Award winning birth photographer...

Wow. I could leave this blog right here, that’s how accomplished I feel right now.

This month I decided to take a leap of faith and enter my first State Awards with a few birth photographs I have recently had the pleasure of capturing. The awards are run by the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) and I was entering my images into the ‘Documentary’ category.

The documentary category has strict rules for entering, other categories allow more in depth retouching and posing of subjects whereas the documentary category stipulates that all images must have been observed (not fabricated), post production is limited to minor adjustments such as colour correction and lightening & darkening of the image. This leaves little room to move if your image is not on point to begin with – but we wouldn’t have it any other way…such is the life of a documentary photographer – we capture the raw and the real and present it as it was shot (or pretty close to!).

Being my first awards submissions I had no idea what to expect. I had never seen an image be judged before and had no idea what the judges would be seeking.

My friend and mentor Lacey Barratt entered her VIC State Awards a few weeks prior to the NSW awards that I was entering and when I saw the judging of her images I promptly died a little on the inside.

She received a GOLD BLOODY DISTINCTION! All I could think was, I am glad she is in VIC and I am in NSW!!! Alas, being able to watch her judging gave me a benchmark for what to expect, the judges were firm but fair, and in any case my images had already been sent so there was little I could do now!

Lacey had given me guidance on post processing my chosen images and I cannot thank her enough for her mentorship because the criticism I received on my images was spot on to what she had told me the judges would be looking for. Honestly, everyone needs a little Lacey in their lives (back off…she’s mine :D). She is valuable beyond measure.

Today was the day, the documentary category for the NSW/ACT State awards was being judged. Thankfully the AIPP have a live feed set up so you can watch in angst and with bated breath whilst you wait for your images to appear on the screen to be critiqued by the judges.

As I saw images scroll through being scored from 65 right through to 86 (I believe that was the highest I’d seen scored in this sitting) I could only hope that I would get over 70.

70+ is considered professional standard.
80+ is a silver award.
90+ is a gold award.

Just last week I read an article from the AIPP themselves stating that not many first time entrants come away with the result they had hoped for…thanks man. Great for the ego that was…

The first image of mine to appear you may already be familiar with:

Sydney home water birth

When judging the prints the judges look for technical skill and emotional impact. Lacey had pointed out that whilst I am emotionally attached to my images, that the judges may not necessarily have the same reaction.

I knew this image packaged a big punch but was I just biased? I had pored lovingly over this image in post processing and knew it had technical faults but the emotion can’t be denied. It is confronting. I had captioned this image “Arduous accomplishment”.

The scores were 80, 81, 76, 78 and 83 resulting in an overall score of 80.

What the actual?!?! A silver award! My first awards and my very first image!

The constructive criticism was that the green glove in the right hand corner was distracting and the white objects in the top right were too. Both of these I were acutely aware of but decided to keep them in as cropping any closer would have cut off more of the Mum’s hand, the baby’s bottom and the droplets of blood on Mum’s leg, both of which were details I felt important to the overall narrative of the image.

I could have darkened these items further though.

One judge commented that he initially felt the image could have been a great black and white conversion but then corrected himself by acknowledging that the detail and impact of the blood on the baby would then have been lost, he said that the caption fit perfectly and told the story accurately.

Sydney birth photography breastfeeding mother

Next up to be judged was this image. This one was my favourite when submitting them to the awards. I loved the detail in the baby’s face and the sharpness of the mother’s breast, being able to see the look of adoration and wonder on the mother’s face and the way the midwife’s hands are gently guiding the baby’s head towards the mother’s breast.

The pocket watch dangling from the midwife’s shirt was the icing on the cake for me. You can see the time this photo was taken.

I had captioned this image “Gentle guidance”.

The scores were 80, 82, 80, 84, 83 resulting in an overall score of 82.

Okay what is going on here, now I am actually crying. I’m texting Lacey, my sister and my husband in disbelief.

No criticism on this image was given. Just praise. One of the female judges acknowledged that lighting in hospitals is atrocious (can I get an AMEN!) and to capture the 3 elements (being the Mum, baby and midwife) here so beautifully and well-lit was an achievement. Thank you!

Next up was what I knew was my best submission.

Sydney birth photography water birth

The mother’s face is super sharp and her expression says it all. The emotional impact is there.

I could only hope there was a woman who had been through this on the panel (please god!) because, as a woman who has given birth before, you can FEEL her pain. You have been there and know what it is like.

I captioned this image “On the verge”.

The scores were 85, 81, 82, 83, 83 with an overall score of 83.

Now I’m bawling. I’ve never been so proud of myself before.

The criticism on this image was the highlight from the torch that the midwife is shining into the water was a little distracting but also the acknowledgement that in births lighting is tough and hard to mitigate. I had addressed this hot spot in post processing at Lacey’s suggestion and am glad that I did.

One more image to go!!

Next up was this image of a fresh bub next to Mum’s belly. I captioned it “Juxtaposition: the toes that resided within”.

Sydney birth photography home birth newborn

The scores were 81, 82, 79, 77 and 78 resulting in an overall score of 79.

GODFGIUSDGDFUHBGDJF DAMNIT. Okay so 3 out of 4 is BLOODY AMAZING! But to fall just one point short of 4 out of 4 and 4 silver awards was a kick in the teeth. I get it though, this image had less emotional impact than the others, technically it is sound but the story is a little weak. SO CLOSE!!!

The criticism was that they felt the image left them wanting more of the story, one judge commented that they would have liked to have seen the mother’s face or maybe to have the image cropped more tightly. I feel that maybe a better caption could have helped tell the story here so that is a great learning point for me.

Overall I am floored. I am so glad that I have pushed myself this year and entered the awards and I will 100% be entering again next year. What an amazing learning curve this has been.

To all of my fellow photographers, if you are doubting whether it is worth entering I urge you, just do it! I was hesitant but decided literally just “fuck it”. Just go for it. I am so glad I did and I am uber grateful to have such a wonderful support network surrounding me who constantly lift me up and push me to do things I never thought I would be doing before.

Now excuse me while I go and update all of my social media platforms and website to AWARD WINNING BIRTH PHOTOGRAPHER.