2015 Australian Professional Photography Awards

The Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPAs) are held annually and would have to be one of the most exciting and elite competitions on the planet.  I don’t say that lightly as not only do our best Australian photographers enter, but it also draws entries from amazing overseas artists as well.

This year the awards were held in Melbourne in October and over three days of judging, several thousand images met their destiny.

The first challenge for me was to select four images as that is the maximum you can enter.  This year I was fortunate to win my first gold award and six silver awards at the 2015 Queensland Professional Photography Awards.  Entering eight images at the state awards was supposed to help my dilemma in choosing four images to enter for APPAs.  Ummm, I still had to cull further!

Many photographers seek out opinions from their peers when choosing their images because it is easy to be emotionally attached to them.  When the prints are turned around for judging, it doesn’t matter what you did to get that shot, how many miles you walked, or how many hours you spent on post-production, the judges don’t know that, don’t care, and base their score on what they see.  I decided to go with my gut and put my favourite shots in.

‘What did the photographer bring to this image’ is often mentioned during judging discussion and images which have a storytelling aspect and can evoke emotion, often score well.  All images need to be technical brilliant and scores of 70-79 are given to those which are of a high professional standard but below award level.  It is no shame to get a score in the seventies!

I am proud to say that this year my images scored 3 Silver Awards and the fourth entry scored a 75.

Here are my entries!

Silverton Donkey

“Dollar – The Silverton Donkey”

This image received scores of 81, 83, 83, 84 84 from the five judges.  A final score of 83 and a Silver Award.  Thank you to the judge who spoke after the image had been judged and mentioned that he appreciated the humour in the image as that is what I was hoping would be seen.  Wild donkeys used to freely roam Silverton but now Dollar is the only one left.  I also photographed him one morning coming out of the local church!


“Not Impressed”

This image scored a Gold Award at states and I hoped it would do well again at the nationals.  It scored 80, 82, 83, 83 and 87 with a final score of 83 and a Silver Award.  It was taken at Allora and is part of a dog show project which I have now wrapped up shooting and hopefully will create a book to celebrate the year that Ruby and I went to many dog shows while she earnt her Australian show champion title.


“The Crow”

This image received scores of 78, 80, 81, 84 and 87 with a first-round score of 82.  The judge on 87 put in a challenge and the image was discussed further amongst the panel.  It was rescored with 82, 82, 84, 84 and 87 with a final score of 84 and a Silver Award.  The excitement didn’t end there as it went to another panel for consideration of a Silver with Distinction.  It stayed the same but I was pleased with the outcome.  It actually scored lower at states with a 80 and received a Silver Award there.  It is my favourite shot of the four images I entered and was taken at Bribie Island one morning at sunrise while Ruby was having a run.  Moments earlier there were two Brahminy Kites sitting on the branches but by the time I had raised my camera, they had taken off.  The crow also took flight and this is the shot.  I liked the balance in the shot but also the misperfection of the missing feather.  In post-production I chose a square crop as I wanted the branches to rest on the edge of the frame as I thought that it held the shot together better.  I used a blending mode in Photoshop to strip out the colour and added a frame to give a fine art feel.  The image was also printed on a textured fine art paper.


“Lake Blur”

This image scored 70, 72, 75, 78 and 81 and ended up with a final score of 75.  The judge on 81 could have challenged but did not.  I enjoy creating abstract blurs in camera and this one is reeds in a lake somewhere on the west coast of New Zealand.  I always shoot raw plus jpeg, and cranked up the saturation in camera to get the strong opposite colour effect.  I have a gallery of abstract images on my website if you would like to take a look at more of these type of images.

The points for three Silver awards brought up my Associate Membership in the Australian Institute of Professional Photography so I was pretty chuffed with this year’s results.

A big thank you to Living Image Fine Art Printing for ensuring my images were printed perfectly!

Now….best get planning and shooting for next year’s awards!

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The Absence of Colour

One of the most exciting times of being a landscape photographer is during sunrise and sunset at an awesome location, when the sky has the potential to erupt in magnificent colour.  You just cant wait to get home, download the images, relive the adrenalin and hope it matches what you felt and saw.

