I have been judging 4-H photography since 2012. I love working with the 4-H’ers and helping them become better photographers and better young people.
This year I judged at the Davis County (Bloomfield) and Johnson County (Iowa City) fairs. I also judged fourth-graders at the Poweshiek County Fair along with open class, which I have done for a half dozen years.
It all started thanks to Cathy Lents, the Poweshiek County Extension Director. I had taught several adult and 4-H photography classes and was interested in becoming a judge. Cathy provided the information I needed to take the 4-H judge’s training session, which was held in Polk County in November 2011.
Judges are asked to use their knowledge to evaluate, educate and encourage 4-H’ers. Sometimes it is hard to tell a 4-H’er that they need to do a little better or to hand out a red or white ribbon. I have given out a lot more blue and purple ribbons than I have red and white.
My first fair was in Mahaska County in 2012. I was a nervous wreck and a little unsure of myself. But as with all things in life, success starts with a step, a shaky step, but a step.
Thanks to the help of some of the other judges, I finished the day and enjoyed the experience. I have since judged in Mahaska County three more times through the years.
I have also judged twice in Keokuk County at the 4-H Expo, where I judged creative arts one year. I also judged in Washington County and twice in Benton County. I have judged once in Iowa County and judged open class there twice in years past.
I’ve also judged twice in Linn County in Central City, the last time due to Covid, I judged virtually. And I’ve also judged one time each in Marion (Knoxville) and Warren (Indianola) counties. I have had chances to judge in Polk, Jasper and Lucas counties, but they didn’t work with my schedule and covering the Poweshiek County Fair.
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to judge 4-H photography at the Iowa State Fair. That was a different experience as there were no 4-H’ers to talk with about their photos. I’m used to talking to the 4-H’ers and at the state fair, I had to write everything down.
All the photos that are judged on the county level and advance to the state level, get judged again. There are several eyes that look at the photos on display in the 4-H Building on the state fairgrounds.
Outside of taking good photos, one of the most important aspect of any 4-H project is the write up.
“I just wanted to take a good photos,” many 4-H’ers will put on their write ups. My questions to the 4-H’er, “why?”
“Tell me why you took and what interested you in taking this photo?” I will ask.
I explain to them it is like writing an essay paper. Who, what, when, where and why. That is the teaching part of being a judge.
I had one 4-H’er not only provide detail in her write up, she wrote separate stories about each photo. All the photos were taken at her grandparent’s farm, which later was destroyed in a tornado. This young 4-H’er not only captured the memories, she told the story to go with it.
Film was king when I first started taking photos in the mid-1970s and into the 80s. My first camera was an Argus Twin Lens Reflex camera that used Kodak 620 film. It had a bulky side-mounted flash that used bulbs. My first 35mm camera was a Konica FP-1, which I won in a weight loss bet in 1983 with a co-worker in Tulsa. It was a basic manual focus camera. I later purchased a Konica FT-1 camera. It was more advanced and gave more control over my photography.
In community college in Oklahoma, I started with a black and white class and then advanced to color. I learned about f-stops, depth of field and rule of thirds. I took a lot of photos, developed lots of film and spent hours in the darkroom crafting my art. I then went to the University of Missouri-Columbia and learned the craft of photojournalism from some great teachers.
Being a judge is a great opportunity and fun. I learn so much from the 4-H’ers. I’m proud of every 4-H’er that I have worked with, no matter their skill level. They are learning and growing and that is what 4-H is all about.
Have a great week and always remember that “Good Things are Happening,” every day and always.