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Nonsense numbers

Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by MickLL, Mar 17, 2019.

  1. MickLL

    MickLL Well-Known Member

    Being bored and with rain lashing down outside I began cleaning some junk from my computer. For 20 years or more I've been the 'scorekeeper' for a monthly postal slide (at least it was postal 20 years ago) competition. It's a specifically Natural History competition.

    There were 14 members in those days and each entered one image so 13 votes per image. None of the members (other than me) are still members so I'm pretty safe in using these numbers to illustrate the futility of photographic competition.

    I'll ask you to take on trust that the fourteen members were all highly experienced NH photographers and that about half of them were highly skilled and knowledgeable naturalists. I know that some of you won't rate what I'm about to say but some will. Four had achieved FRPS and six had got ARPS (all NH). The point I'm making (and I'll get to it soon - promise) is that one would expect a modicum of agreement about the merit of images. I should add that all those years ago I was probably the least experienced in the group.

    Here's the evidence:
    Of the 14 images 7 of them were marked in first place - the winner!
    Of the three that eventually came 1,2,3 in the comp the lowest place awarded was 10th, 7th and 5th.
    We mark out of 100. One person marked with a 50 point range and one with a 14 point range.
    Twelve of the 14 images were marked as the lowest (worst) by at least one of the members.

    If the above doesn't illustrate the futility of photo competition I don't know what does.

    I told you I was bored - sorry to have inflicted it on you.

  2. Jack D3200

    Jack D3200 Well-Known Member

    I agree, the value of such groups is in the constructive criticism.
  3. steveandthedogs

    steveandthedogs Well-Known Member

    What Jack said.

    Catriona likes this.
  4. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Mick it simply doesn't. That implies that the point was to find objective winners by subjective means. But it wasn't.
  5. MickLL

    MickLL Well-Known Member

    What, in your opinion might the objective have been in terms of awarding marks?
    Actually Jack has the nail on the head - it's the comment that counts but the members insist that a competition is tacked on.

    Second what's the difference between this and every club comp I've ever seen? A judge opines (and the commentary is often more valuable than the mark) then awards a mark and a winner is declared.

    Pretty futile (the marking that is) IMHO. The giving and receiving of expert comment is the real value and is the reason why I'd actually defend competition.

    daft_biker likes this.
  6. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Well Mick, not to be too pedantic about it, you put a headline relating to the numbers, a summary relating to the overall competition and then conceded the comments made it anything other than futile.

    "If the above doesn't illustrate the futility of photo competition I don't know what does."

    So you really need to sort out what you are asking. Was it scoring the competition that was futile, deciding a winner without scoring, using some objective means to regulate the scoring, or using arbitrary, subjective means?

    I'd say the scoring was of great satisfaction to those that won and of no consequence to those that didn't, who recognised the numbers were totally subjective; i.e a normal competition.

    But I have only to look at the scores received by one of my images in inter-club, regional and national competitions this season to know there is no consistency (or objectivity) at the highest levels where there are not simple executional comments to be made and scored. 'Fraid it was ever thus, but I wouldn't say that makes them futile.
  7. Fishboy

    Fishboy Well-Known Member

    We had an internal club competition fairly recently at which the judge made some perfectly reasonable remarks about how to improve one of my pictures, and finished by saying that if I did what he suggested I could have been looking at the competition winner. A month later there was an inter-club competition in which I'd entered the same picture, but with all of the amendments that the judge had suggested. You can imagine how pleased I was when the judge arrived - it was the same judge who'd told me how to improve the picture at the club comp! I sat back, awaiting the inevitable words of praise and then nearly fell off my chair when he absolutely slated the picture, gave it his second-lowest mark of the evening and more-or-less suggested that it was a waste of pixels!

    Club competitions are always going to be a knotty problem. As far as I'm concerned, as long as the judge marks consistently on the night, and uses a reasonable set of criteria for awarding marks (technical ability, artistic merit and so forth rather than the quality of the picture frame or some such) then that's about the best we can hope for.

    Despite my comments I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoy entering club comps.

    Cheers, Jeff
    RovingMike likes this.
  8. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    BUT, where I disagree profoundly with conventional judging at all levels is I value the seeing eye above even wonderful recording of something that was beautiful, photogenic, or B obvious before the photographer came along. So that's every bird on a stick, stormy sky over Haystacks, milky wave breaking over a rock, sunset, sunrise, portrait, etc.

    If the competition is out of 10, I would be marking pure seeing eye out of 12, or even 15. In terms of the number of people who can do it well, you could even say it is worth double. RPS, PAGB and just about every other "authority" fail to recognise the seeing eye as highest form of the art. IMHO of course.
  9. GeoffR

    GeoffR Well-Known Member

    Hmmm... I am not sure that I completely follow what is going on here

    It may well do so however, you have taken a data set, manipulated it to give some results and then interpreted them. All well and good but for your interpretation to be completely valid an unbiased observer needs to take the same data set, manipulate it using the same principles and then come to similar conclusions. I spent some time crunching data and often the only conclusion I could come to was that there was a problem but that the cause was outside the available data.

