Contest Concerns… « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Contest Concerns...

Contest Concerns…

Calvin (no last name) posted the comment below at yesterday’s hugely popular “You be the Judge: Captive” blog post here. (Voting will be open till 8am eastern time on Friday, 5/18/12 so it is not too late to join the fun and see how you do compared to the judges.)

Does anyone else think that the contest (would) have been much more fair if all 5 of the judges had an opportunity to judge all the images, instead of just the 10 images that were chosen by Arthur Morris and 2 other people?

Here is my answer: Calvin, The contest might possibly have been a bit more fair had we sent all 5,500 images to our four professional judges. The problem is that they all would have quit immediately. They are busy folks who kindly agreed to help with the final judging. They each spent a total of between 1 1/2 and 3 hours of their valuable time to carefully consider the 10-20 images in each of the 11 categories. All major contests have initial rounds of judging by a small group of involved folks. The panel of big-name judges never get to see the vast majority of entered images. In short, your implied suggestion is both impractical and unworkable.

It took Peter Kes, Denise Ippolito, and me nearly three full 8-hour days of hard work to choose the images that went to the judges. As I wrote elsewhere, this process was an extremely difficult one. To be fair to the panel of judges, we decided to send no more than twenty images forward in each of the eleven categories. In some categories–including the Captive category–getting down to twenty or less was fairly easy. In the more popular categories like Portraits, Action, Flight, and Behavior, getting down to 20 was wrenchingly difficult. At times I felt like a very cruel America’s Got Talent judge. As we got close to 20, we compared the strengths and weaknesses of some of the images while others clearly merited being included in the final group. If even one of us liked an image for the finals, it was included. As we deleted and refined our choices, we would often say, “This is an excellent image. If it were to be awarded a prize, would you be proud of our choice?” If all of us answered “No,” that image would be eliminated.

You mentioned “10 images” but in fact 163 of the 5,500 entered images went to the judges. A quick analysis of the public voting would seem to indicate that the initial selection process worked extremely well as all but 1 of the 10 images have garnered at least a single first place vote while two of the images are run-away points leaders. It will be interesting to see how the public evaluation compares to the actual picks of the judges: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd….

Interestingly enough, Calvin did not enter the contest nor did he take the five minutes to judge the presented images….

Do take a moment to leave a comment and answer Calvin’s original question: “Does anyone else think that the contest would have been much more fair if all 5 of the judges had an opportunity to judge all the images, instead of just the 10 images that were chosen by Arthur Morris and 2 other people?”

Mette’s Comment

Mette (first name or last?) posted the following:

T(o)ucan 5
Flamingo 4

(I) can’t mark the other photos because they are not up to my standards. I would love to (see) the the photos that didn’t make it if these did.

Interestingly enough, Mette did not enter the contest. Quite obviously, the rest of the group does not agree with Mette’s assessment. Please take a moment to let Mette know what you think of her comment. As I do not want to influence your responses, I will be sharing my thoughts on her comment later on.

To Be Honest

To be honest, I seriously considered deleting both of the comments above. Each was up for moderation; they needed to be approved by me in order to be visible. Like it or not there is no freedom of speech on my blog.

I was reading an article in Sports Illustrated yesterday by SI Editor Terry McDonnell in which he quoted SI Senior Writer Micheal Farber: “”But shining a light is never a bad thing, no matter what is illuminated.” Instantly it became clear to me that I should share both Calvin’s and Mette’s comments with the group. So that is what I did.

Those who enjoy any type of sports would surely enjoy reading “In My Tribe”; you can access the entire article by clicking here. There is lots of outstanding writing in Sports Illustrated and the article ranks right up there with the best.

59 comments to Contest Concerns…

  • avatar Bill Tyler

    Art, Anyone with half a brain can see that it’s a ton of work to run a contest like this. The complaints seem wildly out of place. Thanks for taking the time and energy to put it together.


