If you follow me on Instagram then you will be well aware that earlier this month I enjoyed some success in a photographic competition. If you don't currently follow me on Instagram, then you should (check out the link at the bottom of this page).
When I bought my first DSLR camera back in 2016 and when I was a spritely 24 years old, I never imagined that one day I would be entering my images into international photographic competitions. The plan back then, if you can call it a plan, was to simply take on photography as a bit of a side hobby during the school holidays away from my professional life as a teacher. Having half-terms and a six week summer holiday is obviously excellent but all my non-teacher friends are still at work themselves. Photography gave me something to do that kept me busy, got me some much needed fresh air whilst also allowing me to spend my time within nature and wildlife. Two years ago I entered the International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY) for the first time. The competition is currently in its 13th year of existence as the world's premier competition and exhibition specialising in garden, plant, flower and botanical photography. As you are hopefully aware, my photography is primarily focused on wildlife subjects so you might be asking what initially caused me to enter the IGPOTY? Why not go all out and try to win the big award, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year which has its exhibition in the Natural History Museum.
The IGPOTY is run in association with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; a venue that I extensively visited as a child and one that I am very lucky to live close to nowadays. I recently wrote a blog post about a January trip to Kew and it is one of the places that I regularly visit to take photographs. Since the IGPOTY is run in partnership with Kew, the competition has a specialist category (called 'Captured at Kew') that is exclusively designed to showcase images taken at Kew Gardens.
I have been very fortunate to receive awards in this category for the past two editions of the IGPOTY. Back in 2018 my image of a brown hawker dragonfly was awarded Commended and then last year I had two images receive the same level of award; one of a Chinese water dragon and one of the iconic Palm House. My image of the Palm House (seen here) was also published on the BBC News website in a article reporting the winning images from that years competition.
Despite these being entered in a specialist category (the work in the main awards is on another level), it was still very exciting to see my images displayed on the official IGPOTY website and entering the 'Captured at Kew' category has now become a yearly ritual for me. I am of course aware that one year, eventually, I might not receive any awards but this year was not that one and I endured some more success!
I entered 8 images into the 'Captured at Kew' category of the IGPOTY 2020 and I was delighted to find out, last December, that two of those had been shortlisted. I had to wait until 7th February this year to find out if either of these photos had been given awards and I was delighted to check the website and find out that both had!
The first of my awarded images, entitled Urban Jungle, was taken during a day trip to Kew Gardens with my friend Adam. It was the one day where I set out with the intention of taking some images exclusively with the competition in mind and so I left my wildlife-focused, long lenses at home and instead utilised my Canon EF-S 18-55mm. This short lens was the kit one that came with my Canon 1200D when I first purchased it four years ago. It is safe to say that its short focal length makes it a bad option for wildlife work and so, over the years, it had received very little attention from me.
I took a number of images throughout the day which this camera set-up but I wanted to capture something that highlighted the interconnection between nature and architecture that makes Kew Gardens so unique. The Palm House is the oldest of the glasshouses found in Kew, having been built back in 1848, but it has a rooftop walkway in the central section that you can climb up to in order to get a real sense of the the greenery below. Adam and I headed up and I took this image looking out down one of the elongated side domes. The evening light shining down from above, coupled with the mixture of green hues and white architecture resulted in a very colourful image that I felt successfully captured the nature of Kew Gardens excellently.
I was delighted to find out that this image had been given a Commended award in this years competition, making it the fourth time over the past three years that one of my images has been awarded Commended.
The second of my prize winning images came with a much greater sense of excitement. Alpine Sunrise was, as the name suggests, taken early one morning at Kew Gardens. I only had my Canon EF-S 55-250mm lens, which was not ideal for composing a landscape-style image, given its longer focal length, but I did the best I could and was able to produce a decent result.
The Davies Alpine House, which was formally opened in 2006, is one of the most recent additions to the glasshouse selection at Kew Gardens. It is home to a whole host of flora species that are found throughout the globes alpine regions, including Artic plants and those found in the mountaintops of the Andes and Alps. It is not as famous or as well-visited as the other, larger glasshouses at Kew but it is one of my personal favourites. I was fortunate enough to visit on this occasion during a particularly colourful sunrise and whilst the grasses in the foreground were at full length (they get cut back by the Kew gardeners quite regularly). The resulting image had a unique yellowy-red haze to it which really made it stand out amongst others that I had taken and I knew I wanted to enter it in the competition.
When I checked the IGPOTY webpage for the gallery of winning images I was delighted to see that this shot had actually been awarded as a Finalist, essentially meaning that it had come in the top five of images in the 'Captured at Kew' category. This was amazing news for me as it meant this image was given the highest achievement I had ever received for any of my photographic work.
The day after the results were announced I headed to Kew Gardens with my best friend to see the winning images on display in the exhibition there. Some of the true winners were absolutely remarkable and, if you are able, I would absolutely recommend a trip to Kew Gardens to see the winning shots yourself. Having had a good look round we headed for the exit via the gift shop (who doesn't like a gift shop right?). When I was walking through I noticed the IGPOTY Competition 13 portfolio book for sale and instinctively opted for a browse through. I flicked to the 'Captured at Kew' section and was amazed to see my image, Alpine Sunrise, in print alongside the top 3 images and a fellow Finalist shot. I had absolutely no idea that my photograph was going to be published and, as you can imagine, I was very pleasantly surprised. To have my work printed in such a highly regarding book is a genuine honour and an achievement that I am very proud of.
It has been a very successful start to 2020 for my photographic work and seeing my image printed in a publication was a bit surreal. If you want to purchase a copy of the book itself you can do through the IGPOTY website or by visiting the gift shop in Kew Gardens. I would absolutely love to crack the top 3 of the 'Captured at Kew' category or maybe even take a chance at one of the main awards in next years IGPOTY. For now though, I am very happy with how things went this time around and cannot wait for my own copy of the Competition 13 portfolio to arrive in the post.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my recent photographic success. Please do check out my Instagram page or have a look through my shop if you are interested in potentially purchasing some mounted prints of my work. Someone once told me that they would make an excellent house warming gift and so if you know of anyone who is planning on moving house in the near future it might be worth a look.