    Before I can agree with you I need to know the marking system and probably access to the raw data. I don't actually want any of this because I know that all photographic competitions are judged subjectively. As there are no objective criteria all you are getting are 13 opinions based on... well you tell me you were part of the group. Jeff's post clearly demonstrates that we humans are far from consistent in our subjective opinions, that or the judge in question really hadn't a clue about Jeff's image.

    Apology accepted, boredom has funny effects on people!
  10. MickLL

    MickLL Well-Known Member

    I used the number 'headline' in an attempt to suck you in. It wasn't intended that the whole post should concentrate on just numbers

    I wasn't asking anything just expressing an opinion. I don't think that there's a question at all in the OP.

    The numbers were used to illustrate the difference of opinion among experienced and expert 'judges' about pictures that themselves had been produced by those same experts. I also made the point that all of the participants were from the same field, Natural History, and so the even greater difficulty of 'judging' widely different subjects was eliminated.

    From that I reached the conclusion that judging (i.e. the process of awarding marks and declaring a winner) was futile and I stand by that. I think that most of those who have responded understood what I was saying. I rather suspect that you did as well - but you disagree and that's fine - see below about minorities.

    The process of making comments is (or could be) entirely separate from awarding marks. It's not necessary to declare a winner. The remarks would be just as valuable - in my field the remarks often stray away from the photography and into the biology of the subject and that's interesting as well.

    Having said all that I need to add that I know I'm in a minority. I've tried many times at my own club to get the number of competitions reduced but the members won't hear of it.

    Finally I agree with you about the 'seeing eye'.

  11. Fishboy

    Fishboy Well-Known Member

    It's odd that you should mention that. The general opinion in my club is quite the opposite although it may have backfired a little.

    In my own club around five of the members are responsible for around 90% of the club's annual photographic output, and at a meeting in September last year to talk about what we wanted from 2019 a vote was taken about whether we should continue to do competitions. The five people who take the most pictures were in favour of continuing with comps while the remaining twenty or so were against it and therefore carried the vote.

    Our last competition was a month ago - the inter-club comp I mentioned earlier - and the other club kindly agreed to waive the rule on the number of contributors to the competition resulting in the thirty entries from five of our members managing to beat the thirty entries from all of theirs by a magnificent margin of...one point!.

    Since then, two of the five major contributors (the two competitions secretaries) have left the society to join a rival club, a third hasn't left because he's currently the club chairman (although I understand he may have been auditing meetings at another club recently), the fourth has mentioned giving up club memberships entirely and the fifth is me - and I'm waiting to see what happens tonight.

    Tonight is the club's AGM and I rather suspect that it will result in the club folding.

    This isn't meant as any kind of a dig at people who don't like competitions - each to their own. it's just a report on the effect that deciding not to do them any more has had on my club.

    Cheers, Jeff
  12. dangie

    dangie Senior Knobhead

    I don't really understand the criticism of photographic competitions and photographic judges. Of course if a judge likes your picture, he's a good judge, if he doesn't, well......

    Beginners in particular can learn an awful lot from entering competitions. Good judges will point out what's good, and more importantly what could be done to improve.

    One criticism I will give though to a thankfully small number of judges, those who obviously think more of their judging prowess than they should, is to not have a quick flip through all the images first before judging them proper. "I don't need to see them first, I'll judge as I go along". I agree that a good image is a good image, but for club competitions where the judge has to give a 1-2-3 then surely you need to skim through first to see the standard.

    Photography for most of us is a hobby or pastime. Entering competitions is not compulsory. Tonight we have our annual club Ladies v Gents competition. Certainly bragging rights at stake. The Ladies have won for the last three years. Undoubtedly for most of us the judge wouldn't know a good picture if he saw one. But we all enter for fun,
  13. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Having now rejoined one, several are saying same, but I think too many like the competitions, win or lose. They get enough boost from a 10 to suffer any number of 7s. In fact Epsom doesn't have winners, just scores. Field End forced judges to name 1,2,3 and wouldn't let them out until they did. I see nothing wrong, although I did press for the Beginner section to be just graded Gold, Silver and Bronze.

    One reason I'm not a judge and refuse to be, is I have no idea how I'd mark most things. But I will say, with some judges, the marks have made far more sense than the comments.
  14. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Quite right, they should. Also not scoring the first couple till the end is a good idea.

    But what I'm finding now, that I didn't really notice years ago is judges seem less able to adjust for the level in question. They are OK at beginner and intermediate, but apt to make patronising, idiotic, or simply wrong comments on the advanced. Years ago they seemed to be much warier when it came to advanced and more ready to say if it is like that, it's because the author wanted it like that. We had an evening recently where members were asked to put up prints they thought were hard done by and say why. Discussion would follow. I would probably have ducked that, but Chairman demanded I talk to 2 of mine.....so I did!
  15. dangie

    dangie Senior Knobhead

    That's an excellent idea. I'll put this one to our committee tomorrow for next season's programme.
  16. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    We had two qualified judges there as members who were supposed to give their perspective, but in the end most of the discussion came from members and myself.The judges seemed strangely reluctant to agree anyone was robbed ;)

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