My Wild Week In New Zealand | Awards

The last few days I’ve had a pretty wild ride over in Nelson New Zealand… and I didn’t even leave the country! 

Last year the Austrlian Institiue of Professional Photography folded leaving a massive hole in the Australian photography industry and meant that the Australian Professional Photography Awards also died.

Luckily, the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photogrgaphy is still kicking on and this year their national IRIS awards amended their categories meaning that rather than there just being an International Photographer of the Year, they would carry the torch and judge an Australian Photographer Of the Year and award all the minor categories too.

How does it all work

There are a heap of catergories and each photographer can enter a maximum of 4 prints into a category, meaning you can enter 4 prints into two categories and also have a couple of extra prints to throw somewhere else. 

Prints can get a gold distinction, gold, silver distinction, silver, or bronze award as judged by a panel of 5 judges each who scores the print out of 100 and the average being the final score. There are challenges that can be mounted if a judge thinks a print should do better in that case it can be restored. 

And yes, I say print, as this isn’t a digital award (which has popped up everywhere) This requires a great image with also having the skill to print it well. 

My goals for entering these awards

When I enter I always have hopes that I’d win a category, I’ve only managed to do that a couple of times at a state level, never a national. So my main goals were:

  • Get some good awards for my client-based work
  • Get my Master of Photography level with the NZIPP (I was master level 3 with the AIPP) This required me to get 1.5 points (I already had 8.5 and needed 10). You get .5 points for bronze, 1 point for silver and 2 points for a gold)  

How do I choose what to enter? (For the photographers)

After entering print awards for 18, maybe 19 years and also being a judge at state and national awards for 16 years, I have a pretty good idea of what will do ok…but the problem is I’ve been a judge or 16 years and wayyyyyyyy over think, over analyse what I will enter.

I’m pretty good at helping others get the best for their image selection/advice on improving images. There has been a couple of years where I’ve been mentioned in acceptance speeches for the help I’ve given others who have done extremely well off my suggestions… I just can’t do it that well for myself, but I do ok!! 

Anyways… I run through all the images I’ve taken in the awards period (typically 1-5 years, yes a lot of images) and select the ones I think are a bit different a bit good or have the potential to turn into something award-worthy. 

I have the philosophy around my entries that I typically enter what I deliver for my clients but maybe with a little extra extra finessing as I know what judges look for and something a client would never notice (ie a random highlight near the edge of an image) can simply get taken out but not change the image very much at all. It’s pretty rare that I would spend more than 20 minutes photoshopping an image for awards. Many of my friends will spend hours/days which is totally fine and normal, just not for me!

Entering what I deliver to clients gives me an extra buzz when it gets awarded. I feel like I get to share the award with them and it justifies what I do day to day, not just for awards is the standard of where I want it to be for my clients.

Once I have all the images with potential I put them aside for a few days and then do another run through them with fresh eyes. I do another cull from there and at this point I jump in and do that little extra work. At this point I turn to other photographers for advice, ones who have picked up awards in the past of are judges like me. The tip for this part is to not ask too many photographers as the conflicting advice can blur your decisions. 

Why I enter what I enter

90% of my work is family portraits, so that is where I’m drawing most of my award images from. It’s all spontaneous, on-location photography where I typically have no idea what we will get on the shoot, unlike a studio-style portrait that can be pre-planned in terms of light.

With only 4 entries allowed per category, I could enter four into family and the other logical spot was another four into portrait in-camera (photographed straight, no major retouching) and then I had a couple to play with so I decided that I’d throw one into wedding and a landscape into the mix just for fun. 


At the start of each category, they do a run-through of all the images entered and show what order they are being judged in, it gives you an idea of what time your awards are being judged. All of mine were placed in the first half of the category. 

First up, the boys and the giant dogs… this was one of my two “risky” entries. Basically, you are looking to get judges interested and excited about an image, sometimes you enter images that may go really well, or may go not so great. 

And an average start, this one missed out on an award coming very close which I used to get really bummed about. I now have the “I still love this image no matter what the judges say” kind of attitude. So I still love it even though the judges thought it was still “high professional practice”

Next up were the girls running down on the coast with this epic background. I had a good feeling around this one. Straight up it got a Bronze award and .5 points towards that Masters… only 1 point left!

Next up was a tricky one to photograph… throwing balls at kids! With the help of mum I also threw some of these balls while also taking the photo! This shot was taken at the place these boys would go during the lockdowns and just hit balls up against the walls. After a little bit of debate (one of the judges really wanted it to score higher) this was also awarded a Bronze Award! Another .5 point so only another .5 point for that Master!

My last entry in the portrait IN-camera was this great shoot from down in Port Sorrell Tasmania. I was actually laying pretty much in the eater to get this reflection!  
BANG!  A Silver and 1 point!!! I had my Masters!!!!! but hang on……

Let me do a recount… 8.5 points from previous entries, and I need 10 for masters…. let me look at the rules again… hang on… NO!! the 5 points that are needed for the Associate are included in the total, so infact I was still 5 POINTS BELOW WHAT I NEED! 


