Review Guest Speaker – Robyn Campbell

Robyn Campbell presented to Melbourne Camera Club on Thursday 12 August 2021. Robyn spoke about: What judges are looking for in photographic competitions.  Robyn expanded on a video she did for AIPP TV which can be found online here:

The creative itch came for Campbell when she took her first shots as a teenager while travelling overseas.  “They were horrific!” she said after developing them upon her return.  Campbell is clearly a person who can live with discomfort in order to get to a better place.  She felt spurred on to develop her technical skills and good aesthetic judgment.  With her husband she founded the Headshot Company twenty-one years ago which became a leader in the industry specialising in corporate portraits. Interestingly, the company diversified during the COVID lockdown by adding virtual portraits to its suite of services.  Campbell herself has received many awards for her fine arts photography culminating in a master of photography, 3 gold bars. “But,” she says, “I mainly do my fine art for myself”.  I found Campbell’s roller derby alter ego portraits stunning and her animals in the city series particularly amusing.

As a judge of photography Campbell’s main business for the evening was to answer the question: “What judges are looking for in photographic competitions?”


Campbell said: “You only get one chance to make a good first impression”. Judges will appraise the content of your image in the first few seconds in terms of the emotion it evokes, the story it tells, it’s authenticity, and it’s originality.  Judges respond well when they see something they haven’t seen before.  Campbell warns about rehashing what’s won awards in the past.  Images that are fresh and reflect your own unique take are likely to pique a judge’s interest in your work.  She also advises us to remove any distracting elements that might detract from what you’re trying to communicate. 


Balance is affected by how you compose your image.  Directing the gaze to the key focal points of your image may be achieved by careful cropping using traditional compositional rules such as the rule of thirds and Fibonacci spiral – unless of course you want to break the rules and create something a bit more off beat.  Weighting and use of negative space are also important considerations in composition and story telling.  For example, empty spaces give room for the viewer to consider your image, a girl at the corner of frame gives the impression of loneliness.  Judges are real sticklers for strait horizon lines so make sure they are strait – unless they are not meant to be.

Mood and atmosphere 

Light plays a major part in evoking the emotional feel of an image.  “To add that bit of extra interest,” Campbell recommends using more than one light source (a hair light for a person, a specular highlight for objects).  Atmosphere can be enhanced by vignettes, adding texture, darkening the mood, or conversely, making the image light and airy.  You can give your images a more three dimensional feel by sharpening some areas.  Awareness of Colour Theory is also helpful.  Colour ordering can add depth to your image in that warm colours bring things forward, darker tones take things back.

The next phase is what judges refer to as the secondary appraisal.  This is where they will apprise your commitment to the choices you have made about your use of a particular colour palate, tones, contrast, vibrancy in terms of how they support the key concept you are trying to communicate.

Overall technical skills

Most judges will not score over 80% – 85% if an image has technical flaws that haven’t been corrected. Campbell says you will need to demonstrate post production techniques where you have reduced noise (if problematic), eliminated banding, and exercised restraint in using tools like sharpening.  The inks and paper you use for printing is also a critical consideration.   

By Helen Lang 

The Zoom video replay will available on the Members Video Library page