2019 Annual PPANI Print Competition: My Entries
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Every year around this time, the beginning of Northern Ireland’s most prestigious event in the calendar of professional photographers takes place – the Professional Photographers Association of Northern Ireland’s Annual Print Competition. It is a chance for full-time professional photographers from all over Northern Ireland to submit their work to be judged by a panel of expert judges from all corners of the world. We go head to head with our competitors far and wide to compete for some lovely glass trophies for our cabinet. I already have a few and this year and I more competitive than ever!
Over the last year, I have been moving the business in a different direction – a direction that I would not have seen myself going down, but one I love – a direction that makes me happier as a person.
The main emphisis of my work in the past was weddings. As the market in Northern Ireland has changed and shifted from high quality weddings to mostly lack-luster mass produced work, I have decided to only take on 10 weddings a year. Ten weddings that I want to photograph. Ten weddings from customers who really appreciate beautiful and unique pictures. This means I get to do the jobs I really want to do, and allocate more time to those customers. I have also shifted to running a busy portrait studio in Belfast. The bulk of my work is now creating fine art portraits of dogs, photographing families and my personal favourite aspect of my job (and my passion), photographing professional headshots. This shift has seen a real difference in the images I usually submit this year.
So, the first step of the competition is to select the images I (when I say I, I really mean Hannah and myself) want to submit. This is notoriously difficult. You can’t just pick images that look beautiful or pictures that you are fond of, as judges are looking for much more than just beauty. Judges look at exposure, sharpness, composition, lighting, paper choice, post production technique, details, details and more details. So it requires a long time and a lot of head scratching to decide on what images you will submit. Another deciding factor is money. It would be great to submit hundreds of images, but for every picture it costs a lot of money to submit – so you could bankrupt yourself doing it! You have to be disciplined!
This year I have whittled it down to 12 pictures. Normally I would go “wedding heavy”, but this year I have decided to limit the number of wedding images I submitted and focused on pet photographs mainly instead. Here are the images I have chosen and a little about them.
Alison at Luttrellstown Castle
Classical Wedding Photographer of the Year Entry: This was taken towards the end of the day in the main entance of Luttrellstown Castle at a wedding I shot last summer. A venue I had never been to before and am lucky enough to say will be back at this summer. I loved the colours against the white dress, and the veil was screaming for the sunlight. It is quite a long entrance hall so I wanted to frame the shot in such a way to reflect this too. The doors made the perfect choice for the framing, and allow the spectator a quick glimpse inside this beautiful country house.
Asha the Dog
Pet Photographer of the Year Entry: 2018 marked the first year I started photographing dog portraits (apart from pictures of Glyn!). In that time I have now photographed hundreds of dogs. Asha, a very heavily pregnant Rodesian Ridgeback came in to the studio earlier in the year. She is quite a big dog and beautiful in nature. Her colourings worked brilliantly with a range of backgrounds I chose, but I felt this shot just made her look tall and proud. Her eyes and engagement made her look almost human to me.
Dennis the Cat
Pet Photographer of the Year Entry: People think pet portraits and they just think of dogs, but we also photograph our fair share of cats. This is Dennis, who sadly has now passed on. Cats are very enquisitive beings and I wanted a shot of him just peaking over something to show his eyes and top of his head. This old suitcase of mine, that we used to use for baby portraits when I used to do them, was perfect. It took a number of shots to get this, but I felt it was worth it.
Rebecca and Connor
Contemporary Wedding Photographer of the Year Entry: It is all too easy as a photographer to just see what is in front of or below you. Rarely do photographers take the time to look above them. This was one of the last shots of the day with Rebecca and Connor at their wedding. It took a bit of setting up. When taking images from below you need to be perfectly centred. I loved the colour of the interior lighting on the ceiling in comparison to the natural light coming in through the dome.
