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Judging IGPOTY

Philip Smith
27 February 2014
Blog team: 
Philip Smith, director of the International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY), lifts the lid on the most important process of the IGPOTY year - judging the competition!
IGPOTY 2014 competition winner, "My Garden Prairie" by Rosanna Castrini

Choosing the judges

First of all - how do we find the judges? Well, we try to get a mixture of experience and personality. We need experienced and articulate photographers. (The best photographers are often people who don't talk very much, wrapped up in their own work as they are, and that can be a problem). We need people who are used to looking at and selecting the best images all day and every day – so editors from magazines that pride themselves on the quality of the photography are an obvious choice.


Photo: Jussy by moonlight by Nic Barlow
Jussy by moonlight by Nic Barlow. A highly original image that was awarded a ‘Highly Commended’

So we have editors from the National Trust magazine, Kew magazine, and Gardens Illustrated. Added to this mix we have people at the top of their profession in horticultural and exhibition fields. Having assembled the team, we then need to work to a system that gives everyone ample chance to express their opinions.

From the outset of the project we wanted to give the judges the opportunity to mull over the selection at their leisure – so they will come to their opinions without undue influence from other people. At the same time, we place great emphasis on the value of group discussion and the consensus that arises.

Long lists

First of all comes a period of pre-judging, during which long lists are made for each category. There are no targets for the numbers on the long list. These decisions are made online. Judges consider issues such as composition, originality and subject matter.


Photo: One That Got Away by Niki Gorick
One that got away? Niki Gorick’s photograph in ‘Greening the City’ was heavily supported by one judge, but it did not make it to the final shortlist.

After this, each judge is given a specific category to look at. They have a week to review their category and at the end of that period they can vote online for their favourites.

Each category will have three of four judges voting on it. The votes are tallied and this gives us our second long list. – all the images which have received no votes are removed.

Phase two

We then move to the second phase. All of the long list images are then discussed at length by a group of judges meeting together and huddled around a hot monitor.

These sessions can take many hours. The object is to come up with a shortlist. Now for the first time we have target numbers we have to achieve - without this the discussions can go on forever! This is the most difficult phase since we are always in the position of discarding some really good images.


Photo: Sea Pinks byPeter Hyde
This fantastic photograph by Peter Hyde is one of many images of sea pinks that are entered each year. When a subject is so popular, it can be difficult to get through to the final rounds.

High resolution

Once we have the shortlist, the judges now disperse and the IGPOTY team request high resolution files from shortlisted photographers.

At this point there will be several photographers who cannot produce a high resolution file – which is always disappointing. In this case it is possible to go back into the long list and agree some new candidates. These days, we generally run a 'reserve' list for this purpose.

When we receive the high resolution files we pass them to an imaging expert who assesses the technical quality of the file supplied. Again, if there are failures at this stage we dip into the reserve list.

And the winner is...

Then the judges reconvene to review where we are. It is perfectly possible for images to be rejected at this stage, but most of the high resolution files go through. The question now is to decide the ranking – winner, finalist, highly commended or commended.

The discussions at this point can become heated as judges lobby for their own favourites -  sometimes in the teeth of stiff opposition! But equally there are some images that simply captivate all the judges equally – as was the case with the overall winner this year.


Photo: My Prairie Garden by Rosanna Castrini
This year’s unanimous choice for International Garden Photographer of the Year – My Prairie Garden by Rosanna Castrini.

The exhibition and the book

The net result of all this effort is the collection of images you can now see in the book and in the exhibition at Kew, which runs to the end of this month.

We laboured long and hard to produce this selection - and it is the most satisfying thing to watch the delight and pleasure it brings to the many fans of beautiful photography everywhere.

- Philip -

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