Australian and International Photography Awards

Goshhhh, it’s been a huge few months!

Winter was absolutely full to the brim of beautiful Newborn babies, all due in June, July and August! We had a record number of sessions in 2018, by halfway through the year we’d already exceeded the amount of sessions that we’d photographed in any whole previous YEAR! It was mainly due to our Expo back in March, where we basically filled up our calendar for the rest of the year.

Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA)

Aside from our regular Newborn and Family photography sessions, was the Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA) that rolls around each year in August. Personally, these Awards are my creative push as a photographer. Awards give me the motivation and drive to pull out some crazy, quirky stuff, and really push the boundaries of what I know and what I can produce. And knowing that I’m up against other photographers world-wide, I’m always striving to produce something I’ve never done or seen before.

So, while I was busy (very, very busy) photographing my regular clients throughout the year, I was quickly noticing that time was ticking past, deadlines were approaching, and I hadn’t done anything about Award prints…. Soon it was July, and I had less than 3 weeks to pull out something and make it amazing, in time for APPA. I had spent the last year planning, sketching, thinking of different setups and ideas, and had so far, put nothing into practice.

I needed 4 images to enter into APPA, and I was so stressed and starting to think that it just wouldn’t happen this year, I wasn’t organised. However….. the awards are judged in Melbourne, and for the first time, I was going there in person! I’d already booked my flights and accommodation months ago, and I was either going to waste a good trip, or get my act together.

The fact was, I had started about 8 different prints. I’d photographed elements, tried to edit them, and none of them were working. I went back through 2 years of shoots, 2 years of babies, 2 years of anything I’d photographed, and nothing was jumping out at me. I was still spending hours on Pinterest, Instagram, googling random things that give me inspiration…. I kept thinking of new ideas, when I really needed to focus on 4, and get them done. I was very quickly running out of time.

Deadlines…. !

With 2 weeks to go, deadlines flinging past, a couple of weeks of midnight-2am editing stints, I finally found my groove, and settled on my final 4 prints. After a few prints/re-prints/re-re-prints, and then finding out my Matting lab had closed down and I needed to switch to another lab… spending a couple of days driving around Brisbane (with my 2yo!) manically picking up prints, taking them to be matted, picking them up again, I finally got them into the post with a few days to spare – OMG. Never leaving it to the last minute, again!! (Of course I will do this again…. !).

I’ve been entering APPA for the past 4 years, but only 2 years ago received my Associate of Professional Photography – the first step past being Accredited, on the way up the ladder 🙂 My goal in the next year or two was to receive the red ribbon, Master of Photography, which I thought I needed another 6 points to achieve. These points are only achieved at National awards, there are no points given at State awards.

However… just before APPA, I read my current scores again, and realised I only needed FOUR points to achieve my Masters… I’d been reading it wrong, and potentially, there was a chance I could grab that Masters ribbon right now.

The knowledge that this year was a possibility of receiving my Masters was crazy! I knew I could do it – but it would be a long shot, receiving 4 images ALL awarded a Silver at least, would give me 4 points… could I do it? Yes…. I’ve done it in the past, so I knew I could do it again, but it all came down to the judges, and what they saw in my photographs. I also knew there was a huge chance that I wouldn’t get it. Lots of amazing photographers are not awarded. Lots receive a 78 or 79 (those stupid 1 or 2 points below Silver). The Australian-wide awards are tough. So bloody tough. They award the best of the best, and there was a huge mental battle before judging, just hoping it would get through, but knowing it wasn’t an easy competition. Plus, I’d left it til the very last minute. I wasn’t organised, I shot my pieces 2 weeks prior, and I’d ran out of time.

Judging

Judging the APPA awards takes 3 full days, with 5 rooms of prints simultaneously being judged the whole time. I am so thankful that the Newborn category was being judged first up, on the first day – otherwise I don’t know how I would have waited another day!!

The judges are asked to reward the print based on lighting, camera technique, initial “wow” factor, composition, printing, paper choice… and in Newborn category, skin tone, posing, handling, just to name a few. There are 5 judges on the panel, and they all give scores between 0-100, and the average is the score we receive. I’ve done the Judges training in preparation for potentially judging in the future, and bloody hell, it’s tough. It’s subjective. It’s 5 different opinions, mixed together. It’s 5 people who dont know you, dont know the print, dont know the story, and dont know how many hours it took you to shoot it. And it’s irrelevant, anyway. It’s about what they see and feel, on the day.

