APPA Wrap up – Was it worth the stress?

Like many photographers across the country I’ve just emerged from one of the most stressful, exciting, emotional weekends of the photography year. The weekend past was the Australian Professional Photography Awards held by the AIPP (Australian Institute of Professional Photography).

Although I’ve been a photographer since the late 1990’s, this was actually my first year entering the National APPAs. After a strong result in the Victorian Awards (you can read about my VPPY awards here), I went into the National competition with high hopes.

I wrote about my experience in preparing for the APPAs in another post here. Although I’d gone through a similar process with the Victorian Awards, the adrenaline was still pumping on judging day.

The Illustrative Category is one of the largest in the competition. The vast scope of work makes for an intense judging session.

We arrived at 8am on Saturday morning for the start of the illustrative judging. There were 3 rooms judging illustrative entries this year. In each room there are 5 judges (that alternate throughout the day). There are panel chairs that keep everything on track. The rooms have seating for a small audience. There is a monitor that shows the live feed from the room, along with the live feed from the other rooms so that you can see which images are up for judging in the adjoining spaces.


Image from The Digital Show Facebook Page:

Before the judging began the AIPP showed a video review of all the entries in the category. The one second showcase of each image gave judges a strong idea of what was to come. As it was playing I held my breath waiting for my images to show on screen. I was quietly concerned that my print box hadn’t reached the AIPP office. I needn’t have worried (thanks Australia Post) half way through the presentation my first entry, ‘Alice’ flashed up on screen, later followed by my remaining 3 entries.

Although I achieved 5 gold awards at State level earlier in the year, I didn’t want to enter all of the same images into the National Awards. I chose the 2 Gold award winners that I felt were my strongest APPA entries (these were awarded prints that I hadn’t revealed to the public on social media).

AIPP VPPY Australian Institute of Photography Award Winner

The first entry I decided on was ‘Alice’. This is one of my favourite ‘fine art’ style pieces and I felt that it was an ‘APPA Worthy’ entry. I entered this one without any major changes, just a few minor adjustments. This image was the first of my 4 to be judged.

At State level I ended up with a score of 91. Having not entered on a national level before I didn’t know what would happen with the scoring. As scores in the low to mid 80s started flashing up on the screen, I silently willed the remaining judges to go higher (or I may have verbally mumbled higher, higher!). I ended up with a final score of 83 with no further discussion. At the time I was disappointed with that score. However after watching the rest of the judging, noting the extremely high quality of work across the board, and talking with other long time award winning entrants, I realised that earning a silver in my first ever APPAs is quite an achievement. A silver award is considered by the AIPP as ‘Exceeds standard of Professional Practice with high levels of imagination, craft or skill’


My second piece to be judged was another VPPY gold. ‘STAND’ a commercial image that I’d created for the band ‘STAND’ was judged again as an 83 overall. I had worked further on this image for the APPA’s, integrating a change that had been suggested by one of the judges at the VPPY’s (that they said would have taken it up to a Gold Distinction). This was to give the female in the piece a more joyous expression. During the shoot I had actually photographed a number of different expressions so I was able to introduce this new expression into my APPA entry.


My third entry was a risk, and I knew it. A crowd favourite, and a personal favourite, I wanted Geppetto’s Workshop to score well. I had taken it to a critique night and feedback was that there were too many highlights and backlight distractions. Personally I love this about the piece, in fact if you watch the tutorial or speed edit you will notice me emphasising the beautiful lighting spilling through the cracks in the workshop. I love light spill.

It is widely known however that APPA judges mark down for excessive blown out highlights or dark blacks. And although I refined the highlights in my entry, and also turned the image into black and white after some additional feedback at the critique night, Geppetto’s Workshop finished with a score of 75 with the same feedback, the highlights were too strong.  My lesson, I should have been more selective and not included this one in my APPA entries due to standard APPA preferences. Some images, despite them being loved by other artists, and the general public, are simply not ‘APPA worthy’.

(c) Karen Alsop 2015

My final piece to be judged was a wildcard. Hey Diddle Diddle was a new composite that I’d been hard at work on over the months leading up to the awards. A complex composite with multiple elements, I had no prior benchmark as to how this would score. I hadn’t even released it on my website or on social media, so I didn’t even know whether it would be a ‘crowd favourite’. I was rewarded with a Silver for Hey Diddle Diddle, totalling 3 Silvers for me at the 2015 APPAs.

Hey Diddle Diddle

My purpose for creating this image (apart from having the idea in my mind for some time) was to create an in depth video tutorial for

Colin Smith, CEO of PhotoshopCAFE approached me, after finding my work on Social Media, about coming on board as a PhotoshopCAFE author. Of course not one to do things by halves I decided to make my first tutorial epic.

Due to this my whole process was recorded. Not only behind the scenes photoshoots, but my editing. Every time I sat down to edit Hey Diddle Diddle I recorded my screen and talked viewers through the process. This tutorial will launch very soon on so if you are wanting to learn all my secrets in creating Hey Diddle Diddle, this is the place.

Music especially created by Jazzlab for this project. Visit CJ and Shami used their time and talent to re-invent the classic nursery rhyme for my project. They also modelled, CJ as the Cat body and both CJ and Shami as the Dish and the Spoon.

I want to thank a few awesome companies that have helped me throughout my crazy Story Art adventures. Thank you to ProTog, particularly for the Jinbei Lighting that I use in my work. Thanks to to Brian from ProTog for being part of the behind the scenes during Hey Diddle Diddle.

Thank you to Kayell Australia and Canson. I could not print without you. Ever since purchasing my Epson 3880 and printing my award images on various Canson Papers, I’ve had the ability to refine and perfect my prints in a way that would never be possible if I was outsourcing. I printed Hey Diddle Diddle 5 times in order to perfect it. That said my next purchase is most definitely an Eizo Monitor. With a wider more accurate colour gamut to work with, matched to my printer, I’ll have even greater control of my prints (enabling me to match my monitor directly with what comes out of my printer, no surprises).

I’ve learnt a lot from entering the APPA’s. I’m still in the process of debriefing and working out what to do next year to further improve my results (yes I want to win, I’m not afraid to admit it). While the competition relies on human judges with human pre-conceptions, human personal preferences and human emotions, there are no guarantees when it comes to scores. However I will take what I’ve learnt about the APPA competition and use that knowledge grow and improve. That’s one thing I love about photography, and particularly this genre. You never stop learning.

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