Once the romance of the colour explosion is over, the images can be viewed objectively.   I like to take a few weeks to do this, because sometimes little gems will appear and outshine the diamonds which jump out during the first cut of processing.

I like to look carefully at the structure and lines of the landscape that I had chosen to frame at the time of capture.  Sometimes I am disappointed with my efforts, but I know I did the best I could at the time with my ‘seeing eye’, and I always try to learn from opportunities missed.

I am a big fan of black and white images and absolutely adore the work of Michael Kenna and Clyde Butcher and truly believe the essence of the landscape can sometimes be enjoyed more, once colour is removed from the image.  A black and white image of a landscape reduces it to its purest form of shape, structure and texture.  It then becomes an interpretation of reality by the artist.

On my recent trip to Haast Beach in New Zealand, the colours which presented in the sky, were singing right off the richter scale!   Now that I have had time to sit and ponder these images, I have processed a selection of seascapes in black and white. 

I am enjoying these images now, more so than at the time of capture when the colour fuzzed up my brain and there was little opportunity to savour the beauty of the moment due to the fast changing epic light.

I hope you enjoy them too.


“Ocean Edge”       © Sue Thomson 2014


“Retreat”       © Sue Thomson 2014


“Ten Seconds”       © Sue Thomson 2014


“Spill”       © Sue Thomson 2014


“Haast Beach”       © Sue Thomson 2014

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Telling Stories

Creating a memorable image takes thought and skill. A photographer has many choices available to them to assist in documenting and capturing moments in time. Light, emotion and inclusion or non-inclusion of elements all help to convey a mood and tell stories.

The results from the 2013 International Loupe Awards are now in and I thought I would share with you my images, their scores and their stories.

Image 1 – “Night Rodeo”
This image received a final score of 87 and a Silver Award. The five judging scores ranged between 73 and 88. The judge who gave it a 73 must have shuddered when he saw it took out First Place. One judge commented that the image was “A nice different take on a normal shot – kudos”. Of course what the judge is referring to is the middle part of the image where the steer wrestler is coming off his horse to catch the steer. I have lots of this type of shot in my archives and it is a common rodeo action shot to capture. In this case, bad arena lighting and positioning helped my cause in capturing this panoramic image showing all the drama surrounding the event.

Night Rodeo Steer Wrestling
“Night Rodeo”      © Sue Thomson  2012

Image 2 – “Media Man In Trouble”
This image received a final score of 82 and a Bronze Award. I actually entered it in the Photojournalism category because of the irony of the bull stomping, not on a cowboy, but on a media man who was recording the action and had turned his back on the arena and thought that the action was all over. He wasnt hurt, but his fancy camera, suffered unrepairable wounds!
The judging scores ranged between 78-89 and I had a judging comment to crop tighter and remove the distraction of the red top. Perhaps if I did this, the image would be stronger from a competition point of view, but I find myself more and more including elements to ‘’tell stories”’. To me, the inclusion of the Chute Boss and the cowboys scurrying to the rails were part of the story that I wanted to tell.  Check out those cowboys peeping through the rails!

Media Man In Trouble
“Media Man In Trouble”      © Sue Thomson  2012

Image 3 – “The Rescue”
This image received a final score of 79 and just missed a Bronze Award. Scores ranged between 73 and 88 and truth be told, it is my favourite image of the four. It is incredibly difficult to take rodeo action shots where you have all of the elements come together. In this image, the horse has four feet off the ground, you can see the emotion in the cowboy’s face, the story is being told of the rescue man bailing out the cowboy, and check out the rescue horse’s eye…..he is doing his job in adverse conditions! The other element that is a spoiler for rodeo shots, is signage in the background which can be mimised by choosing an appropriate aperture on the camera.  Converting the image to monochrome also helps to keep the attention focussed on the action.