On “judge-ment day” I was home, in front of 2 computers, running 2 different rooms with the live feed from Melbourne. (My flight left the next day, so I was home when my category was judged).  I had my phone which kept dinging with messages from friends all in the same predicament as me, waiting for our prints to be judged…. Facebook messages kept popping up, other photographers frantically messaging each other when the live feed paused for a second, and the pressure was on.

 

Image #1

My first print rolled around and OMG, those vomit-inducing 20 seconds when you’re sitting there waiting for the judges to assess the print, give their score, and appear on the live feed, feel like forever! This print was one I’d previously entered in the Qld state awards earlier this year and received a Silver, but I’d completely re-worked it for APPA. How would it score? Would they prefer this one, or the previous one? Ahhh, nail-biting times. And then…. the relief flowed when the scores pop up and I realise I’ve earnt my first award, a Silver Distinction at 85 points, for my print titled “Post Natal Depression”.

Post Natal Depression : Silver Distinction

This image portrays my feelings on Post-Natal Depression. I have 3 children of my own, and fortunately never had post natal depression after their births. Yes, the day-5 baby blues hit me, but it was absolutely nothing compared to what I’ve seen some of my friends and clients go through. For this reason I had a deep interest to explore more about post natal depression and what it feels like, and I wanted to portray it in a photo. *Please note, this client is not associated with this particular PND story, she allowed me to use this setup during her Newborn session*. As always, this story came together as I was working on it in post production. I knew I wanted to start with a dark cloud over the mother’s head (see behind the scenes below) and it went from there. I combined elements of different images together to achieve this. I also toyed with having “words” written into the cloud, and I ditched that when I saw it in print, it didn’t need it. To me, post natal depression looks like darkness. A void. A black hole. Oppression. Emptiness. A ray of hope, yes, but no way to get out of this life. Holding your baby, but out of necessity, not because you want to. I hope I have created something to honour a mothers journey with post natal depression, with full respect, admiration and love.

Some behind the scenes photos of “Post Natal Depression”, creating the dark paper mâché cloud which was my basis of the concept. (I’m a very messy creator!) 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image #2

After seeing my first image score a Silver Distinction, I was pumped and nervous and shaking and jittery with excitement and nerves, off to a great start! Before long, my next photo, “Africa”, was on the screen in front of me!

This one I had secretly hoped was a Gold. Yeh – I’m putting it out here. I really did think it was gold-worthy. I only create and show work that I’ve never seen before. The judges want fresh, innovative Newborn portraits – well here you go! Here’s one I created earlier 🙂 It had a great story, capture, lighting, and yeh, I was thinking surely it would be a 90 at least. Well, the images pops up, and the scores do too – 85, 86, 83, 92, 84 – I think OMG – theres a 92 in there, and the Judge starts to challenge it in order to have the other judges’s scores raised. Unfortunately, the argument wasn’t strong enough to carry it to gold. Some judges thought it belonged in a different category, perhaps Family, and I think they’re probably right. Still being 4 points off, it received an 86 – a Silver Distinction.

Africa : Silver Distinction

I really love this photo, it’s something I’ve never photographed before, and I love the concept. I photographed gorgeous T at her pregnancy session, and then again at her baby boy’s newborn session. After her maternity session I looked through the images on my computer and an idea formed, and I started researching African culture.. this family had moved from Zimbabwe and had no family here, and it just pulled at my heartstrings.  I wanted to show a strong mother, pregnant, and with her newborn. She’s holding Africa, her homeland, on her head and shoulders, and she has a bag of clothes and a teddy at her feet. She’s left her homeland. Her baby looks around at the world, as his mummy remains standing firm. It’s part African culture and history, and part modern influence. A changing world, a changing family.

 

Image #3

This print I’ve titled “Owl Babies”…  this is the print that I made up at the last minute, the details of which are below.

I’m very relieved that the judges saw this print as a solid silver, which is really what it is, nothing more, nothing less. It scored an 84 – 1 point off Silver Distinction. Judges scores were 84, 83, 82, 88, 83. If I remember there was a challenge, however the judges seemed happy with their scores and it didn’t change much. Some commented on the white colour merging into the babies at the bottom…. that was my attempt to show snow, which I’ll have to work on again! An 84, solid Silver.

