What does it take to become an award winning photographer?

I’ve heard that I am, once again, an award winning photographer. A couple of weeks ago I was awarded my second international Photographer of the Year title, this time in the Commissioned Portrait category, with the Societies of Photographers. In 2017 I was also awarded international Child Photographer of the Year with them.

 

Both of these came after a lot of hard work. I started entering competitions in 2010 or 11, very early on in my career. The reason for this is that I like a benchmark, I like to see where I stand and if I am good enough. Now in my eyes I’ll never be good enough, but this is the passion that drives me, I want to always be better, to spot more details and make better imagery. At the start I had some early success, in fact I still think with regards to number of Gold awards etc those first two years were probably my greatest. But I entered so many images – I was mega keen and not too critical – and I think by sheer weight of numbers I did well.

Commissioned photographer of the year - Award winning photographer

Being creative is as important as being technically correct.

A couple of years later I found I wasn’t being as successful. At the time I blamed the judges, everyone else and moaned a lot – how could I go from hero to zero? I got the odd Gold award, a few silvers and nearly stopped entering. Every time the results came out, I would have a hissy fit and tantrum and well, blame everyone BUT me. The facts were, I was actually getting better, but I was becoming too critical and stopped being creative. The technical aspects were getting better but in return I was losing that spark that made my images different. I was so hung up on getting it right and I was missing the impact I had been showing before. A good bit of time with a great friend, Paul Haley, got me back on track and before long I was doing ok again. Since then, I have had 8 or 9 POTY nominations and the two wins, won the Open Category at the Newborn and Portrait Show and had runner up, over 75 Gold Awards, passed my Fellowship and Master Craftsman qualifications and been lucky enough to judge nationally and internationally. Now I’ve bored you to tears with my back story I’ll get to the point…

My tips for winning awards

Firstly, learn, learn and practice. For the first five years I picked my camera up and shot something EVERY day, experimented, tried, learned from it and tried again, I became able to change settings without thinking about it, knew where light was going to fall from a flash without having to test it and most of all practiced people skills to get the most out of my models. I also discovered that it’s ok to get things wrong! My brain hates this, but to get better you have to fail. I sat there at the Societies Awards night in 2018 (when 2017 results were given out) with my good buddy Cass Davies of Cass Davies Photography when I was expecting to get another runner up and saying to her, I would be getting my bridesmaid dress out again (never the bride) when my name was called. I thought I had been set for another runner up, but the fact was, those failures (whilst not really being failures) had pushed me to nail everything to the best of my ability and also, to accept that if it is not meant to be, it just won’t happen. So, when I dusted myself off, I looked why others had won and learned from every single winner and runner up. I worked harder and nailed more correct details.

childrens photographer of the year Award winning photographer

Practice, practice, practice. 

The other thing I still do (when not in Lockdown), is I make time to shoot for myself, 1-2 sessions a month, to try things, to hone areas and just to keep trying to get better. So many photographers I speak to don’t do this and then wonder why their creativity is waning or they are shooting the same stuff all the time. Look outside the box, art galleries, street art, fashion magazines and build your own ideas.

 

As a judge I get sick of hearing, well, It ‘has to be’ fine art style on a textured backdrop to win. Trust me, it doesn’t. It is just that people see one photographer or style doing well and then all copy it and submit. Some do it well and end up scoring high, a lot don’t. As judges we love to see something different so don’t think you have to adhere to a style to win, any style will win if it is done well!

Which style will win?

The other thing I still do (when not in Lockdown), is I make time to shoot for myself, 1-2 sessions a month, to try things, to hone areas and just to keep trying to get better. So many photographers I speak to don’t do this and then wonder why their creativity is waning or they are shooting the same stuff all the time. Look outside the box, art galleries, street art, fashion magazines and build your own ideas.

 

As a judge I get sick of hearing, well, It ‘has to be’ fine art style on a textured backdrop to win. Trust me, it doesn’t. It is just that people see one photographer or style doing well and then all copy it and submit. Some do it well and end up scoring high, a lot don’t. As judges we love to see something different so don’t think you have to adhere to a style to win, any style will win if it is done well!

Learn all the time

I average between 30-50k of images a year, first few years probably closer to 70k, so I reckon over three quarters of a million images. It is practice and attention to details that will make you a winner so please, get educated, go practice and be inspired. Don’t get bogged down in trends and most of all, have a lot of fun.

If you would like to learn from me, I run group workshops and do 1:1 mentoring for photographers. I can help you to improve!