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The judges' scores are in

Philip Smith
15 March 2011
Blog team: 
Ever wondered what happens to your IGPOTY entries once you have pushed the button to send them to us? We offer some tips and tricks to help your photographs get through the early rounds of judging.

The snow lay thick on the ground and nobody could take off from Heathrow, Egypt still had a president, King George VI was still stammering, and there was a load of Christmas shopping to do.  But the judging of IGPOTY 4 was also just starting, back in December last year.

Berberis antoniana by John Barber, Finalist, Plant Portraits 

The process took three months. There has, in the meantime, been lots of talk, lots of discussion, and much tea has been drunk. Everybody who entered has now got an email of congratulation or commiseration. We have been swamped – pleasantly so - with requests for feedback from the judges. The comments people have made have been really good to see:

“I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of taking part in IGPOTY 2010. I have been unsuccessful this time - however, I would love some feedback on the images I entered for the competition"

“Thank you once again for your hard work in arranging this competition. The results again are amazing. Alas the winter daydream of walking away with the winning prize is not to be but I would be very grateful for feedback on the images which I submitted.”

“I know that the competition gets stronger every year and the results are visually excellent, and I take on board all previous feedback that you have been kind enough to offer me in the past. I am really interested in Garden Photography and really want to succeed with this at some point - it is really important to me.”

The judging process

So with more than 14,000 entries, how do the judges work? Do your photographs really get looked at?

Well first of all, two of the judges go through all of the entries. One by one. Opening the file, giving it a ranking, moving to the next one. This takes about three weeks.

At this stage, when 14,000 are whittled down to about 2,000, first impressions count. Here are a couple of things that will enhance your chances of getting through the first selection:

  • Don’t put your image in a computer generated frame. The judges are deciding about photographs, not frames.
  • Don’t put your name or some copyright text inside the photograph. We treat the issue of photographers’ copyrights very seriously. If you put your name inside the frame the judges will look at that and be distracted from the image.
  • Don’t submit a very small file. We ask for low resolution files to be 800 pixels along the longest side – much smaller than that and the image will be pixilated - distorted. It won’t get through the first selection.
  • The judges see an awful lot of repetition at this stage – the same kind of images – close ups of rose petals, for example, crop up time and again – it really is a time for originality to be at the fore.

Almond Blossom by James Guilliam, Finalist, Plant Portraits

 From 'longlist' to 'shortlist'

We then take our 2,000 ‘longlist’ and widen out the selection process to the entire judging panel. In their own time, they review the images one by one and give them a score.

The judges at this stage are easily able to see your captions and the judges will read them carefully at this stage.  We always remember that many entrants do not have English as a first language and so they are not looking for a work of literature; a caption explaining an interesting angle on the photograph however can help and image along. We couldn't  say that a good caption makes up for a poor image – it doesn’t – but a good or interesting caption can push a ‘borderline’ image through to the next level.

There are several rounds of the ‘longlist’ stage. At the end of this stage, the admin team goes through and weeds out those images that have been ranked lowest by the panel. This leaves about 500 images that we have to reduce to around 200.

Come the middle of January, we all meet up for three or four days in Andrew Lawson’s studio in Oxfordshire and review all the images that are left at this stage. Although we concentrate on those images that have scored highest, all of the photographs entered are still available for review, regardless of how they have been scored. So it is always possible for a judge to ‘recall’ an image from the ‘pile’, or simply to have another look through all of them.

Final discussions

Now the intense discussions begin. Sometimes it’s easy – sometimes the finalists just leap out from the screen. But most times there is a long discussion where the various merits of specific images are discussed and, ultimately, voted on.

At the end of this round is when we send out emails to shortlisted photographers asking for high resolution files. People sometimes think the judging is over at this stage but this is not the case. The judges often go back over earlier decisions and can ‘promote’ a photograph that did not make it to the shortlist.

Make sure at this stage you send us the best image you can. If you are not familiar with the world of tiffs and jpegs now is the time to learn – fast!

Once we have received all the high resolution files, the judging panel meets again to review all the choices and to look at the technical quality of the image submitted. Quite a few do not get through this final round. What we are left with is a selection of photographs that the judges feel represent the best of the wide variety of talent on show. Now, and only, now do we send out the final ‘results email'.

Now it’s over to you – have a look at the finalists on the website and let us know what you think! The winners will  be announced just before the exhibition opens at Kew Gardens - the beginning of May.

- Philip -


21 March 2011
About 1500
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18 March 2011
Sorry, that was meant to say YGOPTY entries.
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16 March 2011
We get about 14,000.
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15 March 2011
Out of interest, how many IGOPTY entries are there?
Abuse Reported. Comment will be reviewed and removed if necessary.

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