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GOLD!! The QLD Epson Professional Photography Awards 2017

Award Winning Family Photographer Natarsha March

This past weekend was such an intense rollercoaster of a time for my photography.

Sitting alone in a cold, dark room, surrounded by strangers, I had the single most incredible and surreal achievement of my working life.

I entered the Queensland Epson Professional Photography Awards run by the AIPP, the Australian Institute of Professional Photography.


This is a massive event held annually in each state, and if you do well enough in your state awards you can go on to enter the national awards held later in the year.

It is judged a bit like gymnastics, there are points awarded for technical ability (colour, focus, exposure, composition, quality of printing etc) and further points for creativity and communication via your imagery.

In case you are interested, the grading levels are:

0 - 49 Below acceptable ‘Professional’ quality in any area

50 - 59 Very poor but with evidence of some potential

60 – 65 The beginnings of understanding required technique

66 – 69 The absolute basics of technique are understood but largely ignored

70 – 75 Competent in the expectations of professional quality

76 – 79 Well crafted and of ‘Merchantable Quality’ - High professional practice

80 – 85 Images of particular distinction

86 – 90 Images of outstanding quality

91 – 100 An image of exceptional quality

Generally prints are entered in groups of 4 and can be entered into any category, but if you want to try and win a category then you need to enter at least 4 prints into one category.

So, as a family and newborn photographer, I was torn with which category to enter. I had 3 Family category entries and one newborn image, but as the newborn image still fit the Family category rules, I decided to go all in for the Family category on the off-chance I scored well enough to be a category finalist.


In the judging room there are 5 judges sitting in front of a large grey wall with bright lights and a 3 sided swivelling block that the prints are put on for judging.

The print sizes are fairly small, around an 8"x12" size, so the judges stand up to come look closely at the image before going back to their chairs and putting in their scores.

There is a large screen in the room for those of us sitting behind the judges to see both a digital version of the print and the judges scores as they go in. The scores are then averaged out for the final grade.

If one judge thinks the image needs a higher score then they all discuss the print, sometimes in great depth, the highest score will be locked in with the other 4 judges re-scoring and often the final score will come up a little.

As my first print came up my heart was racing. I loved this entry. It told a story, so I thought I had the communication part of the image in the bag. It was beautifully printed, the girl and her mother both so emotive, I was holding my breath. It scored 77. High professional practice, just short of award level.

I breathed out. Thats a good score, a great score for my first ever print award entry. To be honest, thats what I had expected, although hoped for that elusive 80 to tip into award level.

The awards are streamed live online for people who can't be in the room on the day, so my husband was watching from home while I was sitting in the room.

My next entry came up.

I had high expectations for this one. 80 for sure... or maybe if I was really lucky.

The judges stood up and looked at the print.

And they looked.

And they swapped sides and kept looking.

And they looked even longer.

The longer the looked the more I was thinking, this is a good thing. Im sure this is a good thing.

Eventually the first judge came back and scored 81.


Then I couldn't believe what I was seeing - another judge had scored 91!!??

After all the scores were in, my print was sitting on 86, a Silver Distinction!! I was in shock. What was going on here?

The 91 judge challenged, they all discussed the image. My heart was banging so loud I was sure the people beside me could hear it. Blood was rushing in my ears and I could barely hear what they were saying.

I had a Silver distinction, which I was stunned at, but they were talking about Gold. One judge said they didn't care for the sun flare in the image. Another judge suggested if you have a 360 degree photo that you will get sunflare somewhere because the sun does exist. The judge on 81 said they had scored way too low.

I was shaking uncontrollably.

The room went silent again while the judges rescored.

I felt like I was going to be sick. I felt like I was going to faint. I couldn't feel my hands and my face was tingling.

The new scores came on the screen and the announcer spoke into the microphone:

"Yep, did it! 91 - Gold!"

Here is the video of how it all went down including all of the judges' comments

I gasped and silently cried. Suddenly people around me were looking wide eyed and whispering "Was that yours? Wow! Well done!"

Here is a screenshot of my text conversation with my husband from this moment. You know you're in a state of shock when you send indecipherable letters instead of words:

I had two more entries still to come and I was in such shock that my hands were actually going numb.

Soon after, my next image to come up was baby Zoe in the leaves. I wondered if this image would be scored down for being a newborn in the family category instead of newborn category.

But guess what - she scored 80, a silver!

Still in shock from the gold I barely remember this moment from the day at all, but I do remember looking around thinking "Is this happening? I dont understand whats happening?".

My last image to come up was the second last of the day and another one I had high hopes for. An earthy, elegant maternity image. It scored 77 and while a little sad to just miss that award level again I was so pleased to have another good score.

Just one image after this one and the spinning block came around blank, signalling all images had now been scored. With the Family category all wound up I stood up, still shaking and tingly and in disbelief of what had happened.

The winning prints were on walls out in the hall for everyone to view and discuss, my Gold was one of only 3 in the Family category from over 50 entrants. By the end of all judging of all categories there was only one image in Gold Distinction, the grade above Gold. I am still very much in shock at what I achieved. These wins have given me a fresh level of confidence in myself and my work and invigorated my creative side to capture more extraordinary images for the families who choose me as their photographer. My head is already buzzing with new ideas of what to shoot and create next because - oh did I forget to mention? I have qualified to enter the AIPP National Print Awards in August! Wish me luck!

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Brisbane Family Photographer | Brisbane Newborn Photographer

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