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Colourful. Emotive. Exotic. Creative. There are many ways we can describe Victoria McDonald’s Exotic Travel entry and the winner of the 2018 Better Photography Photo of the Year Award!

We touched base with Victoria about her category win, but we didn’t tell her that she’d won the overall prize at that stage. Exclaimed an excited Victoria, “I’m blown away and in total shock! I won the Exotic Travel section in 2015 and couldn’t believe it. To win again, I still can’t believe it! Thank you so much to the judges and all concerned!” We’re figuring she’ll be pretty happy with first prize as well!

Victoria works in hospitality and photography is her creative outlet. She loves taking a new view of the world around her and sharing it with others.

“I’m a member of the local photography club which inspires me to keep going, to try new things and hopefully improve. I like to have a go at all genres, although I don’t feel I’ve really mastered any!” Well, maybe she has now!

“I enter the Better Photography Competition as the feedback helps me to see which of my images are on the right track and those which need a different approach.”

So, how does travel fit into her photography? “When I get the chance to travel,  I hope I can somehow capture the essence of the places I visit, whether they be within my own country or overseas.

“This image was taken in Bali, Indonesia. My first visit to Indonesia was in 1977 and it’s a country I never tire of because there’s always somewhere new to explore. Behind the hustle and bustle of the tourist areas is a country of beauty and an ancient culture that has carried through to the present day and is in the forefront of daily life.”

The photo was taken in January 2018 in Tirtha Empul.

“I had never been to Tirtha Empul, so it was my aim to get there. My travel buddy and I hired a local photographer for the day to take us to areas we wouldn’t get to on our own. Our pre-dawn start gave us a day filled with experiences that most Bali tourists just don’t see. Tirtha Empul is a place of great spiritual importance to the Balinese. I took numerous images here and I like them all, but I feel that slowing down the image gives a real feel of the spiritual importance of this place and the sacred water purification ritual.”

The photo was taken with an Olympus EM5 Mk2 with a 7-14mm f2.8 lens, tripod mounted with a remote trigger. Victoria also used a 0.6 Nisi ND filter and the exposure was 1.6 seconds, ISO 400 at f11.

“Most of my editing is in Lightroom. The image has been cropped and I used Lightroom’s gradation filter to darken the edges, drawing the viewer’s eye to the line of worshippers performing the cleansing ritual. I have also lightened the exposure in that area, to draw in the eye. I dulled down the pink in the top of the girl in the group in the top right.

“Looking back in LR, I have updated highlights, saturation, clarity, exposure, dehaze, noise reduction, sharpness. Then I took the final image into Photoshop to resize and save for the competition.”

Victoria takes out the overall first prize which is a cash purse of AUS $5000, two amazing LaCie DJI Copilot 'backup on set solution' drives and NiSi is adding in a 100mm Professional Filter Kit! Total value over $7500 in prizes!

In addition, Victoria was the Exotic Travel category winner and she and the other five category winners will receive a wonderful package of goodies, comprising a Canson Discovery Pack Fine Art Photo, a Datacolor Spyder5, a Momento photo book voucher, Capture One processing software, and a Wacom Intuos tablet. In addition, the Landscape category winner will receive a Nisi Filter 100mm Starter Pack and the Travel category winner (Victoria again!) a Sirui W-1204 Waterproof Carbon Fibre tripod.

The category winners were:

2018 Emotive Portrait Category Winner: Dikye Ariani

2018 Incredible Sport Category Winner: Alain Schroeder

2018 Exotic Travel Category Winner: Victoria McDonald

2018 Creative Flair Category Winner: Helen Mary McLeod

2018 Classic Landscape Category Winner: Timothy Moon

2018 Revealing Nature Category Winner: Pedro Jarque Krebs

Thanks to our wonderful sponsors for supporting our competition. And thanks also to our esteemed judges Peter Eastway, David Oliver and Tony Hewitt, AIPP Grand Masters of Photography.

This year there were 1111 entries and 663 entries earned a Bronze Award. A Bronze Award is given where the judges can see some elements of photographic skill and imagination and want to acknowledge what the entrant has submitted. And given the competition is entered by passionate photographers, it's gratifying to have such a high overall standard.

Silvers are harder to attain with 393 delivered and there were just 19 Gold awards. Silvers and golds really have to be earned, so congratulations to these winners.

Each entry also received a short judge comment which will hopefully be of use to entrants for the future. If you entered, you can log back into your account at the website to see your scores and read your comments. And here are the other category winners!

2018 Emotive Portrait Category Winner: Dikye Ariani

2018 Incredible Sport Category Winner: Alain Schroeder

2018 Creative Flair Category Winner: Helen Mary McLeod

2018 Classic Landscape Category Winner: Timothy Moon

2018 Revealing Nature Category Winner: Pedro Jarque Krebs

View Top 20 in each Category - click here.

