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  • Writer's pictureRichard Wood


LIGHTING A FIRE UP YOUR **** Welcome to the Awards

Richard Wood NZIPP Grand Master I. Professional Photographer of the Year 2011,2014,2017. Judge for the Nikon Iris Awards and The Portrait Masters. Educator and Mentor

Tis the month before awards and all through the house, not a creature is stirring…. Not even a mouse. This is because its ****** midnight and everyone else is asleep. And that mouse has actually been awake in my head for hours riding on the back of a cat, until it disembarked at the docks and boarded a big ship via the ropes. Damn thing found a clock and now I have that nursery rhyme ringing in my brain over and over. Once I’ve finished this draft I’m writing right now I’ll pop my headphones on and walk the street where it’s dark and just me. It becomes my own world then. My music will encourage me to think. It’s just what it does. And who knows, this year you may just see this mouse looking back at us after the panel chair announces “Next print please”. That’s if it hasn’t gone on to become a rat, a cat, a cow or a rhinoceros.

I’ve been entering the Awards since 2009, and we have a ‘love hate’ relationship. I’m often so overwhelmed with work already at this time of year, yet I desire the need to create a set of “My Best Work” to impress the judges. My stress levels are at their highest. My nights are at their latest. My lawns are at their longest. I hear “You’ve done pretty well Richard, why don’t you give it a break”. I hear “Is it worth it in the end?”. God I go mad. Every year…. Crazy. I hate these damn awards! The ‘little me’ sitting on my left shoulder yells things like; “It’s too hard”…. “What’s the point”…. “You’ve got enough”…. “You don’t need any awards”…..“judges aren’t clients”…..

Then the ‘other little me’ on my other shoulder blatantly points out the facts. As creatives we can fall short through emotions and we lay down for our feelings. It’s what we do. This is a time I turn to what is fact. These are MY facts but I’m sure many of us share them.

IMPROVED THINKING: The Iris Awards lets your mind/brain step outside of what’s every day. The awards encourage you to be innovative and original in your work. This is called thinking outside of the box. Whether it be a piece of work we’ve created FOR the awards…. Or a piece of work we’ve created and are looking back on and thinking it should be an entry. We’ve appreciated the difference and magic of that one photograph. Doing this installs the reward for innovation in our selves. Why is this a great thing? Firstly because when we are innovating, we are growing. A species that never innovates cannot go through evolution. Secondly, whilst innovation is often immediately translated as insanity…. It’s actually ‘bringing’ sanity to our day to day work which at times I feel is what actually creates any insanity.

IMPROVED PERSONAL STANDARD: We create or choose work for the awards that we believe for us is ‘great’. Often in our day to day work we can get tied up producing work that we just smile at and think ‘that’s nice, well done” and we pass on to the client. For awards… our own ‘nice’ is not enough. We are striving towards bronzes, silvers and golds. We are looking for ‘greatness’ in our own work. Exercising the mind in trying to produce GREAT work will only do one thing. It will push you further into greatness in your abilities as a photographer. Even if it’s for only once a year, let’s practice producing ‘greatness’ rather than ‘good enough’ at what ever level we are at. As an Iris Award entrant you’ll find yourself constantly asking….. “How can I do this”, “How can I do this better”. You will seek out new techniques and methods. You will learn new things and ways. Your tool belt will become larger.

COMPLETION: Deadlines! How often have we had an idea in our head and never gotten around to creating it or making it happen. There’s always something else taking priority. “The house needs painting,” “I have to finish the new website,” “ I need to finish that marketing campaign.” A cool photograph idea is often down the list. When you make the conscious decision to enter the Iris Awards, you’ve set yourself a deadline. And the more time, energy and sometimes money you invest into creating something for that reason, the more important completing that task is. I would love to create new images at high speed throughout the year. But I still find that its the committing to the Iris awards that fast forwards my production at light speeds. It pushes me to create pictures I’m proud of. Pictures I love. And most of these would not otherwise exist if I wasn’t entering the awards. And it’s because I make the choice to enter. The world gets to share in my visions rather than them being a fleeting thought in my own mind until the day I leave this earth.