ALRIGHT, let’s get this done… 5 points, 6 prints remaining in play.

Up first one of my favourite shots that as soon as I took it I knew it would be going into awards. If I was to give it a title I’d call it “My new favourite thing” as behind in the bookcase represents a whole lot of childhood but he is only focused on his baby sister!

I removed all the colour as there was a lot in the image and it took away from where I wanted people to focus, the connection between brother and sister. 

Straight up… a SILVER! And the judges commented on exactly what I was trying to tell them. Only 4 points left to go with 5 prints in play.

This next one i entered as i just love the expressions and textures in this shot. My only thought was that the big highlight above their heads would kill it. I could have removed it, covering it up with bushes but that would mean it wouldn’t be authentic so I left it. 

Straight up, a SILVER! Another point,s o that left 3 points remaining to get that Masters with 4 prints in play. 

I have soooo many great shots from this next family session, many of them stood out to be award standard… but sometimes it’s good to throw something different in that will be different from what I expect will be seen in the category. And sniffing to see if there is a stinky feels so family to me that I just had to put this in even though it would be a risky one… did I have doubts as soon as it went up for judging? Yep. 

But the judges got it, they saw what was happening and appreciated the framing and give it a BRONZE! 

2.5 points remaining, 3 prints in play… this was getting tight.

The next one is a shot I had on my bucket list and had to just find the right family to do it… and what better family than one who owns a stand-up paddleboard business!

This again jumped straight to a Bronze another half point! And the end of day 2… two prints left in play!

DAY 3 - Wedding In-Camera

Alright, two prints in play… 1.5 points needed for that Master. But… these were the two that I entered just for fun with not a huge amount of thought, these were the ones just put in to make up numbers.

I’ve done well in wedding awards over the years, very few of my wedding award shots have featured a bride and I kept that going this year with Yoda and the rings. Yoda is a bit blurry in this shot, typically a no-no when entering awards but I hoped that the rings would be seen as the main thing, and they were! Very different rings helped take this up to the Bronze range, 1 point off being silver and now leaving me with only 1 point for that Master… but then I realised what my last print was….

Landcape - In-Camera

It all comes down to this last entry. One I threw in just to see how it would go knowing it’s very different to what I enter normally. My first shot entered taken with a drone. Aerial shots are all the rage in the landscape awards at the moment, generally they are very colourful and abstract… so I went a little different, I added some birds in the pic too.

Not that they saw the birds, someone saw sheep, another saw stones, the scale of the image mismatched for them and confused them. Confusion sometimes is a good thing, and in this case, it was. There was a challenge to get it up in points, which didn’t get through and removing it out of that award category by 1 point…. luckily they were trying to get it up to the Silver Distinction category, it was already a SILVER and my highest scoring print for the competition! I stuck the landing! 

So that silver gave me one more point took me to 15 overall which means I should be NZIPP MASTER OF PHOTOGRAPHY! 

Well, I believe I am from my maths…but I got a C average in maths at school so I’ll wait until I got official confirmation to really celebrate! 

It was alllll over.

But then I got a message…

The unexpected news...

My friend Kris happened to be one of the judges over in NZ and texted me a cryptic message with a video attached with the finalist announcements. And it seems that I had picked up a finalist in the Portrait In-Camera category for Australia!

I was not expecting that at all but I’ll take it!  

Being listed as a finalist amongst two pretty incredible photographers who also happen to be friends was pretty special.

The award announcement happened on the 5th day of the NZIPP conference at a gala dinner. I was hooked into a group chat with all the other Australian finalists as we waited for word on who had won their categories. 

When it came to my category being announced it wasn’t much of a surprise to me that I didn’t get it. Being in the top 3 was pretty amazing and congrats to Kelly on taking it out!

SO that was my wild week in New Zealand, even though I didn’t leave Australia. 

5 Bronze, 4 silver, a finalise and maybe a Master of NZIPP… but we will wait to see if my maths are right on that one!

In summary

Over the last 3 years of entering the IRIS awards I’ve picked up a total of 23 awards (2 Silver distinctions, 10 Silver and 11 Bronze) across the Family, Documentary, Landscape In-Camera, Travel, Expressive, Wedding Open, Wedding In-Camera Portrait In-Capture and Nature Categories. So you could probably call me a bit of an all-rounder!

I picked up my Associate in the first year of entering and (fingers crossed) my Masters on the third year of entering. 

This year was also the first year in about 10 years that I have printed my own awards prints. I used to do it when I was in Tasmania. Recently I bought a new printer so I could do my own prints for clients and used the same printer and paper to create these prints. In the judging, there were a few comments on how good the print quality was on my prints, which was also pretty good feedback knowing what I’m delivering to clients is the same award standard printing.

Next year I probably need to head over and be there in person for the crazy week!

A week later....

My maths were good!

Oh and it seems that on the way to the Master I also received the Associate 1 bar. Nice to jump two levels in the one award cycle. 

Another week later....

The goodies all arrived back!