  • avatar Dennis Olsen

    This is my first contest, so I don’t know the protocol for judging. I like the way you post the top 10 for us to judge. I am very excited to see if one of my images makes the top 10 to be judged. I am not good at deleting my photos, as I find something I love in each of them, the feedback will be valuable to my work.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Many thanks but your job will get tougher. Some of the categories to come had 20 images sent to the judges! And good luck!

  • Art,

    People are so varied in opinions and thoughts and how/when they choose to express themselves–sometimes good and sometimes bad. If that weren’t so, life wouldn’t be as exciting. By being open and providing knowledge, you also invite candid comments. Before my retirement, as a geometry teacher there were times I felt the impact of a less than kind parental comment just as you have felt from a reader in this blog. One thousand people appreciating your efforts feels so good. Then one sour comment can throw you in a tailspin. Consider the percentages. You rate up there at 99.99% satisfying!

    Only you know how much time and hard work you’ve dedicated to this project, from initiating the original contest, to finding the judges, to coordinating the selection of categories…just all the logistics that take part behind the scenes. But you didn’t stop there. You had the generous heart to share photos with us to let us be amateur judges and test our talents.

    You are absolutely WONDERFUL for all the great things you do for and share with us. This after-the-contest contest had lots and lots of respondents in only 48 hours. Obviously folks relished the challenge to use the tips you’ve given us over time to see how we measure up as critics.

    Save your concerns for things that really matter in life. Words in print do not show the intent like a real face to face does with its inflection and facial expression. This makes it hard to consider the source objectively. It took me a very, very long time to begin to understand a principal’s recommendation to “choose your battles”. Please don’t let disrespecting, rash comments, whether verbal or written, weigh more than they should.

    A million thanks for the brain stimulation you are giving us by sharing these contests! You have enriched my life and I continue to feel exhilerated every time I see one of your emails in my inbox.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Jeanette for sharing your thoughts and for all of your kind words. But you do assume a bit too much :). As a lover of what is (, I strive never to take things personally. No battles here for me. I just calmly asked a few questions :).

      As for the contest-related learning, there is lots more coming!

  • I’d like to make an edit to my original comment: in actuality I entered the contest for two reasons. 1) I thought it would be fun and educational to prepare 10 contest-worthy images. 2) I have a great deal of admiration for Arthur Morris’ work and integrity. Wouldn’t have dreamed of entering any other contest. But when I read that A.M. was having his first contest, I couldn’t resist. All the best to you, Mr Morris, and a healthy huzzah to one and all…

  • avatar George Cottay

    I fail to see how the number of judges doing a first cut has anything to do with the quality of a selection process unless, of course, the number were to grow so high that unqualified individuals had to be pressed into service.

    Mette’s comment might have been interesting if she had described her standards and applied them to the photos. As it stands, the only thing added is a bit of braggadocio.

  • avatar Mark Hendricks

    Let’s put things in perspective too. Go around and check out other contests. Artie’s was the most lenient by far (at least from what I’ve seen)in terms of what you are allowed to do and the amount of categories. Think about it, no matter how many images went to the final judges, Arthur Morris looked at your image first! The dude is legit. Thanks for the constant education and inspiration Artie.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Mark, and yes, our digital restrictions are the most lenient around. And for bird photographers, we offer the most category options by a mile. All thanks to our great sponsors!

  • avatar Peter Noyes

    Life isn’t fair!There are obstacles in achieving any goal.Success is based on how one handles those obstacles. Everyone wants their picture(s) to be evaluated by the judges but that isn’t real in this case. The judges job should be to rank the best of the best and I believe they got to that point efficiently and fairly. No one likes to think that their picture isn’t as good as someone elses but, that’s life. I don’t know what could be fairer than to have your picture evaluated by three top of the line photographers. Quite the contrary, I think Artie and his staff did their job very well and we all owe them our sincere thanks for doing it.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Peter for your kind words and support. I found out big time that life was not fair when Elaine died in 1994!

  • avatar Bill Mc - Singapore

    Hi Everyone,
    I don’t think I have ever commented here before, but I DID enter the contest.