Owl Babies : Silver

I’d already photographed baby K at his newborn session and I had a few different poses from him in the same outfit. I was trying different ways of making a new image, and nothing was working. Then one day I was in my backyard at home, hanging out the washing. On my rock wall, my husband was collecting old sticks and branches for firewood, and there was a branch sitting there that I’d seen for weeks and weeks. This time I picked it up, turned it over, and saw it on its side, and knew I could use it for something. I sprayed it with fake snow, photographed it and removed branches in post production that I didn’t want, and added babies. My thoughts was a tree with snow, and little snow babies. The owl came when I was talking with a photographer friend of mine and saying I wanted to photograph a bird on the branch, but what…. ? Her mum to the rescue!! Thankyou Mrs C, for loaning me your owl – the beautiful finishing piece to this print. The little green leaf is an added extra…. the last little element to give the judges something else to think about, and add interest.

Photographing elements behind the scenes…

 

Image #4

At the same time as the Owl Babies photo was being judged, my fourth and final print was also being judged in the other room! I had no idea, I was focussed on watching the last one, when I saw this one on the other screen be replaced with a new print. Omg, I missed it! I quickly had ding-ding-ding messages from friends who’d seen it, and I paused the judging and went back through the other room to view it again.

This print was a Silver at Qld state awards earlier this year, and I really didn’t do much at all to change it for APPA, apart from some skin details. I suppose in hindsight I should/could have done more, added more, changed something, but I ran out of time, and this one was ready to go.

The judging came up – 77, 82, 77, 78, 81…… now, this adds up to 79… but IF one of those judges was in the “80” category, and another had a really low score and it also scored 79, it would actually have scored 80 – because the majority of judges were in the 80’s….. hypothetically speaking, because that didn’t happen. It scored 79, 1 tiny little point off Silver. My last chance at my last point for Masters.

I had 1 extra chance, though, and it was very, very slim. Each point on the cusp of awards goes “for review” after the category is judged – it’s a very quick “yes or no” from the judges – should it go up to 80 (Silver), or should it stay at 79 (no award). So for another hour or so, I sat there waiting and waiting and waiting for my category to finish, then the judges had a 1 hour lunch break (OMG!!!), before resuming to judge reviews.

And so it happened, that it popped up for review on my screen, and it was a no. Print stays at 79. As quick as that. “Next print please”.

New Life : 79

No matter what score this print receives, I will always be so proud of it. This was probably the first time I’d gone WAY out of my creative comfort zone, combining a handmade twig dress (yes, I made that!), before drastically changing it at the last minute to something different. I created a wire dress template, then hunted around our local bike track a few times, filling my car with vines, stripping leaves all over my verandah, and curling them onto the dress with wire into place, before they dried and went hard. Originally I had also glued about 300 beautiful leaves all over it, and at the last minute I removed them hastily and added more branches… why? I’m not sure, but if I’m ever unsure about something, I usually remove it, it was probably never meant to be there. This image shows a strong woman, my beautiful client C, and her gorgeous baby. Her “dress” is part-consuming… dead branches, coming up from the earth, but her baby is new life. Fresh, green, new hope. She’s holding a fresh green leaf in her other hand. I’ll leave that up to you and the judges, it’s another element that could be anyone’s opinion why it’s there, I just felt it needed it. This image to me is New Life.

Behind the scenes… dress creation.

 

The After-affect

All in all, the APPA weekend was amazing. Incredible. Firstly, as a Mum with 3 young kids – staying in Melbourne, alone, for 4 days = heaven!!! Omg Mums, do it!!! 4 days of room service, doing whatever the heck I wanted to do, going to bed after midnight, and waking up late… YASSS. And also the amazing after-parties, gala dinner, etc…. so much fun.

I haven’t even mentioned anything about being there with great, amazing, wonderful friends!!! Other photographers who boost each other up, my tribe, the reason we all get through this season is because of each other. And we’re all sitting there, waiting to see each other’s photos pop up for judging. We’re all keeping an eye out, texting each other silently, running from room to room when their prints appear, sending messages, gripping hands, giving silent “eeeeek!” hugs through the judging…. Without my tribe, it wouldn’t be the same.

Yes, part of it was disappointing, and that was all on ME. That one little point. ONE POINT!!! It’s just frustrating to be so close, and yet so far. But what can I do, except show up again next year with amazing photos! I WILL grab that red Masters ribbon in 2019!!