Laura at Drennagh
Contemporary Wedding Photographer of the Year Entry: I am always looking for something different. One of my favourite happy places to work is the very beautiful perfectly maintained Drennagh House. The house is privately owned, and I feel that brings a magic sparkle to a venue that just can’t be repeated at a National Trust property. This shot looks serene, but a lot of thought went in to it. In fact, the night before Hannah and I sat in our hotel discussing ideas for what we wanted to achive. We call these “wow shots”. These are shots that are somewhat pre-planned. By discussing them in advance, it means on the day that Hannah and I are on the same page. When executing shots like this you need to be one mind, because I take the photographs and Hannah facilitates by lighting them, fixing dresses etc. To demonstrate to the bride, I lay down on the ground before hand and showed her what I wanted her to do. Hannah then fixed the dress and flowers. I then went upstairs where Hannah lit the shot with a portable unit. All the while, what you can’t see, is a crowd of guests stood at the very bottom of the stairs looking on!
Tilly the Dog
Pet Photographer of the Year Entry: Tilly the Dog’s ‘human’ has an office in the same building as our studio. She creates the most stunning floral headpieces and accessories for brides, bridesmaids, flower girls etc. I thought it would be lovely if she made one for her new puppy Tilly to try on. Tilly was great (and we expect to see her in many of my photos for years to come!). This shot was taken in the studio with Tilly sat on a wooden chair. An assistant placed the crown on her head.
A Bond that can’t be broken
Reportage Wedding Photographer of the Year Entry: I didn’t really know the true meaning or value of this image until after the photo was taken. This image shows a strong and emotional bond between a father and son, just as he is about to take his vows. Alone, just on that thought, it is a beautiful picture. I discovered during the speech given by the father of the groom that the true value and importance is much deeper. It shows no matter what happens in life to us, the bond with our parents can’t be broken.
Pet Photographer of the Year Entry: I love photographing furry family members. Ezra came to the studio with his human’s (whose wedding a photographed just a few years ago!). In this picture of Ezra I loved his happy smile and ears up in the air. The colouring of his fur also looks almost golden and warm under the studio lights.
Bonus Entry: Hannah’s Favourite
This shot was chosen by Hannah to be entered in to the competition. It shows Ezra again, but this time sneezing!
Pet Photographer of the Year Entry: This shot was taken of Nicky on her wedding day at the Crowne Plaza in Belfast. I loved the simplicity of the shot, which was taken on the floor of the room where their reception dinner was held. Sometimes the simplest shots are the most beautiful.
Pet Photographer of the Year Entry: This shot was taken of Tilly (the same dog from earlier) when she was a very young puppy. I love the engagement with the camera. She almost looks like an Andrex dog! The other shot of Tilly above was taken just a few weeks later. It amazes me how quickly they grow and their face changes.
Classical Wedding Photographer of the Year Entry: Of all the weddings I have photographed over the years (and it is hundreds and hundreds), I think the wedding of Charlotte and Ross has to be one of my all time favourites. Part of the reason being, I had an opportunity to work with my dear friend and photographer David Coote. I focused on pictures of the couple and David second shoot covering other stuff that would have distracted from my primary objective. I suggested early on to Charlotte that we go to Downpatrick Railway Museum, as they were looking something different from their photos. I have a love of trains, so I really wanted to go! This particular image was taken about 2 minutes before this steam train departed. I had the engine driver make steam for me as I knew this would give the image a timeless magical look. Some would cheat and “Photoshop” the steam in, but I believe it getting it right first time.
I hope you can see from my entries a good broad range of work. I am very proud of the work I produce and have worked very hard over the years to teach myself and accomplish what I have. I am particularly pleased with my dog portraiture, as this is relatively new to me. Wish us luck – we will let you know how we get on! I couldn’t however do any of this without the love, support and professionalism of my assistant, wife, and partner for life: Hannah. Hannah does a lot (and I mean an awful lot) behind the scenes that just isn’t visible to the naked eye in a photograph. From driving me to weddings, doing my accounts, culling all my weddings, writing blog posts, carrying bags, setting up shots, troubleshooting on the day, everything. Any awards and credit I have received in the past (and hopefully in the future) are because of her. Team work makes the dream work.
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