Bringing a concept to life ~ photo retouching canberra/queanbeyan

I have 2 large dogs, a Great Dane and an Alaskan Malamute, who I love to photograph and who are the inspiration of many of my ideas. One day we saw a young couple walking their 2 Alaskan Malamutes down our road and got chatting. We were all keen to get them altogether for a walk. Then I had the idea – a little bit ‘Game of Thrones’ inspired – to get all the dogs together, and using one of my girls to create a surreal scene of giant wolves and a little girl. I sketched the idea down in my ideas book for future reference.

When it was approaching time for the AIPP state awards, I decided to create 4 images for the illustrative category, using some concepts I had come up with. My goal in entering the Illustrative category was to challenge my creativity, photography and Photoshop skills. It is a very broad category, but in simplified terms images must illustrate a subject or topic, may be conceptual or representative in nature. The awards were just the push I needed to bring my concepts to life.

I was very proud of the images I created for the state awards, however I wanted to take the constructive criticism I received from the judges, and try to improve on my images for the National awards. This process was HARD work, and I invested a lot of time and effort into my images, but it was in turn a fantastic & invaluable educational experience, in which I learnt so much, which I why I am keen to share my journey and what I have learnt!

The Pack concept and original image

Silver Award

My original attempt for the state awards scored 81. I was slightly disappointed as I loved it so much. I was determined to do better. I talked to all the judges afterwards, to get as much feedback as possible. The advice I received was to fix the cropping, improve the expressions, interactions, posing & lighting. As I had left things till last minute (as most photographers do for the awards!) … this first attempt was photographed the week before deadline at 9am in the morning, I got home and worked on it for the next 5 hours straight. I was happy with the final images but I knew I could do better!

So on the lead up to the APPA’s I once again asked my neighbours to bring their Malamutes out to the bush to try again. This time I was excited we had along a 4th neighbourhood Malamute to complete the pack! My goal this time was to get all the dogs walking towards me and looking at the camera with their mouth’s shut. Ha! It sounded so easy in theory. Luckily I had my husband and two kids and our friends along to help wrangle all 4 dogs. There was a lot of treats, clapping and whistling involved but after an hour I felt I got the shots…I hoped!

I went straight into my editing cave to see what I had, and after hours of playing around, I realised this was not going to come together as quick and easily as last time. By the end of the day I felt defeated. It just was not working! I resigned myself to the fact that I would probably just have to re-enter my state image. But I kept going and kept trying, determined and obsessed to make my original vision become reality. After a few days straight of editing, I had created a similar image to my old one, with white ground and a snow appearance, but it just did not look right. This is where I almost gave up again. (This would have been SO much easier if I had shot the dogs against a plain studio background with controlled lighting – not natural light in the bush – but this was just another lesson I learned from this process.) So I decided I needed to photograph something to create more realistic snow. Then I needed to make it look like the dogs were actually walking in the snow – I got very familiar with my homemade fur brush in Photoshop from masking the outline of the dogs & girl for the 20th time! But then I decided the background was not working. So I ended up changing the whole background completely. I had just captured some beautiful shots of a gorgeous foggy Canberra morning which ended up fitting in perfectly and immediately brought the whole image together. So after 7 obsessed, all consuming days I FINALLY came up with something I was happy with!

I took the final image to the printers and luckily someone pointed out some proportions seemed wrong, so even at this late stage, I picked up that I had covered the girls skirt with too much snow and stuffed up the proportions a bit. This can happen very easily when you are working on something for so long and you really need a fresh set of eyes to look over it. So there was a very last minute edit before the final print was ready for APPA’s.

Fast forward to the APPA’s and I realise very quickly the extremely high calibre of competition and the incredibly tough judging that my images were going to be faced with! My Malamutes came up first, and I was SO happy to have an immediate Silver with Distinction. Relief! Not only that but one of the judges were trying to challenge it to Gold. Unfortunately I was one judge off achieving a Gold award, but I felt so happy that they loved it and that my hard work had paid off to achieve a higher score at this National level.


But it was a bit of an anti-climax as well. This was my 2nd year entering the Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPAs) and it did not have the huge high and excitement I experienced last year after scoring a Gold with Distinction that’s for sure. I was lucky with this image, as there was a good amount of discussion and feedback, but my other 3 images were scored and passed by without any talk. Judges seem to dismiss images so easily, and you stand there thinking…”Do you not know the monster effort and emotional toil I put myself through for that image!?”. Photographers sacrifice many hours creating artwork for this competition in the hopes of doing well, but often falling short and experiencing a lot of heart aches, questioning, “WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?”.

Well, it is a lot of work without much of an obvious payoff – BUT in retrospect – I could not put a value on what I learnt. I also challenged my skills and gained confidence in my ability. I also spent an amazing 3 days in Melbourne absorbing incredible photographic artworks and being surrounded by talented individuals who are all so willing to share their experience & knowledge with you. So, unbelievably, I did walk away fulfilled and excited to doing it all again next year! Crazy, I know! 🙂

One comment

  • Kim
    18/01/2016 - 7:40 am | Permalink

    Wow your picture is really impressive! Congratulations. Caught my eye as we’ve just watched Game of Thrones and thought it may have been a scene from the series ?

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