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I think everyone has always noticed that the average ratings in the challenges seem inordinately low. I think that a true 5-star image is pretty rare for anybody, but the top photographers on this and any of the other Capture sites have the skill and diligence to turn out what I consider to be 4-star images on a pretty consistent basis, and most of them shoot a wide enough variety of subjects to have relevant images for just about any challenge theme. Why, then, do the winning images in every challenge average around 3 stars or lower? One reason, which I think many people have long suspected but were unable to prove, is that some participants are deliberately casting low votes - and lots of them - on everyone else's images in a vain effort to improve their own chances of winning.

I uploaded my first few photos to the current Waterscapes challenge, and was a little dismayed when I checked them a few hours later and found that each had received 3 votes - and all were carrying a 1.0 star average. But the interesting difference between this site and CM and CW is that here, only 43 people had voted at all - you can pull up the entire list from the link at the bottom of the challenge page. So, being the curious type, I decided to see whether I could take advantage of this fact to identify who was behind this display of poor sportsmanship. I whipped up an excel spreadsheet and made a list of every voter and their current vote count, then added some additional images to the challenge and monitored them frequently. Every time one of my photos received a new vote, I simply multiplied its new average score by the number of votes to determine how many stars the most recent voter had given it. I then checked the voter list to see whose vote total had changed. I repeated this process a few more times with additional images, just to confirm my findings.

It took me just a few days to identify the culprits. There are three, and as expected, they are among the most frequent voters in the challenge. And one of them particularly disappointed me, since she's been leaving very kind comments on the images themselves, and is a very competent photographer with a good eye for composition who doesn't need to resort to these kinds of tactics to have a shot at winning. However, I was heartened to note that this kind of behavior is the exception, not the rule - the other frequent voters are at least fair and in some cases even generous with their votes.

What to do about it - that is the question. For now, I don't think a public naming and shaming is in order. I may change my mind, but maybe all three of them will see this and decide it's time to start playing fair - at least one can hope. Any other suggestions?

You may think it doesn't matter, that a few bad apples can't swing the votes enough to make a difference. And if these people were only casting low votes on other people's photos, that might be true. But what if they were also able to cast high votes on their own photos? That's exactly what's been happening in two instances, with a photographer using what is probably a dummy account set up in the name of a relative to cast 5-star votes on their own photos and 1-star votes on everybody else's.

Let's look at the math. Suppose you have a photo that has received 30 votes with a 3-star average. That's a total of 90 stars for the photo. Add a single 1-star vote, and that photo's new average is 91/31 = 2.94 stars. Now suppose the cheater also has a photo with 30 votes and a 3-star rating. Add a 5-star vote, and their average score now becomes 95/31 = 3.06 stars. That's a significant change, and that's if the cheater only votes once per photo. They're doing it more often than that.

I don't want to seem obsessive about this - normally, I wouldn't have made the effort, but I'm stuck here in the Twin Cities with cold weather and not enough snow to be interesting, so I've been planted in front of my computer trying to catch up with processing about 7,000 fall exposures from a couple long fall color weekends, and a few other projects I'm working on. So it's been a fairly simple matter to click over to the site every so often and keep an eye on things. If the weather were more appealing, I'd be out shooting, and I don't have any intention of repeating this exercise in future challenges. But I really would like to know how other people feel about this - it's not like there's any real fame or fortune to be had by participating on this site, but does it bother you that some people take it so seriously that they're willing to go to these lengths to win, and that you're not playing on a level field? Or do you just shrug it off?

It's been a while since I glanced at the forum and found your analysis intriguing. I’ve posted a few pictures on the various contests in the past and even managed to be selected a couple of times. I have to admit I have not voted in the most recent contests. When I do vote I like to get to the 100% level and then stop – why vote more than once? I think the contest should limit votes to one per picture. This would be an easy process to implement since they can monitor what % you have voted for – so they know if you have already voted for a picture.

I see that this last contest had 720 pictures. So why would a person have more than 720 votes? I don’t know how someone stuffs the ballot. That process would have to be very time consuming, although not impossible.

Well, what was happening in this case was that two different people each have two accounts set up - one in their own name, and one in the name of a family member (a wife and a daughter in this case, both with different last names than the photographer, and neither with any posted photos of their own). They were voting with the second account, which allowed them to cast 5-star votes on all of their own photos, and 1 star votes on everybody else's. One of the people was also casting 1-star votes on other people's photos from her own account, while the other person didn't vote at all from his own account. I agree that it should be limited to one vote per photo per person - I think the stated reason of allowing you to "fine-tune" your votes is nonsense. If you have a logical system for how you assign scores, there shouldn't be any need for that.

Looking at the vote totals is interesting. Latest challenge has 48 pictures as of now. But at least one person has voted 600 times. Obviously too much time on their hands.

Interestingly, the two "dummy account" voters I mentioned in the previous challenge have not voted in this one. Perhaps they got the message. I did exchange some emails with one of the administrators at Pediment, and it turns out that their system for calculating scores is far more sophisticated than I assumed. Essentially, each person who votes on your photo only counts once, and if they vote multiple times, their "score" for your photo represents a weighted average of all their votes with the first vote carrying the greatest weight. So if one person voted on your photo once, and another voted 10 times, your photo's score would be an average of only two scores, not eleven. So anybody who's voting excessively in hopes of influencing the outcome is, for the most part, wasting their time. That's even more true on the busier sites like CM and CW, where so many more people are voting.

Well, I had hopes that bringing up the issue would make it stop, but it hasn't. In fact, in the current challenge we have one person using not one but five additional accounts to try to improve her odds. I guess I'm going to have to send my documentation to DCVB and ask them to have this user removed from the site.

Good read Bill. I was actually thinking about doing a post similar to this. Prolly would have just said "grow up you bunch of greedy children and have some honor!" Lol. Photography is about art and not money. I won a challenge last year and never actually ended up getting the gift certificate for local stores. i think it got lost in the mail. I dont really care though because its not about the money. What saddens me is that so many people have so little honor and are voting for a certain persons image to win, so they vote 5 star on that persons images and then one or two star to ALL the rest lol. One of my images this contest was given the comment "one of the best ice images I have seen" and a print request by a man who is a master photographer who studied under Ansel Adams... What did my picture get on average? 2 stars hahaha.

So just that you know I am not biased and give out ratings as I see the image. Not many 5 star images have come across here but i have done a few 5 stars...

I rate based on "Horizon line being even on landscapes, colors looking real and not over saturated/photochopped, composition, sharpness/clarity/contrast, whether it belongs in contest haha, how well it draws me into it with leading lines and that sort of thing" Even if I knew that if I voted a image 4 stars and that vote would cost me the contest I wouldnt change my vote, because again its not about money. Its about art and honor :)

I checked out your gallery Bill and you have some terrific images! If you ever want a shooting partner while in door county, let me know. Email is steve@stevebrandt.net

Looks like the low rating system continues for all in the latest contest (the Golden Hour)...

maybe perspectives are different during voting. I rarely give a 5, probably 5%. Maybe 10% are 4s. Maybe 25% are 3s. 50% are 1s & 2s. I find many photos are quite poor in simple aspects like focus, tilted horizon, chopped off scene, etc, so I probably give 1s to 30%. Since it's a mix of pro & amateur (me) I think I'm being fair? Someone else might skew the other direction. I'd like to believe the best of people (no cheating), but nearly all human competitions attract a few dishonest people.