Photograph by Douwe Dijkstra, Silver Award, 2016 Creative Flair Category

Do you like a challenge? Would you like to earn Bronze, Silver or Gold Awards? And would you like a helpful comment for each of your entries - a comment that could just trigger the start of a creative revolution in the way you photograph?

Douwe Dijkstra challenged himself back in 2016 in our Creative Category. While many photographers think about Photoshop and composites, Douwe used 'creative seeing' with this beautifully composed cityscape. Strong contrast, a great silhouette and a square frame all added up to a Silver Award. 

It really is wonderful looking back on the winning images from previous years - and you can do this at anytime on our competition website -

So, can you earn a Silver this year? Now is the time to find out! The extended period for entering the 2018 Better Photography Photo of the Year Award ends on Wednesday, 7 November 2018. Will your entry be part of the $17,000 prize pool? Enter now and visit!

Most people enter photography competitions ‘to see how they go’. By this, I believe they would like to see if their entry is worthy of a bronze, a silver or even a gold! That in itself is useful feedback, especially when you’re learning the ropes and looking to improve, but even better would be a comment about where you’re going wrong. How could you improve your entry?

One of the benefits I introduced to the Better Photography Photo of the Year (and which has been picked up by a number of other competitions) is feedback from a judge. It’s not possible to give every entry an in-depth analysis, but it is possible to make a single suggestion that could be very helpful.

Over the years, I realised that 90% of entries could be helped with the same 20 or 30 comments. Sure, every entry has its differences, but for example, there are a lot of entries that could be improved if the photographer had just changed his or her camera angle at the time of capture, or if they had lightened up an entry because it was too dark. These may seem like very simple observations, but they can be incredibly powerful because, as entrants, we don’t easily see what can be improved with our own work.

I now have around 60 comments that I use. I can also customise the comments, but generally they are specific enough to give most entrants some direction for improvement – if it is considered necessary. I rarely make suggestions for gold awards and many silver awards don’t need further help either. And I’m hopeful that my suggestions will be useful at least 90% of the time.

I realise there are some limitations in this system, but short of a personalised critique, it’s the best that’s available and, better still, it’s included as part of your entry fee.

Entries into the 2018 Better Photography Photo of the Year Awards close on 31 October 2018, so there's still time to enter - and who knows, you could be part of the $17,000 prize pool too! For more details, visit now!

The 'infamous' tree photographed on Easter Island many years ago by Peter Eastway.

Some photographers enter competitions without much success and then give them away. They say the judges don’t know what they’re talking about or don’t understand them – and that could be true. However, I remember one of my early ‘misses’ which started on Easter Island.

One evening I found a wonderful gnarled tree sitting atop a low cairn of rounded rocks with a beautiful sky behind. Back home, I had a custom print produced and I was in awe of what I had created.

I entered the photograph into APPA and sat in the judging room, waiting for it to come up. When it did, the judges gave it a quick score of 74 (well below the Silver I had hoped for) and one of the judges said it was ‘just a nice little travel snap’.

I couldn’t believe what had happened. I was disappointed in capitals. Why couldn’t the judges see what I saw?

Five years later, I’m cleaning out my studio. I find a bunch of old print entries and start throwing them on the rubbish pile – when I grab back my Easter Island print and look at it with fresh eyes. My view has completely changed and I actually think the judges were overly generous.

I might not have earned silver that year, but in the continuing process of entering competitions, it was a great lesson.

Maybe you weren’t successful in previous competitions, but if you look back at your work, do you now agree with the judges? We won’t always, but one or more set-backs in our competition careers are to be expected – and they can actually help us improve in the long run.

Perhaps it's time to give competitions another go?

Entries into the 2018 Better Photography Photo of the Year Awards close on 31 October 2018, so there's still time to enter - and who knows, you could be part of the $17,000 prize pool too! For more details, visit now!

I hear photographers saying that unless they use Photoshop, they could never win a photography competition. And I agree – but I think we are talking about two completely different things.

Generally when photographers complain about Photoshop, they’re talking about highly constructed composites or special filter effects. In the past when these techniques were used, they did impress the judges and won a lot of awards, but these days, overworked photographs can actually score less, not more.

When I talk about using Photoshop – or Lightroom or Capture One – I’m suggesting that every entry can be improved with a little post-production. You might just lighten or darken the image, or darken down a corner – the point I’m suggesting is that successful photographers do not rely on their cameras to deliver the final result. EVERY image can be improved or strengthened with a little post-production – just as we used to do in the darkroom when shooting with film.

The mark of a competent photographer is the appropriate use of post-production.

Entries into the 2018 Better Photography Photo of the Year Awards close on 31 October 2018, so there's still time to enter - and who knows, you could be part of the $17,000 prize pool too! For more details, visit now!