I’ve judged photographs for various contests since the 90s. I lost count of how many contests I’ve judged. Some have been in formal settings like those run by professional photography associations, and some for online contests like recent Aperture Nature Photography Workshops.
When there isn’t a formal judging criteria, I always use my own and it might surprise you to find out how simple it is.
I just look for the contestant to give me a photograph in a way that moves me. That so rarely happens, that when it does, the moment is electric.
So here’s the executive summary. Make photographs that move people. How you ask?
That’s where some of the more traditional advice comes in. Look for visual acuity, clearly defined subjects, good composition, good use of color or tone or hue, great light, movement, layering, etc.
I could have given you the last list first, but then you would have likely misunderstood the role these things like sharpness and composition play. You see we always talk about those things because – now wait for it – because they are typically part and parcel of the photos that move us.