    No matter what your first language is, written communication, esp these days where there is too much, is always interpritted, and frequently mis-insterpritted. It can be difficult to convey what is really in your head to an audience who for the most part does not know you. [As illustrated by the energy in this thread!]

    So Artie – just for giving people the benefit of the doubt – thanks for shining the light. From my perspective it was worth it just to “hear” you explain the pre-screening process. In my opinion, the best news was that there were THREE people working TOGETHER on the pre-screening. If it had only been one, then it might have been demotivating. I have entered a couple of contests where I learned there was only one judge, period. Winning, placing, or not, can almost be a coin toss in those cases (but not all).

    So, Thanks for doing the right things. Thanks for the awesome Blog & Newsletter, and Digital Guides. Thanks for providing a Nikon Guide to Bird Photography!!! And I really put that to the test in Bali. It’s been a long time since I took your workshop in Maine, but I have been learning from you and your team ever since.
    Best Regards, Bill

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for entering and for your kind words. 🙂 I agree that a one-person screening would not make any sense at all. I am lucky to have had Peter and Denise working with me, way lucky!

      As you will see soon, there was perfect agreement on the top two images in this category. That proves two things: a good image is a good image and we had some pretty smart folks voting.

      And a big time YAW to you!

  • avatar Charles Scheffold

    I don’t think most people realize how difficult it would be to go through 5000+ images and pick their top 3 in each of 11 categories. That’s a lot of images to sort out. I entered the contest just for fun – first one ever for me. Whatever comes of it, so be it. I’ll still be out there every weekend doing my best and enjoying myself in the process.

    Thanks Artie for all you have done to inspire and encourage people like me, who 5 years ago couldn’t tell you the difference between a sandpiper and an oystercatcher! 🙂

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Charles. The oystercatcher is the one with the long red bill, right???

      Charles will be joining us on the Bosque IPT next November and on the July 2013 Galapagos trip. 🙂

  • avatar Walt - Tucson

    Calvin and other who had concerns about judging process: I understand the concern(s)that were expressed.
    A photo club I once belonged to had competition once a month. For me it served as a learning and “fun” experience throughout the year(s). I became part of the judging committee. It can be a difficult job in trying to give recognition to everyone, all are certainly making an effort when they compete. We only had less than 80 images (each meeting), to analyze, categorize, and submit for the club members to view and vote for. For Art and “company” to “sponsor/suggest” the contest was probably more than they “bargained for” in respect to the number of amazing entries they ended up with. You have probably considered this, but; unless you have judged such events, it can be an eye-opening experience as to just how difficult it can be to go through the process.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts as to the difficulty of judging. Actually, we had hoped for 1,000 entrants not the 550 that we wound up with. :). Wait till next year!

  • I expect that my initial disappointment will dissipate by the time I finish typing this. It never occurred to me that the judges would probably never see the images I entered. In my opinion 163 is a rather low number, but I’m quite sure that most contests work this way. Arthur Morris is quite right; it would impractical, if not impossible, for the judges to see all of the entries. I entered this contest for one reason: I thought it would be fun and educational for me to prepare 10 contest-worthy images. It was. And what do you know? My mild disappointment has indeed fallen by the proverbial wayside. My advice to any disappointed folks: pick your battles. Contests aren’t very important, but they are a lot of fun, and can be educational on many different levels.

  • I salute BAA for creating the contest. As a sculptor I enter many competitions, usually with good success, and over the years I’ve learned to view competition as an opportunity to improve. Even though rules of composition and good technique can be can be recognized and judged, any artistic competition is going to be subjective to some degree. This is reality, and it isn’t always easy to accept. Like Jay,I did not enter the contest. Also like Jay, I have used .jpeg more than RAW, and your competition is making me look at making a change, so thanks for that. The quality of the images that you posted in the “Captive” category was excellent, and they make me reflect on what I need to do to improve my own photography, so thanks again for that.