The Rescue
“The Rescue”   
  © Sue Thomson  2012

Image 4 – Winner of the Bull Ride
This image received a final score of 78, with scores ranging between 68 and 88. It received two judging comments: “love the emotion, wish it were cropped tighter to show his expression” and “a little crop to lose a bit off the right side would have helped, well seen and well captured”.  I always take on board comments from judges, but in this case, I will keep the image the way it is. The story behind the image, and of course the judges would not have known this, is the cowboy had just ridden eight seconds on one of the toughest bulls. He received top score which won him the big bucks. To me, leaving in the rope signifies that he has finished his ride and the crowd, and his hat are all part of the story. The cowboy is a New Zealander and he was so excited, he was actually doing the haka. You can see that pesky signage in the background here, but with sport and photojournalism entries for awards, you cannot remove or add elements.

Rodeo Haka
“Winner of the Bull Ride”      © Sue Thomson  2012

All of these images were captured at Warwick Rodeo in October 2012.

I hope you have enjoyed looking at the images, reading my award results and the stories behind them.

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The 4 am Traveller

There is a sense of belonging and camaraderie amongst highway travellers at 4am.  Whilst most people are still tucked up in their comfy bed, fishermen, truck drivers, tradies and shift workers, are already up and on their way to where they need to go.

For a photographer who loves capturing the beauty of a sunrise, early morning travel is part of the gig.   I load my camera gear and music the night before and just need to make a cup of coffee, grab little Ruby, and we are on our way.

I always feel comfortable heading north on the Pacific Highway towards the Sunshine Coast and perhaps the most hazardous part of the trip is navigating the odd early morning reveller walking home upon leaving the city.  It must be a long lonely walk home for those who didnt keep enough money for a cab fare!

You can plan, but you are at whim of mother nature, when it comes to putting on a jaw-dropping show of light at sunrise.  Yesterday, my heart sank as I saw the bank of clouds sitting low on the horizon because that usually means ho hum images!.   I do like to keep an open mind though as every sunrise is unique and provides different opportunities.  Here are a few that I like from yesterday at Coolum.


 “Sunrise at Coolum”    © Sue Thomson 2013


“A Wave Of Direction”    © Sue Thomson 2013


“Shimmer”    © Sue Thomson 2013

I love abstracts…..this is my favourite!


“Four”    © Sue Thomson 2013


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2012 Favourite Images

Legendary photographic pioneer and conservationist Ansel Adams once said:  “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.”

I thought it might be fun to go through my own crop of 2012 photographs and identify 12 images which not only stacked up technically, but resonated the most on a personal level for me.

With the launch of Getaway Images and establishment of the website this month, the challenge for me going forward, is to step up, and improve the quality of my images.  This first batch of favourites sets the standard.  By the way, I love challenges!

So, in no particularly order, here are my favourite images from 2012.

1.  Winter in Wyoming.   After spending two hours in a pickup truck travelling with cowboy Tommy from Spearfish in South Dakota to New Haven Ranch in Wyoming, I definitely had to include a shot of Tommy.  This image was awarded a Silver Award in the 2012 International Loupe Awards in the Portrait category.

Winter In Wyoming

2.  Paint Pony.  I created this using a slow shutter speed in camera.  I must admit, at the time, my heart was thumping as the horses galloped across the snow covered fields towards me.  “Stay still, stay still, they will go around the truck” said Les…..and they did!

Paint Pony

3.  Media Man in Trouble.  Warwick rodeo has to be one of the best rodeos in Australia!  The showground rails are lined with photographers, all jostling to try and get the best action shot.  This particular image was taken after the lenses had been put down and the action had finished, or so we thought!  The last bucking bull was on his way out the gate,  the clowns had finished their job protecting the cowboy, the media man was worried about his next piece of video, and the announcer was reading up on the next event.  One bull, who wasn’t required, was let out of the chute and expected to go straight out the open gate and join the others.  Not so, he saw an opportunity, and down went the media man!  By the way, the media man was OK.  He jumped up, dusted himself off and was was not hurt at all.  Not sure about his equipment though!

