FujiFilm Australian Landscape Photographer of the Year 2013

Just over a month ago I helped judge the Fujifilm Australian Landscape Photographer of the Year Competition for Australian Photography + Digital Magazine and the winners have now been announced. Congratulations to Debbie Fowler who is the inaugural winner of the prestigious Australian Photography + digital Fujifilm X Landscape Photographer of the Year award. She won with her aerial abstract series, which she shot whilst on an open-door helicopter flight above the Cambridge Gulf in far northwest Australia. Second place overall went to Helen McFadden, who shot a series of icy images made in Godhul Bay, South Georgia island, north of Antarctica and east of the South American continent. The other eight finalists to make the top ten included Brad Grove, Matthew Smith, Luke Tscharke, Shirley Milburn, Aaron Huang, Andrew Dickman, Judith Conning, and William Patino. The top twenty five portfolios included Peter Hill, a second portfolio from Aaron Huang, Nick Baldas, Derek Feebrey, Francis Pisani, Tim McCullough, Peter Hammer, Ben Taylor, Priyaji Peiris, Michael Harris, Cameron Downie, Chris Wiewiora, Margot Hughes, Jason Beaven, Kiall Frost. My congratulations to all of these photographers.

The competition was open to amateur photographers only and true to its name sake was out to find the 2013 Australian amateur landscape photographer of the year. I know the term professional photographer is somewhat convoluted these days but Australian Photography Magazine define it as: Professional photographers are not permitted to enter. By entering this competition the entrant guarantees that he/she is not a professional photographer. For the purposes of this competition a professional photographer is someone who earns more than $2000 a year from photography. By that definition we can assume that all entrants into this competition earned less than $2000 with their photography in the year of entry. This is an important distinction as this point rules out many very fine photographers who make some (albeit a meagre) income (above $2000) from the pursuit of their passion but fall far short of being able to sustain and support themselves without some other supplementary income (usually a full time job). I emphasise this point as this competition is one truly open to amateurs only.

This was not the first time I have  been invited to judge a photographic competition (and I hope it wont be the last!) but it was the first time I have judged a competition whilst I have been on a photographic expedition. In this case, I had just completed two spectacular weeks in Antarctica (Read the Report) surrounded by fifty other passionate photographers. Emotionally this time away on an expedition spent with a passionate group of participants put me in a very creative frame of mind and I felt charged and dare I say it perhaps even qualified to judge the photographs entered into the competition and prepare my thoughts on the winning images.

Whilst I was viewing the photographs it struck me that those images that were most successful were those that stepped beyond the obvious cliché and triggered an emotional response in the viewer (in this case me). I wrote briefly about this for Australian Photography Magazine and my orginal text is included below:

Firstly, thank you for the invitation to judge this competition and for the opportunity to present my thoughts on the judging process in relation to the submitted entries. It is very easy to wowed as a judge by exotic locations and having been fortunate to travel to, and visit many of the places depicted in the images submitted by many of the contestants I feel qualified to comment on how the image has been executed – composition, light, the ability to see past the obvious cliché. Travel to exotic photography destinations is perhaps half the battle. But it is on location where the magic of light and composition have to come together to create something truly special in landscape photography. It takes a keen eye and the ability to successfully translate a three-dimensional scene into a two-dimensional image that maintains a sense of depth and movement.  Being able to see past the obvious and capture form, shape and texture sets the best work apart from merely technically competent work. I was very pleased to see a selection of images in the competition that clearly demonstrated this skill and ability.

As a judge I am looking for images that demonstrate not only technical excellence, but also that evoke an emotional response in the viewer (In short, images that challenge the viewer and make them stop and think). A photograph that is well composed with a strong subject and great light really shines when the photographer also manages to capture the mood and feeling of a location. I look for a sense of depth, movement and design (once the technical aspects have been assessed) when judging images and those photographs that successfully convey this always stand out. Photographs that pose a question or that cause the viewer to pause and consider what it is that they are viewing are always far more powerful than just a pretty scene.

FujiFilm Australian Amateur Landscape photographer of the year is not a title to be bestowed lightly. Although this competition is not open to professionals I viewed all images with the eye of a professional full time nature photographer and it was very pleasing to see such a solid standard of work. The line is very blurred these days between amateur and professional photographers and I regularly see work from amateurs of the highest calibre. I am pleased that this competition has attracted this high standard of work and it was my pleasure to view and judge the photographs. I commend all the photographers who entered and encourage them to do so again next year. Thank you.

Not long after I had finished judging the competition and had forwarded my thoughts above to Australian Photography Magazine I came across a fascinating article by photographer David Ward. I was sitting in the airport at Punta Arenas in Chile waiting for my connecting flight to Santiago last December and was reading issue #65 of On Landscape magazine (one of the finest publications on landscape photography to grace the halls of landscape literature in my view). Of particular interest was an article by David titled ‘Leaving Room, Where Does the Viewer Live?’. I have not yet had the pleasure to meet David but his article strikes at the very core of what I was driving at when I wrote the above statement about judging the Fujifilm Landscape Photographer of the Year competition.  Landscape photography is about so much more than just a pretty or dramatic picture and David’s article sums this up succinctly and in such a way that the photographer can take many pearls of wisdom away from the article and apply them to their own phtoography. If you do not subscribe to On Landscape I highly recommend you do so and read David’s excellent article. Issue #66 also includes an excellent article on judging Competitions titled ‘The View from the Other Side” by Tim Parkin that is well worth a read for any would be contestant entrant as well as any existing or potential future photographic judge.

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