 United Kingdom
5 Mar 2012 4:27PM
My preference would be to crop the picture so the bird was presented in the bottom right corner - leaving its reflection of course - but cutting the top and right sides would give greater emphasis to what is a very likeable image.
czech 6 1 United Kingdom
5 Mar 2012 4:53PM
Thanks for all your informative comments guys
Niknut Plus
8 1.8k 76 United Kingdom
5 Mar 2012 5:45PM
A great shot !!!....but 20 different camera-club judges will give you 20 different's one of the
reasons I gave up camera-clubs !!!!
5 Mar 2012 6:44PM
A real bute, the ripples & reflection is awesome.
Mike_Smith Plus
10 490 1 United Kingdom
5 Mar 2012 6:57PM
Only thing i could add is what a cracking image and i wish i had taken it
paulbroad 10 123 1250 United Kingdom
5 Mar 2012 7:38PM
First, this is a fine image in every respect. A difficult subject well shown and technically the highest quality. I was a PAGB judge for many years - got fed up with travelling finally and the shear bloody mindedness of many club members who thought they were good - until I got there. Different people will give different marks and it's nothing to do with camera clubs, just look at opinions in this critique section. Technically there should be few arguments, subjectively, as Tony says, you have no idea what will happen.

I got shouted at a few times. After many years as a production manager in the Steel industry it simply rolled off me, but you eventually get fed up.

Were the competitions specialist or general? If just NH you have one outlook, if general you have another. I never bother with points or awards on this site - it depends what you take and your best chance of high marks here is to shoot landscape - something I rarely do.

In my club days we used to enter images for two reasons - good critique when we knew we had a good judge coming and if prizes/trophies were at stake, we researched who the judge was and what they liked.

Unfair? not if it was a worthwhile prize1 you simply have no real idea what wil win. i sometimes judged on spec at the club - the winner, I'm sure, would be different to if I had the work at home for a week to look at. Instant impact can win. Superb quality can win.

Don't bother about it. I enter the odd competition still and int he past did quite well. I like to get comment - after 50 years I can still accept a need to learn.,

I've looked at your work - some really nice stuff, but quite specialist and you are in an area where the good are very very good indeed.

In short - there is no formula. Type of competition matters, brief matters, number of entries matters etc. etc. But, if you get one that does well, try it everywhere. I have a shot taken in 1986 which I keep bringing back. It has been on calenders, won cameras and other gear and it always seems to do well - because it is simple, strong and very none specialist.

NEWMANP 10 1.6k 574 United Kingdom
5 Mar 2012 9:30PM
its a fine image indeed, undoubtably one to be proud of.

however in answer to your question the following was put to me recently in connection with a proposed panel for arps nat hist.

in years gone by and certainly prior to the digital age, shots like this were difficult to achieve. consequently you could build a panel around images of this type. limitations of focal length, image stabilisation, iso, all limited the use and of available aperature / shutter speed combinations.

with high iso, x1.5 focal length on cropped sensor, better optics than ever with VR. high speeds become available. so now we need more activity, pulling out fish or food, in flight, mating, interaction with other birds or surroundings, --in short doing something other than pose.

just check how many kingfisher shots of stunning quality turn up on epz and then compare that to the number in flight or emerging from water, preening, hovering, or in any form of activity that come up.

so it seems international exhibitions and salons now tend to mark down non active shots no matter how splendid they are.

on top of that, consider how they are scored. 3 judges with an option to press a 2,3,4,or 5 buttons with instruction that 5 is only for an insistance that its accepted, 3 if its near but boarderline, and 4 if its a definate acceptance. (not all are exactly like this but you get the drift) then they will compare with similar shots and choose the better one.

given the rps standards im really not surprised at the difference. this in most salons is is 3/4 if you look at it objectively from that point of view so 12/15 would be really good, and acceptance in many salons, higher would be looking at an award or certificate of merit and 9 means all 3 judges thought it boarder-line and no one spoke out for it. happens to me all the time, you can read the scores after a while.

this dosnt mean that there isnt a place for lovely shots like this, id love it in my collection. but maybe its not the stuff of dreams it was 6 years ago. my only niggle is id have liked a little more space in front and water drips off the beak. but then hey, i havnt got one like it on my pf so what can i say.

hope this helps

czech 6 1 United Kingdom
5 Mar 2012 10:29PM
Thanks very much for the more recent comments - there's been a lot of valuable feedback
DRicherby 9 269 725 United Kingdom
6 Mar 2012 12:15AM
I'll not comment on judging because I don't know anything about it.

