I have been with the PFLI for 22 years now in various capacities including Competition Chair and each year as September approaches discussions turn to judging.
The discussions are actually more like complaints and they generally center around comments like "My Bluejay got a 9 at the club and a crummy 23 at PFLI. The PFLI judges have no idea what they are doing!".
The fact is that the scores at PFLI will almost always be lower than the scores at the club and there are a number of reasons why this is true.
1. A lone judge in front of a club audience generally wants to be a "nice guy" and perhaps would like to be invited back to judge again so handing out low scores would seem to be in opposition to that goal. Particularly since a few clubs have been know to rate the judges performance on how many 9's they award or have asked judges to explain afterward why the scores were so low. Knowing this, even though the actual scoring criteria is 5=poor, 6=fair, 7=good, 8=very good and 9=outstanding almost no judge will give out a 5 and taken to the extreme many judges will not even score a 6. This score compression means poor images (5's) and fair images (6's) are all pushed up to a 7 score. To keep things in balance the real 7's must now be pushed up to 8's and the 8's are now elevated to 9's...along with the real 9's. The makers with 6's and 7's are probably happy but the makers of the true 9's maybe not so much. The net result is a lot of inflated high scores.
2.The 3 PFLI judges are under no such "be a nice guy" constraints and their scoring will be far more objective. For the most part the judges have seen tens of thousands of images. You may think that your Bluejay is the best Bluejay ever, and for you it may be, but for the judges who have seen perhaps hundreds of bluejays it may not be. Because of their expanded knowledge and the tempering effect of 3 judges instead of 1 the score you receive will be a lot closer to the actual value of the image.
3.Personal bias may also rear it's ugly head with the one club judge. Much as you say it should not, if the club judge loves birds maybe a bird image gets an extra boost. Finding 3 PFLI judges on the same panel that all love birds probably will not happen.
So what to do.
A.Encourage the judge to use the full scale....and really mean it.
B.Consider switching to 1/2 point scoring at your club competition. This gives the judges a lot more wiggle room particularly at the high end. Deciding between an 8 and a 9 generally means the judge will go up to a 9. Now he or she has an out at 8 1/2 saving the 9's for truly outstanding images.
C.Don't rate the judges on scores alone. Look for the following things from a judge at the club level. Were his comments helpful. Did he find something that you might have missed. Were the scores consistent between similar images. Did the scores match the comments. Things like "the light is great, the subject is fantastic, I love the composition....7" leave people scratching their heads. And in the final analysis did he select the best images as the best images for the night.
D.Attend the PFLI competitions. Last year 420 makers had work sent to the PFLI. About 35 people show up at each competition and for the most part they are the same 35 people. That means that the vast majority of workers have no clue why their Bluejay got a 23 and another Bluejay got a 25. If you go 4 competitions a year and you will see 2,000 images, far more than you will ever see at your club and you will begin to realize why the scoring differences.
E.Remember it is judging. If we could put a ruler on an image and just measure the score we would. And the same image on a different night with a different judge may produce a different score.
F.The final thought is to recognize what a really good score at PFLI actually is. The overall average for almost 4,000 images last year was 22.3 To assist me in selecting judges I put together an unofficial "Super All Star" list. To get on my the list you must have 16 images scored at PFLI and you must average 23 or above. 16 images means if you enter only 2 groups...say BWA and CPA you must have an image sent every month with no exceptions, a difficult task in a large club. Generally to get on the list you must compete in 3 or even 4 groups..BWA, CPA, DPA and CRE. That insures that you understand the special requirements of the various groups. As I said, 420 makers entered PFLI last year but only 27 made my list. Remember that crummy 23. If you could do that every time you would be on my list.
ON THE MATTER OF JUDGING
Dick Hunt, Competition Chair Updated: December 10, 2014