Melbourne wasn’t all about my awards – I also volunteered for the first time, print-handling behind the scenes! Let me tell you, it wasn’t what I thought it would be…. in a good way, I suppose. I thought I’d be perhaps turning prints, or packing prints, or sticking them on the wall – but it was like this, TENFOLD. The most amazing bit was seeing so many crazy-awesome awarded prints, up close! Handling golds and gold distinctions! Hanging these beautiful pieces of artwork on the wall. Mind.Blown. The photography was another level, and it was SO good to see winning prints up close – not just the photo, but the printing – the paper choice – the details you can’t see on the online live stream. WOW.

The print-handling was another thing. Put it like this. My hotel was a nice 2km walk from the city, down to the Melbourne function centre. That sounds nice, and I walked that about 6 times over the days I was there, no big deal. But the 1 day that I volunteered, was also the LAST day of judging, which was also the PACKUP day….. Basically, the torture day.

So I was told to wear flat shoes – no worries, I got flat boots! Melbourne is cold, so boots were worn. BIG mistake. Big. Huge.

My job was running prints, and when I get a job to do, I try to do it to the best of my ability. I don’t slack off. I’m a “get-it-done” kinda girl. So I did. I “walked efficiently” between all 5 rooms, picking up prints for the wall, sticking tiny little sticky dots on the back, and popping them on the wall. This also sounds nice and flowery. But 24,853 steps later (that’s nearly 17kms walking in one day), (I should have lost about 5kgs but anyway)…. my feet were very unhappy. I sucked it up and moved my ass for 8 hours, print-handling, packing up, sorting cases, refused to let my feet out of my shoes until I was in the hotel. But seriously. Print-handling and behind the scenes was indescribable. Meeting new people, seeing photographers I haven’t seen in years, wow! Even through the foot-pain, what a tremendously great experience. I will be there again next year! (With joggers).

Fast-foward 3 weeks since APPA. I had to remove part of my nail polish from my toes, they felt like hell and I knew they were bruised, and wasn’t sure whether I needed to punch a whole through to remove the pressure. Yep. That. My big toes are reeeeally dark bruised now, and the massive blister on my ankle is finally shrinking. #postappaproblems

 

The wrap-up

Would I do it again? Absolutely! Would I print-handle again? Definitely! Will I enter competitions again? YES!

I know now I’m only ONE stinkin’ point away from that elusive red ribbon – I’m coming’ atcha, Masters! I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure I grab that 1 Silver award next year, and really properly earn my red Master of Photography ribbon. I kinda am glad I didn’t get it this year. I didn’t plan or execute my prints with enough timing. I was too busy. So in 2019 I’ll make sure I schedule enough time throughout the year to plan, shoot, and print, so I really do deserve the win next year.

 

The Rise International Awards 2018

With no pressure to perform, the Rise Awards popped up this year for their inaugural year, luckily, after APPA!

The very first year Rise awards have been around, and another competition to receive feedback, and put my images forward. The best thing this year, was that I could use photos I’d already stressed over from APPA – so with little to no preparation, I sent them off to the digital-only competition, and promptly forgot all about it.

The judging was last week, and today we received our scores. I’m happy with these, and although all 5 of my prints were awarded (yay!), I realised straight away that I really do need to work on my prints for different competitions – especially for digital comps! There’s so much that I made in my prints to be seen on paper, that may not show up on screens… Ahhh, next year.

I’m very honoured to receive 5 Awards from the 5 prints I entered. 4 Silver Awards and 1 Bronze. Thankyou, Rise team.

 

So, another year done and dusted for print competitions.

A huge T H A N K Y O U to each and every one of my clients. Whether I photograph you for awards or not, you’re always part of my planning process, I’m always learning and growing and trying something new, and I grow with every session I photograph. For others, thankyou for just going with me! Thankyou for putting up with my fiddling and mucking around. Thankyou for letting me dress you in weird outfits/branches/material etc. Thankyou for letting me run with my crazy, creative brain. And the hugest thankyou to my husband and family. When I’m photographing clients, my youngest 2 year old daughter is being minded by someone. My kids are either at school, or with hubby. There’s always someone behind the scenes, keeping the family running, when I’m with my clients.

It takes a village. Thankyou.

Bring on 2019! x