There are a few little things that may have counted against you, though. The back of the neck looks over-exposed, there are sharpening haloes above the beak and crown of the head, the eye's very dark (lighten it!) and there's a lot of grey background at the top of the shot. But it is a very nice shot.

paulbroad 10 123 1250 United Kingdom
6 Mar 2012 10:04AM
The problem with judging is, indeed, consistency. I never bothered with the RPS, good as it can be, as, in my hay day, I was aware of two people getting ARPS fraudulently- in one case with a lot of darkroom help and in another case by a set of prints largely done by someone else!

That is always going to be a problem. As far as I'm concerned, you are only as good as your last shot. Never judge a judge by the letters behind there name.

czech 6 1 United Kingdom
6 Mar 2012 6:55PM
Hi, I'd like to respond to 2 points made about the image. First, a couple of people mentioned that there seemed to be indications of sharpening. I'd like to point out that I haven't sharpened it at all. Second, the reason why I've left as much space behind the bird as in front was to show the whole circle of ripples rather than cutting into it at the right hand end - I can see that this means that it would have been better to leave more space to the left for it to be 'walking into'. I also agree that shaving off some of the top of the image would improve it. Thanks again folks.
DRicherby 9 269 725 United Kingdom
6 Mar 2012 7:04PM
czech wrote:
> I haven't sharpened it at all.

Interesting. But you agree that the haloes are there? Could some part of your processing (raw conversion, resizing or some 'save for web' type feature) have applied sharpening automatically?

I think there's enough space for the bird to walk into and the ripples are a good reason to include plenty of space behind, too. The rule of thirds is only a starting point and there's no rule that says every image must be 3:2.

czech 6 1 United Kingdom
8 Mar 2012 9:49AM
Hi Dave, I agree there's a halo above the head. I shot in Jpeg, didn't resize. I'll upload the original image (before I adjusted light and colour) so you can see how that looks. Czech
DRicherby 9 269 725 United Kingdom
8 Mar 2012 11:21AM
That's probably where the mystery sharpening came from -- the camera will sharpen as part of the JPEG conversion. This involves walking the tightrope between not sharpening enough (people using the camera as a fancy point-and-shoot will complain they never get a sharp photo) and sharpening too much (people with a critical eye will complain about haloes). Another case where, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, which means shooting raw. Canon's raw converter (Digital Photo Professional) lets you choose the amount of sharpening before converting to TIFF or JPEG.

czech 6 1 United Kingdom
8 Mar 2012 2:33PM
That may be the case Dave. However, I understand that Canon cameras under-sharpen as compared with Nikon. I couldn't upload the original today as I had already uploaded one.
DRicherby 9 269 725 United Kingdom
8 Mar 2012 2:51PM
You could just upload it as mod, here. Just crop to 600 pixels wide so we can see the same resolution. (Or upload it as a second version, if you're an e2 member.)

DRicherby 9 269 725 United Kingdom
8 Mar 2012 11:06PM
OK, looking at the original version posted as a mod, it's hard to see much of a halo but it's a different crop and a lower resolution. I still suspect that's where the halo came from but I think it was emphasized by your subsequent processing.

The original shot is actually very under-exposed -- getting on for two stops. In your editing, you've over-corrected and blown out the highlights, and I think that's what emphasized whatever slight halo the camera introduced in its JPEG conversion. When you're shooting, watch the histogram. For most normal shots, including this one, the graph should reach (or, at least, come close to) both sides of the scale, indicating that the photo contains something close to pure blacks and pure whites. In your original, the histogram stops about half-way across. Positive exposure compensation moves the histogram to the right (lightens); negative moves it to the left (darkens). Avoid going so far that the histogram 'piles up' on the right-hand side, which indicates over-exposure, with areas that have blown out to white. Make sure you have the highlight warning switched on so you're alerted about over-exposed areas when you view the images, which is useful for spotting small areas of blown highlights that might be hard to see in the histogram.

You're shooting at relatively low ISO an a very fast shutter on an image-stabilized lens so you could have got most of your two stops of extra exposure by going to ISO-400 and 1/640s. "Ah," you might say, "but higher ISO means more noise!" True, but you'll always get better results by giving yourself an extra stop of ISO than you would by under-exposing by a stop and then correcting in software.

czech 6 1 United Kingdom
9 Mar 2012 11:39AM
Thanks very much for the feedback and guidance Dave

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