    There will always be some folks who aren’t happy with any competition, but in the bigger picture, this contest provides a standard of quality work that helps each of us in evaluating our own work. I appreciate what you’ve done, not only in the contest, but also the entire BAA effort, so keep up the good work. Your books, the Bulletin and the Blog have been outstanding resources for me. I look forward to seeing more of the submissions in this year’s contest. In my opinion, it’s all good!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Many thanks Dave. You raise many valid points and all of them are greatly appreciated by me. I am so, so proud of the work that we have had the privilege of judging that it is hard to describe in words. I have said it elsewhere but when the smoke clears the winning images will stand against the best of the BBC and the Nature’s Best contests.

  • avatar kati

    Whenever we agree to enter a contest where by function there is critique involved we have to be able to take the “heat” and accept the rules of the game. No set of judges will look at a grouping of images through the same set of eyes, therefore, it’s critical to have a well structured set of rules and guidelines for both judging and submission. It might be wise for those considering entering contests to assess their level of expertise and enter those at their level or slightly above so that they can learn from the expert opinions.
    In my opinion if you entered this contest you felt you were adept at your craft of photography and could compete at this level.
    It’s Artie’s contest, his vision and he has every right to set the playing rules…
    I’m really excited to see the winners and kudos to all who made it to the final cut!!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Kati, As I wrote below, I am pretty sure that folks will be amazed when we compare the public voting to the judges’ voting, at least in this category…. Soon. 🙂

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Paul, Though I would not bet my life on it I am fairly certain that I have approved all comments that have come up for moderation, including many negative and critical ones. Especially those with regards to not permitting JPEGs in the competition. Being suspicious however is your choice. I mentioned censorship as I will not permit vulgar nasty comments here. Same as on BPN where we have a wonderful sense of community.

    I am not sure what you are referring to by this: “The above addition to your response is really not necessary.” What addition?

  • avatar Don Hulley

    I am sure you are glad that you held back with your own comments given Mette’s explanation. Unfortunately we all make assumptions and especially on the net and much of the time based on nothing more than a few typed words. 🙂

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Not completely Don :). In stating so strongly that she liked only two of the ten images here she was insulting everyone who liked the images that she did not care for. And that is true in any language. I am glad that she apologized but…. As for me, I do not take stuff personally; only I can insult me.

  • avatar David Policansky

    Artie: Thanks for letting the light shine. I entered a contest in a state magazine last year, and two of my entries were hummingbirds in flight in natural light, nicely frozen by the 1/8000 second shutterspeed my 7D is capable of, in perfect focus, and in my own opinion, nicely and interestingly composed. They got no mention. But another hummingbird image did, and that one seemed much inferior to both of mine. Several friends in that state who know my work volunteered to me their surprise that my images weren’t mentioned, while the “inferior” one was. Why do I mention this? Because when you enter a photo contest, you accept the rules and the judges and you abide by their decisions (unless they specifically violate their own rules). In this case–the BAA contest–it’s an honor to have these judges even look at my photos. I don’t expect to win or be mentioned, but even entering the contest sharpened my skills, and seeing the results will sharpen them more. And while some of the entries I’ve seen don’t press my buttons, none of them is less than excellent. Thanks again to Artie for all aspects of this, including sharing the images and our judgments of them.

    • avatar David Policansky

      And by “these judges,” I also mean Artie, Denise, and Peter. Less than 3% of the images entered went to the final judging panel.


      • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        Thanks on all counts David. There is tons more contest-related learning to come and that will continue long after the winners are announced.

  • Strikes me that we’re looking at a bit of a storm in a teacup here.

    Calvin’s just asking an innocent question – not “challenging” anything – and he does make a valid point, albeit an unrealistic one.

    As to Mette’s comment, it occured to me the instant I saw it that he was probably simply trying to communicate the notion that the other shots just didn’t “press his buttons”, in other than his mother tongue – something which he has since confirmed himself.

  • Calvin – I don’t think it’s realistic for the judges to see all 5500 images entered in the contest but I would have preferred that they had seen more than just 163. From an earlier Birds As Art blog post I believe it was stated that the 5500 images were initially cut to around 500. To me that would have been a better number for the judges to evaluate.

    Now whether that makes the contest more fair, well I’m not really sure. Fair is probably the wrong word to be used in conjunction with a photo contest anyhow. It’s more like a lottery and you enter hoping one of your images catches the eyes of the judges on the day they evaluate them. On a different day and in different moods their choices could be so different.

    You just can’t take photo contests too seriously.

    Mette – To some degree I agree with you but would not have chosen the words that you have used. I found it very difficult to make my last three picks with the remaining 8 images not doing a lot for me for various reasons either. Surely I’m allowed to be honest about that and have my own opinion. I too would have preferred to have seen more than just 10 images from this category.

    Oh and yes I did enter the competition but not in this category.

    Finally I would like to congratulate all the photographers who did make the final cut, a great result for you all.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 500 images would have put each judge’s workload at about a full eight hour day. All of the judges were concerned with how many images they would have to view…. We did our best.

      As for your comments on photo contests being a lottery I agree somewhat, but I am pretty sure that when you see the correlation between the public vote and the judge’s vote you will be forced to reconsider that position at least for this contest. That said, this is only the first of the eleven categories….

      Andy, I do not see your vote. Did you vote? I would be curious as to the two images that you felt were that far above the rest. Please do let us know.

      • Artie

        You must have missed my vote because I did actually rate my top 5 picks. I just felt that two images were far above the rest.

        Toucan: 5
        Philippine Eagle:4
        Flamingo Head and Neck:3
        Bald Eagle Calling:2
        Red-tailed Hawk:1

        • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          Thanks Andy, I still cannot find your vote; I searched all three pages of comments with your last name and came up empty….

          IAC, you stated, ” I found it very difficult to make my last three picks with the remaining 8 images not doing a lot for me for various reasons either.” While your two top picks matched my two top picks they did not match Mette’s…. Different strokes.

          As for your and other folks preferring to have seen more than ten images, I still point out that only one of the ten images did not receive a single first place. That to me is a pretty good indication that we made the cut-off in just the right spot for this category. The good images have a way of rising to the top no matter the judges. Again, at least in this category but I suspect that the same will be true in many other categories.

          • It took me a couple of searches to find it also but it is there, middle of page two, between two of your comments to other posts.

            Thannks! My bad. Not sure why it hid from the search feature… artie

  • avatar Alan Lillich

    On Calvin: In a perfect world yes it would be more fair for all judges to see all images. But as Artie well said, it ain’t a perfect world. I have confidence that the ultimate results of perfect fairness would be close to what is chosen in practical reality. And no doubt that the winners will be deserving.

    On Mette: I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, as long as they realize it is their opinion and not necessarily Truth. To be honest, I find the objection to be elitist and a cop-out. The request was to rank the photos. This can be done whether they are up to your individual standards or not.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      As written yes to the elitist comment. But Mette did apologize and explained that English is a second language. Love you you and Pat.

  • avatar Mette

    I apologise to all of you. English is not my first language so my choice of ords was probably wrong. All I meant was that I (personally) liked the Toucan best and gave it a 5. Flamingo legs with shadow a 4. The other photos did not do anything for me for various reasons. I did not mean to upset people. I’m sorry

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for the apology. Your original remark came off as quite insulting to the group and to the judges as well. But I strive never to take things personally. Apology accepted from me :). I do hope that we get to see your work next year. artie

  • avatar James Saxon

    I entered the contest and don’t have a problem with pre-judging entries so the panel does not have the volume of entries to go through. This is a common practice in other contests. Reviewing the Captive category images that are in the link above demonstrate the quality of images the contest attracted. As long as the winning photos are selected based on content, composition, etc and not on the person’s name the playing field is level. I enter a lot of contests with mixed results and found most are judged similar to this one. I need to improve my skills and prepare for the next year’s contest.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      The judging was done blind–no names on the images. Of the five judges, I did recognize a few images and in rare cases connected the images with the photographer. 99% of those images did not earn a prize.

