5 Rules to Judge a Photo Subjectively

Turtle swimming in the Red Sea in black and white. Photograph by Amar Guillen, photographer artist.
Turtle swimming in the Red Sea. Peacefulness, tranquility, and elegance characterize this black and white underwater photo.

How Judging Subjectively?

You certainly think that to judge photographs, whether your own or those of others, all you have to do is say what goes through your mind without any filter.

I think that would be a mistake.

Judging subjectively requires discernment.

Avoid snap judgments. All judgements must be justified, argued in a valid and above all constructive manner.

Especially if they are pictures of other photographers. Think that your arguments can hurt, harm. You need to motivate them and take shape in what you are going to say.

Judging subjectively means that you will do it according to yourself, your experiences, your life experience. Judging subjectively requires restraint, good manners.

You must not do it with resentment.

Suppose you know one or another photographer. But you do not appreciate him or her as a person because his or her values and morals do not match yours.

When you judge her or his photographs, you need to step back and forget your feelings about her or him!

You must only judge the photos. You should appeal only to your photographic emotions and not to what you think of the person. These are two totally different things.

When I explain this principle during my workshops, I always take the example of the writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline. He wrote one of the best novels I have ever read "Voyage au bout de la nuit". And yet, his attitude during the Second World War was shameful and contrary to all values. And yet I appreciate the book.

I think it is important to separate the work from the author.

When you judge subjectively, only speak about your emotions and what you feel about the pictures you are looking at.

Use your general knowledge and experience.

Pretend you do not know the author of the photographs. Remain neutral.

State simple, understandable, and justified criteria.

Even if your reasoning is imperfect, no one will hold it against you if you speak sincerely, elegantly, without offending anyone.

I have listened to people criticizing photographers before who were acting in bad faith. They did not use objective criteria like my 10 criteria. The criteria were clearly subjective because they were based on experience. But clearly, it was bad faith. I will not go into detail because that would give too much importance to this small circle of people who are given too much importance.

The advice I would like to give you is to judge subjectively but sincerely without trying to impress the gallery with false arguments.

That will make you more credible.

To sum up, I think that in order to judge subjectively, certain rules of conduct must be observed, which involve :

  • Decency.
  • Benevolencee.
  • Respect.
  • Good faith.
  • Elegance in the words.

Subjective Judgment Is Not Enough

Do not think that because you are going to judge with your emotions, your experiences and your life experience, your soul, you will judge well.

That would be a mistake.

Judging subjectively is well suited to choosing a photo to hang in your living or working place. It is normal that you make a subjective choice because you will contemplate the photo for an exceptionally long time. It should correspond to you as much as possible.

But let us imagine you are with friends and you are discussing a photographer's photographic approach or about a collection of photos.

It is normal to give a subjective opinion on photos to create or participate in a debate. But you will not be able to tell if the photos are good or not.

To do this, you must adopt an objective criteria grid. Finally, whether you use objective or subjective judgment on photographs depends entirely on the circumstances in which you do so.

Subjective Judgment Is Always Present

I had the opportunity to participate as a judge in many photo competitions.

Whenever I was on the jury, I always had a presentation of all the photos before we got together to judge.

Fatally, I have always had favorites that corresponded to my personal tastes. I like ethereal, minimalist atmospheres. I like photos that are easy to read and that evoke freedom and solitude.

When the photos are scrolled one by one in front of the jury to give a grade, it is obvious that my emotions immediately come back to the surface of my mind after the overall visualization with the jury.

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Yet I try to ignore it. I try to be as objective as possible. I use the verb 'to try', voluntarily. I know in my heart of hearts whether or not I like pictures.

Perhaps my subjective judgment slightly alters my objective judgment. I do not have proof of that. But after all these years I do not think there is anything anyone can do about it.

Objectivity in judgement is always balanced by subjectivity.

It is certainly for this reason that different juries will classify identical photos in different ways.


I hope that this new article on photographic judging will have opened your mind on how to judge photos subjectively.

Always try to be as moral and ethical as possible in your judgments.

When you use subjective criteria, be elegant, good faith and argue without ulterior motives.

Appeal to your emotions, to your experiences.

Put aside your negative feelings.

Above all, do not deprive yourself of subjective judgment. It is one more string to your bow to make even more interesting and creative photos.

Be humble, patient, constant, persevering, and persistent because the road to excellence is long.

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