Media Man In Trouble

4.  Sedona Red Rocks and Winter Snow.   I was told by the locals that it only snows in Sedona around five times a year.  Not only was I able to attend a good friend’s wedding which was an awesome event, but struck the jackpot with the snow.  Sedona in Arizona, is one of the most beautiful towns in USA.  Surrounded by incredible red rocks, the vibe is very chilled, the southwest food is to die for, and the landscape is simply stunning.  A trip on the Verde Canyon rail was another memorable highlight.

Sedona Red Rocks and Winter Snow

5.  Sedona Abstract.  Sometimes you just see things!  I was watching the wind create ripples in the river behind Los Abrigados Resort in Sedona.  It was an overcast day, except for one small break in the clouds where the blue sky was pushing through.  This is the reflection of the blue sky and the trees in the water.

Sedona Abstract

6.  Cyprus Dome Reflections.   One of the most magical experiences for me last year was the time I spent exploring The Everglades in Florida.  From the road, the cyprus domes resembled unremarkable groups of trees in the middle of the sawgrass plains.  But once you stepped inside, wow and double wow, the magic was mind blowing!   Beautiful orchids, massive cyprus tree trunks, herons wading, and the most beautiful reflections were present as the sun peeked through the canopy.  No gators were  home on their nest on that wonderful day…… thankfully!   Robert Chaplin, awesome Everglades guide!

Cyprus Dome Reflections 2

7.  Preservation Hall.  I was fortunate to visit New Orleans in February 2012.  Sadly, more than seven years later, parts of the city are still severely damaged and major buildings have yet to be repaired.   Hospitals remain closed and the Lower Ninth Ward is like a ghost town, peppered with odd colourful buildings being rebuilt with the help of celebrities such as Oprah and Brad Pitt.  It is quite sobering to still see the visual paint marks on homes denoting who has searched buildings (rangers/police) and numerals representing the number of deaths that occurred in that particular building.  Luckily, the amazing architecture in the French Quarter was spared.  One of the iconic jazz joints is “Preservation Hall” where you have to queue up for hours to hear the old guys strut their stuff.  If you visit New Orleans, don’t miss the beignets and coffee and chicory at Cafe Monde, epic stuff!

Preservation Hall

8.  Coolum Abstract.  One of my favourite things to do when the sun breaks the horizon and heralds a new day, is to watch for light reflecting on the ocean or on the sand….pure magic!  Mental note, more abstracts to capture this year!

Coolum Abstract 2

9.  Trent’s Sunrise.  My usual weekend seascape routine involves  getting up early and driving an hour up the coast to catch the sunrise.  Often I arrive a little early and sit in the car until it is light enough to see where I will be going, and use the time to check emails and Facebook on my phone.  On this particular morning, Facebook was in meltdown!   Friend and awesome marathon swimmer, Trent Grimsey, had swum the English Channel and smashed the world record for the fastest crossing…. 6 hours 55 minutes.  Back in Australia, mother nature put on an epic sunrise to celebrate….onya Trent!    As a swim mom, you know the hard work the distance swimmers put in and fully appreciate the support network they need from their family to succeed.

Trents Sunrise

10.  Rainbow Beach Sunrise.  What can I say, one of the most beautiful places on the Sunshine Coast.  I just love the light skimming across the sand and water.   I definitely will be heading back up to this little gem of a place again this year.  The Rainbow Beach Hotel is good for a quality pub meal and a glass of wine!

Rainbow Beach Sunrise

11.  Solitary Rock.  I have many images of Point Cartwright on the Sunshine Coast, but this has become one of my favourites.  I love how it is possible to isolate part of the landscape so it’s place of origin is no longer obvious.

Solitary Rock

12.  Three Pebbles and a Wreck.  The SS Dicky is one the most photographed icons on the Sunshine Coast.  Fingers crossed that the latest round of storms do not cause any further damage to the wreck.

Three Pebbles and a Wreck

Here’s hoping that 2013 will be another epic year of memorable experiences.  A trip to New Zealand is currently being planned for April, an outback Australia journey in August/September is also on the bubble, plus lots of weekend trips around South East Queensland will be sure to keep me busy!

The Best of 2012 images can also be viewed in the Portfolio section of www.getawayimages.com

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All images Copyright Sue Thomson