  • avatar Maureen

    BAA decided to create a contest, organized it, spent countless hours setting up and administering it, lined up prizes and found judges willing to participate. And BAA decided how the judging would be handled. Makes sense to me.

    The second comment is just plain ugly.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Maureen for appreciating how much work and effort went into the contest. Mette did go on to apologize to the group and explained that English is not her first language.

  • avatar Gaurav Mittal

    My two cents to these two Mette and Calvin, neither one has any appreciation for a photographer hard work or the judges and other folks who work hard to make these contests a success and a learning experience. I seriously doubt that either one of these two are photographers. I’m sure that just like myself, all fellow photographers here are admiring the beautiful images as well as applauding the judges decision. I really enjoyed looking and appreciating every one of these images and they are all winners in my mind.

    So Calvin and Matte, I suggest you quit the negative talk and start looking at these images closely, you may learn a thing or two about making an image.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for your support and understanding Gaurav, and namaste. You are likely being a bit harsh on Calvin and on Mette as well–English is a second language for her and she did apologize above.

      But I do agree on the killer quality of the images here, and this is only the first category.

  • avatar Gloria

    Makes me think of that line from Top Gun “Pretty cocky for the company you’re in … ” Can’t wait to see Mette’s work!

  • avatar Ron Perkins

    Since April, I have submitted photos to my first three competitions, each with a different set of rules. After looking at the top 10 selections for Captive Birds, I doubt if any of my entries will pass the initial selection in the First Birds As Art Contest. I am a beginner and have so far to go! The Artie Morris’ Birds As Art Contest is definitely helping me. The no JPG rule is forcing me to use only my more recent and better RAW photos. The no cropping more than 50% is forcing me to compose better. And, the opportunity to Rate the Top Ten Captive photos is encouraging me the opportunity to study the best photos of others!!! Having expert photographers Denise Ippolito, Peter Kes, and Artie Morris spend over 30 hours making the initial cuts of 5,500 images seems fair to me! Maybe not so fair to them! As long as the rules are applied the same for all and the judges are highly qualified, one must conclude it is a totally fair contest! As for me, my sights are on NEXT TIME!!! Ron Perkins, Naples, FL

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Ron. This has been a tremendous learning experience for us here as well, both with regards to running a contest and learning from evaluating so many great images. And there is tons more learning to come over the next few months as we will be commenting on various contest images and making suggestions. So stay tuned!

  • To me the point is simple: this is BAA’s contest and runs under BAA’s rules. Period. I wasn’t forced to participate. I did because I trust BAA (Art and his collaborators). Consider this: if you don’t trust a contest organizer, you could raise objections for everything, for instance you could raise doubts on whether they really did the things according to the rules. There’s no way to solve this. So, if you don’t trust a contest organizer, or don’t like the procedure he defined, just don’t participate in the contest.

  • You’ll never please every individual. Interesting that the squeaky wheels didn’t even have the confidence to enter. (This is not directed at you Jay, your circumstance is perfectly understandable. Congrats on switching to RAW and learning PS. )

  • avatar Jay

    I’ve noticed comments similar to Calvin’s in some other on-line photo contests where people have the opportunity to comment on the rules/procedures/etc. Lots of challenges to fairness, or problems with the rules. Problems with the rules are easy. The contest sponsor sets up the rules. If you don’t like them, you don’t have to enter. I didn’t enter not because of any issues with the rules, but because at the time of announcement, I had been shooting mainly .jpg, and therefore did not have photos that would meet the contest requirements. Was I happy about this, not really. Is it a problem with the rules. No. It’s based on sponsors philosophy (on a side note, the rules did turn into a learning opportunity as it caused me to take a photoshop class and work on my editing skills). As for fairness, so long as everyone entry has an equal opportunity to be considered, the contest is fair. Many contests have different rounds of judging. As long as there is no predetermined winner, or selections being made not by the quality of the entry, but by the name of the entrant, it is fair.

    As for me, I can’t wait to see the final selections. I’m also looking forward to next year’s contest so that I can try entering.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Jay. RAW rocks! Good on you for turning a negative into a positive.