How the 2012 Wild Eye Nature Photography Competition is Judged

Gerry van der Walt All Authors Leave a Comment

Photography is an art and judging art is always a very subjective thing.

One person will look at an image, connect with it and understand and appreciate the photographer’s vision while the same image will be dismissed without even a second glance.  That is the challenge the judges have when choosing the top 10 and then ultimately the winner and two runners up in the 2012 Wild Eye Nature Photography Competition.

After a number of questions as to how the process works and a blog post by Guy Dekelver this blog post aims to shed light on how we go about judging all the competition images every month.

In order to make the entire process as fair as possible we have, after a lot of research and debate, settled on the following scoring categories.

– Technical Quality:  25 points

– Composition:  25 points

– Content & Subject Matter:  25 points

– Bonus:  25 points


Each of the above mentioned category is scored as follows:

– 0 to 5:  Bad

– 6 to 20:  Below average

– 11 to 15:  Good

– 16 to 20:  Very good

– 21 to 25:   Excellent

That makes for a grand total of 100 points per image and from then on it’s simple.  The images with the highest scores go through.

The big challenge is, and will always be, to have a very specific set of criteria which each judge can use when scoring the image on technical quality, composition and content.  Then, and this is important, there is the bonus section which allows each judge’s personal choice to shine through.  This bonus score allows the judges to score an image up, or down, according to their own view of the image and also for any unique considerations that were not allowed for in the other three categories.


Technical Quality

Technical quality is probably one of the easier categories to judge as it is quite clear when an image is not sharp or the color balance is off.  The following is considered when judging technical quality.

– Exposure

– Brightness

– Contrast

– Focus

– Sharpness

– Saturation

– White Balance

– Use of available light / flash


This image by Isak Pretorius, which was entered into the March 2012 competition, is a great example of a technically excellent image.  The focus is on the right place, the image is sharp and the DoF makes the subject pop beautifully.  The use of light, color balance and saturation also ranks right up there.


When judging composition the judges look at whether the photographer has effectively used various artistic and design principles.  Some of the questions asked when judging this section includes:

– Does the composition use various design principles such as lines, placement, etc.

– Does the images lead your eye into, through and out of the image?

– Does the composition assist and support the story being told?

– Is the image balanced and if not, is it creating the visual impact is should?


This image from Nick van de Wiel, entered into the February 2012 competition, shows great composition.  The main subject is placed off the the side while ‘looking’ into the negative space on the right of the frame.  The subtle diagonal lines strengthens the composition.  It is quite easy to see how the viewer’s eye will start from the curled up tail – a strong visual point – and then go up to the reptile’s head and then out the top left corner through the implied line created by the chameleon’s gaze.

Content & Subject Matter

When judging wildlife and nature images one of the major challenges is that the subjects are very seldomly the same.  The one solution would have been to create different categories but rather than complicate the upload and judging process we decided to score the content and subject matter based on what the photographer chose to portray.

In other words, if the photographer decided to photograph a lion portrait, how well did he / she photograph that lion portrait and if they photographed a landscape how well did they photograph that landscape.  Some of the different types of content could include, but is not limited to:

– Animal Portrait

– Animal Interaction

– Animal in Environment

– Landscapes


This image by Kobus Tollig, entered into the January 2012 competition, is a great example of a landscape image.  There is no doubt as to the subject matter and that subject matter is what the photographer went after and intended to show his viewers.

This image by Riaan Coetzee, entered into the January competition, is all about the lion cub.  Yes, you can see some of the animal’s environment but the subject (lion) fills most of the frame and leaves little doubt as to what the subject is.


As mentioned in the beginning photography is an art and no two people will ever connect with an image the same way.  To that end we decided to include this bonus category which allows each judge to answer the question – do I like this image?   We feel that this does play a big part of the judging process as we cannot just let the judging become a checklist for technical and artistic criteria.

Based on the same scoring system, from 0-25, each judge gets to add bonus marks based on their ‘like’ of the image.  It could be the overall package, the story being told or simply just that X-factor that makes one images stand out above another.


When we were judging the April competition I really liked this image by Stephen Earle and scored it quite high in the bonus section.

It was not necessarily the technical quality, subject matter or composition that made is stand out to me but something… more. It is different to the normal lion close up.   It shows an intimate moment, up close of a lion doing what it does.

Once we have gone through all the images the process is pretty simple.  All the scores get tallied and we end up with our top ten highest scoring images.  The 5 images with the highest scores then get forwarded to our international judging panel who then score the images to give us our winner and two runners up.

If we do not end up with a clear top 5, and the scores are tied, we take the entire top 10 and re-score them, using the same criteria as mentioned above, which normally ends up in a clear top 5.

Overall we feel that by judging the images in this manner makes for a very level playing field and gives photographers of all levels to enter their images.

There is just over a week left to get your entries for May uploaded so get cracking!

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt

[divider scroll_text=”Go to Top”]

Comments 0

  1. Guy Dekelver

    Great stuff Gerry, and wow ey, that’s quite a lot of work, I honestly thought you guys would come up with your personal top 10 to then engage in a heated debate to decide on the actual top 10, which would’ve been fine to me as well btw, yet this is really well thought out and as subjective as you can get. Nice, thanks for sharing, the question now is, do I switch of my subjective mind and engage on an objective scoring session to predict this month’s winner or not? haha, …

  2. Marcelle

    Good luck to the May entries! Question: Entries should be without watermarks… however, the preliminary judging is done by people who know which image belongs to who?

    1. Gerry van der Walt

      Thanks for the questions Marcelle.  Yes, images should not have a watermark as it not only keeps the gallery neater but also assist in the judging process. 

      Yes, during the preliminary judging process it is possible for the judges to see names but this is by no means a focus.  We work through every gallery page to see which thumbnails ‘jump out’ at us.  From there we will look at the images at full size and it is at this point that the judging process, as described in the blog, kicks in.   Even though the judges can see – if they really wanted to – whose images they are judging we feel very confident in the process and how we go about it.  By scoring each different category according to given set of criteria there is very little chance of favoritism. 

      Once the images have been whittled down to 20 we pull them from the site, put them in a directory and re-score them again in a random order.  I can guarantee you that by the time you get here it is highly unlikely that the judges can remember which image belongs to a specific photographer.

      Once the scores have been tallied the images are then sent to the international judging panel, without names, so that they can do their thing.  Sure, they could go and search for the image and see whose image it is but they are all professionals and highly respected members of the international wildlife photography community so this is not a worry at all – even if they did know whose images they are judging.

      We feel that considering the logistics the judging process is just about as fair as it can be! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Nature Photography Competition – May Winner! | Wild Eye Photo Chat

  4. Pingback: Update: 2012 Nature Photgraphy Competition - Wild Eye Photography

  5. Stephen Pietersen

    Hi Gerry

    Thanks for the great info on the Judging it helps in a big way with planning future images. I would just like to bring to your attention that the image of the lion above was actually taken by Stephen Pietersen and not Stephen Earle.


  6. Pingback: Nature Photography Competition: July Winner! - Wild Eye Photography

  7. Pingback: Nature Photography Competition: September Winner! - Wild Eye Photography

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *