Foundations for Styles of Judging

An appraisal of an image is an authoritative evaluation made during the commentary to distinguish the quality of the images being assessed. Judges are in a unique position to see many photographs and it is desirable for them to acquire the skills to evaluate images in a manner appropriate to the judging situation, time available, and the picture concerned.

DIET: Often used by critics when reviewing a gallery exhibition

  • Describe the appearance of pictures in their wholeness. This is not describing the obvious components, such as ‘the tree on the hill’ but rather reflecting upon its meaningful aspects.
  • Interpret content. Visual, mood, feeling, spiritual, emotion, intent, and communication values.
  • Evaluate an image to determine its overall quality and offer a ranking for it within the competition. It's craft or technical aspects and aesthetic content.
  • Theorise about whether it is art and the place the image has in its context, history, or psychological landscape.

CRC: Regularly used by judges at club level photography, especially when time restrictions apply

  • Comment on one or more aspects of a picture, whether it be composition, concept, technique, emotional content, imagination, relevance to 21st-century issues, or any other positive component in the image.
  • Recommend, if relevant, an improvement that could be made to the picture. The judge needs to be careful that bias of any type does not enter into this part of the assessment.
  • Commend as part of the finalizing comments about a picture a positive observation should be made about it. It brings the image maker's mind back to feeling assured they are making good aesthetic choices but also is pursuing the right course of action. Referring the photographer to some other famous photographic artists working in the genre or to very specific pictures to inspire the entrant can be part of the commend process.

PARIT: Used in part or in full at Club, National or International competitions

  • Positive Find something of quality/value even if it ‘reminds me of’, if nothing positive is found then it is a reflection upon the limited knowledge of the judge.
  • Aesthetics Understand its global culture as well as the technical side of photography to enable quality imagery.
  • Research Photography in all its artistic aspects, especially in relation to set subjects and their definitions. Encourage this with photographers by referring to similar current/recent trends or historical art and photography styles.
  • Inspire photographers by anchoring this to their photos to refer to other alike works of manual art/photography or practitioners throughout history from all cultures as well as ideas with which to challenge photographers.
  • Teach appropriately and educate relative to the genre involved. Consider alternative approaches to resolving images into a finished piece of photographic art. Often conceptual approaches show imagination but a judge is a detached observer and can offer suitable advice to make a photo a more finished work).

QOII: Juried Artworks (paintings and photographs) used in a gallery competition

  • Quality of artistic composition and overall design based on the theme. This deals with aesthetics, design principles, and art elements. (If in a club photography competition ‘based on the theme’ refers to the definition supplied.
  • Overall impression of the art. What is the effect of the artwork in general and as a whole? Does the artwork stand on its own as a complete and outstanding work of art? In photography, and especially in made images rather than found images is it satisfactorily resolved?
  • Inventiveness and originality of the depicted theme. Is the submission creative in its materials, post-production, and presentation? It is being original by not playing it safe or alternatively, unacceptably pushing the boundaries beyond norms in today’s context.
  • Interpretation and the clarity of the theme to the viewer in complying with the defined genre. Does the image obviously adhere to the supplied definition?

JADI: Historical approach used in critiques of manual and photographic artworks

  • Judgment, means giving an image a rank in relation to other works and of course, considering a very important aspect of the visual arts; its originality. Questions are asked such as is it a good artwork? What criteria do I think are most appropriate for judging the artwork? What evidence inside or outside the artwork relates to each criterion? Based on the criteria and evidence, what is my judgment about the quality of the artwork?
  • Analysis is about determining what the features suggest and deciding why the artist used such features to convey specific ideas. The analysis answers the question "How did the artist do it?".  The various elements that constitute analysis include style elements, such as, is it of a historical event, allegory, or mythology. Identifying the most distinctive features or characteristics whether line, shape, colour, and texture. Finding principles of design or composition used, such as stability, repetition, rhythm, unification, symmetry, harmony, geometry, variation, chaos, and horizontal or vertical orientation. Thinking about how elements or structural systems contribute to the appearance of the image. Studying the use of light and the role of colour. Is it contrasty, shadowy, illogical, warm, cool, or symbolic? The treatment of space and landscape, both real and illusionary including the use of perspective. Is it compact, deep, shallow, naturalistic, or random? The portrayal of movement and how it is achieved. The effect of particular medium(s) used in the finished image.  Your perceptions of balance, proportion, and scale, relationships of each part of the composition to the whole and to each other part, and your emotional reactions.
  • Description is about considering the image without value judgments, analysis, or interpretation. Description looks at - the elements or general shapes (architectural structural system) within the composition; axis whether vertical, diagonal, or horizontal; line, including contour as soft, planar, or jagged and how line describes shape and space (volume) as well as distinguishing between lines of objects and lines of composition such as thick, thin, variable, irregular, intermittent or indistinct. Relationships between shapes such as large and small or overlapping; outlining the colour scheme or discipline used; texture (both tactile and visual) of surface or other comments about the execution of the artwork; and the context of the image, such as its original location and date.
  • Interpretation is about establishing the broader context for this type of image. It answers the question, "Why did the artist create it and what does it mean?” and the various elements that constitute interpretation include. The main idea and overall meaning of the work. An interpretive statement: “Can I express what I think the artwork is about in one sentence?” and evidence: “What evidence inside or outside the artwork supports my interpretation?”.


Barrett's Principles of Interpretation (Barrett, Terry. (1994) Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company). Terry Michael Barrett is an American art critic, and Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University, USA.  

    • Artworks have "aboutness" and demand interpretation.
    • Interpretations are persuasive arguments.
    • Some interpretations are better than others.
    • Good interpretations of art talk more about the artwork than they tell about the critic.
    • Feelings are guides to interpretations.
    • There can be different, competing, and contradictory interpretations of the same artwork.
    • Interpretations are often based on a worldview.
    • Interpretations are not so much absolutely right, but more or less reasonable, convincing, enlightening, and informative.
    • Interpretations can be judged by coherence, correspondence, and inclusiveness.
    • An artwork is not necessarily about what the artist wanted it to be about.
    • A critic ought not to be the spokesperson for the artist.
    • Interpretations ought to present the work in its best rather than its weakest light.
    • The objects of interpretation are artworks, not artists.
    • All art is in part about the world in which it emerged.
    • All art is in part about other art.
    • No single interpretation is exhaustive of the meaning of an artwork.
    • The meanings of an artwork may be different from its significance to the viewer.
    • Interpretation is ultimately a communal endeavour, and the community is ultimately self-corrective.
    • Good interpretations invite us to see for ourselves and to continue on our own.