IMPROVED CRAFT: The Iris Awards will also improve your craft at light speed. Especially if you attend print judging. Often even if you receive an elusive Gold Award, it can be likely that you’ve had at least one judge sitting there tearing it apart first, pointing out your images ‘weaknesses’. The Iris Awards is a time to be critiqued. Now this may not suit all personalities. It can strike crushing fear into many. I often hear “I don’t need a bunch of ‘so-calleds’ to tell me how good or bad I am, my clients love my work!” I feel this is either ‘fear’, they’re completely missing the point or their passion for business well outweighs their passion for photography. Now if your clients love your work, hey maybe the judges will too. And if they point out any areas that need improving, then fantastic you’ve just grown in your craft. You’ve become better in what you’ve chosen to dedicate yourself to.

Now the following might seem a bit on the nose but it’s only an example and I’m big enough to stand by my example. The clients of an ice cream truck think that stuff is the best thing in the world. Kids run out from their driveways screaming for that ****. An incecream ‘TRUCK DRIVER/OWNER’ will see no need for improvement. However a DESSERT CHEF with a love for ice cream and their craft may seek innovation and development, for at the end of the day… icecream is what they love. We need to decide how much of us is the truck driver and how much the ice cream connoisseur. If you still have a heart felt passion for photography, then have your errors or your weaknesses pointed out to you! They will strike a chord with you and you WILL remember! You will remember critiques from your entries years down the track. Trust me. This is growth. Also remember that the judges are passionate about it too and many of them will remember critiques they have given years later.

I sat with Sue Bryce and her staff at lunch in her L.A studio a few weeks ago and we were discussing the big eyed, caricature/bobble head effect that’s been seen around. I said “2011!…. Death by Photoshop”. Sue laughed and said “That’s hilarious you remember that…. But I know you’d do it beautifully now”. Both the entrant and the judge remember. In the days that passed when I arrived home in New Zealand I took it upon myself to try again what I had in 2011. I’d improved.

In a nutshell, the awards will push you. It will push you to see and learn new ways, experiment, think differently, think harder and it will push you to SEE clearer whilst your understanding of this craft grows. It’s a never ending journey. The awards will light a fire behind your a*** and get you moving. The deadline is like the added petrol. It hurts. But it’s all worth it. You need to decide whether you are happy having your work sit as it is. Or whether you want it to evolve with the rest of the industry. And trust me, the industry is moving fast! My advice is don’t sit still. That’s how fossils are created.

Without critique from our peers, we can only understand what WE know. We can only receive critique from ourselves and of course our friends and Mothers who all think we are awesome. Not welcoming critique from educated peers in the industry is somewhat arrogant and as a result can lead to ignorance in our own craft. This is called sabotaging yourself and your craft. My introduction to the Iris Awards was a humbling one. However I’m thankful, for I may still be running horizons through the faces of brides. In fact I dedicate almost all of my progress as a photographer, my skill, my craft, my insight, my understanding, the direction of my career, my growth and the incredible and wonderful people I’ve met along the way to this awards system. The growth the Iris Awards has pushed me through, is not just reflected in print entries but through my every day work. I wouldn’t be half the photographer today without them.

See you all soon!

Richard works as both a photographer and educator/mentor through The Portrait Masters system. Richard’s creative mentoring and class support group can be found on Facebook ‘Richard Wood Creative Fine Art Portrait.’

Instagram- @richardwoodphotography

Award winning Photography. Grand Master Medal.
Image above is my Grand Master medal. Last I understood... it takes 80 points to gain Grand Master at the NZIPP. I had 197. I have won more awards since then and the system has changed so am uncertain about the updates.

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