What are the judges looking for?

By June 16, 2019 No Comments

As the team at the Australian Photography Awards opens entries for 2019 it’s a good time to reflect on what makes for a successful entry and what the judges are looking for.

Our judging team is extremely diverse, knowledgable and talented in their own areas of practice which generally relate directly to photography and fine art. As part of the judging committee, it’s such a pleasure hearing their insight into the incredible work we receive every year. We work together very much as a team to celebrate and promote what we believe is exciting, innovative, communicative and all-around brilliant photography. This year we are also adding the talents of Carly Early, an editor, photographer and producer for Guardian Australia and Drew Hopper, a highly acclaimed Australian based travel, documentary and editorial photographer to the judging panel. They will no doubt make a great contribution as we provide even more opportunities to reward authentic and real photography this year through a re-shuffle in categories.

This year we will be awarding winners to categories for Portrait, Landscape, Documentary, Wildlife / Animal, Mobile, Aerial, Travel / Street, Film / Analogue, Open / Illustrative and we are also awarding the best of work entered by both Students and Juniors. Open / Illustrative will be the only category that allows composite photography and we look forward to seeing incredible creativity and what is possible from photography in this category. All other categories will feature in-camera work with ‘standard’ adjustments allowable (see each Category page for rules).

We believe that entrants enter our competition for very different reasons and therefore success will and should be different for each entrant. Some enter to participate, gain valuable feedback, and to measure their work against a competitive field. Others may choose a specific target, such as reaching our top 75, our top 20 finalists, or even placing in the top three. Of course, winning is fantastic, but we don’t believe you cannot plan to win. You can only aim to be part of the conversation and then hope things go your way.

To receive an honourable mention in our top 75 is an achievement in itself. A smaller panel of judges will view every submission in every category and evaluate them. The top 75 will become our shortlist for extended judging by the full judging committee on teh main judging days. There are often several photographs considered for the places just inside the 75 (who makes it and who misses out?), and in those instances, we will look at those images and discuss them further to finalise the top 75.

To receive an honourable mention and make it into our top 75 requires something that captures the judge’s attention whether it’s a gut emotive reaction, visual impact, an extremely high level of technique and craft, or genuine uniqueness.

When photographing a well-known place or subject, the judges need to see a unique take on it. In this beautiful photograph of Uluru by Andrew Dickman the subject matter, placement, perspective or even composition is not particularly unique but the strength of the impact created by the dark and brooding oncoming storm and red light created by a low sun pushed it into our top 75 Landscapes in 2018.

The subject matter and timing of Patrick Britt’s domestic dog eating a goat’s carcass in the Indian Himalayas was so strong and created much discussion both in our initial judging and extended judging. It takes the viewer to a different place where the familiar (the domestic dog) is shown in a totally different and unfamiliar context. Waiting for the dog to pull the sinew in such a way to show its face, as well as the paw on the rib cage, are important parts of the photo that help make it.

This portrait from Alan Virina Coligado is unique and structural. It’s a photograph that describes its environment as much as the person contained within it and reduces the scene into graphical forms, textures and bold colours. The connection between the red helmet and red of the sun-lit cargo container is essential to connect the subject to the design. The intrigue and design of this photograph made it an easy choice for the Portrait Top 75 in 2018.

Brett Loveridge’s photograph of a beekeeper and hive cleverly uses the mobile to take us closer to bees then we might ordinary ever get. It’s a cleverly identified opportunity and the bee in the top left really adds impact as it is captured in flight with a clean background. Had it been overlapping some of the bees on the wall to the left, this impact would have been lost.

Although photographing an animal that has passed away is not particularly difficult, the way David Stowe photographed this Tasmanian Quoll creates a strong atmosphere and narrative about the impact of roads and humans on native animals. This kind of storytelling pushed this photograph into the top 75 of the Wildlife category in 2018.

As you can see from last year’s award galleries (and the galleries from 2017 and 2016) there is an abundance of intriguing and impactful imagery that makes it to this stage. From here the extended judging process with the entire judging committee begins. You can read about our judging process in detail here. In this round of judging, we score on Originality, Technique and then have the discretion to give an ‘overall’ score based on a number of factors which may include impact, storytelling and emotion.

To place in the top twenty requires solid scores in all three categories across the judging committee. If you view our blog you can see critiques of the top 10 from each category last year, so here we will feature a few photographs that placed from 10th to 20th in 2018.

This portrait by Emma Perry is raw, authentic and emotive. It tells a very simple narrative but even though it shows vulnerability in the subject the film feel and pose creates calmness. It placed in 15th in our portrait category for 2018.

Although aerials of Icelandic landscapes have become familiar to photography judges now, this photograph from Natalya Stone shows a more traditional aerial angle of the landscape which allows the light and shade to contour the highlands. The colours and tones of the landscape are stunning and well handled. Due to the strength and popularity of aerial photography, we have introduced this as a new stand-alone category in 2019.

Peter Mack’s documentary photograph of what appears to be an air-show has so much drama and impact. It’s easy to be seduced by the impact of this photograph, however, further inspection allows the interpretation of the smoke shapes to imagine the aircraft’s maneuvers. The smoke has very deliberately been framed and shot with the plane in a perfect position to create a strong and dynamic composition. The photograph placed in the top 20 of last year’s documentary category.

Angela shows the strength of a simple idea in this photograph of a magpie singing on a cold morning. We find it a special time of year when it becomes cold enough to see our own breath and the fascination with that never seems to end as we get older. To apply that to an animal so familiar with all of us, and capture it in a technically strong way, can create an image that carries itself strongly in the awards. We hope that entrants in 2019 embrace the idea of simple and unique ideas executed strongly.

Another approach to photographing birds but using the mobile phone as the medium. This photo from Theresa Lee is a well observed and captured scene telling an ‘odd one out’ story in a way that is compositionally and graphically strong. The Ibis is captured in such a way that its profile provides maximum effect, with the pigeons around it being a touch stand-offish. The pigeon landing and taking off complete the photograph. Sometimes a strong photo can be made even better by waiting for a moment to take place or support the scene.


We’re really looking forward to seeing what our community enters in 2019 and anticipate the bar will be lifted even higher. That is the thing about originality, uniqueness, authenticity, and raw honest photography. It’s a continual search and this search pushes the boundaries of photography each and every year. It’s exciting to be a part of and we hope our judging committee discovers your photography this year.

Best of luck with your entries!

Australian Photography Awards