Creating Award Winning Portraits with Alana Lee

June 18, 2019 Tip Tuesday

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The Portrait Masters Awards, Alana Lee Portrait Photography


I’ve always loved scrolling through the award-winning image galleries from professional photography competitions. Never would I have imagined that one day I would have my own images featured alongside these amazing photographs.

Everything changed in 2017 when Sue Bryce launched the Portrait Masters Awards and Accreditation program.

I decided to take a leap of faith. I submitted as many images as I could afford in the first round. I entered 26 images that year. Two did not merit (a score of 69) at all. The remaining scored mostly in the low 70s earning a bronze level merit. With my highest mark being a 77, at first, I felt deflated. Images that both myself and my clients loved were just hovering at “professional standard.”

I decided to take a critical look at my work, and the work of others who had scored higher.  I revisited the rules and listened attentively when the mentors and supporters reviewed images and spoke about what makes an award-winning image.

Little girl looking at pet goldfish, Alana Lee Portrait Photography, Sue Bryce Education

Award-Winning Portrait Tip #1: Technical Proficiency

Master the technical aspects of photography. First and foremost, an award-winning portrait must show technical proficiency:

  • Lighting
  • Composition
  • Styling
  • Focus
  • Posing
  • Connection
  • Post-production (including retouching)

There are many resources available online, but I personally found The Lighting Series by Felix Kunze and The Retouching Series by Pratik Naik to be most helpful. Of course, there are many helpful resources available within the Sue Bryce Education platform as well.

Veteran Portraits, The Portrait Masters Awards, Alana Lee Portrait Photography, Sue Bryce Education

Award Winning Portrait Tip #2: Tell a Story

In my experience, award-winning images set themselves apart by telling a story that is impactful, is obvious, and connects with the viewer. Create a narrative that is clear and evokes emotion. Avoid distractions that confuse or detract from the main message.

Richard Wood has some very good ideas on storytelling. He teaches compositing tricks from basics to more complex techniques in his tutorial The Creative Portrait Series. Learning how to add elements to your images in a convincing manner is essential when entering images into the illustrative categories.

teen girl holding baby duck, The Portrait Masters Awards, Alana Lee Portrait Photography

Award Winning Portrait Tip #3: Be Original

Inspired by the Old Masters Painters, I am always studying art from 1600-1800 and am drawn to the lighting, posing and color toning in art from the European painters of the time.

I encourage you to explore art and photography and pay attention to the details that YOU are drawn to the most. You can learn a lot from trying to reproduce a particular look, pose or composition yourself but the real magic comes when you take what you have learned and apply it in a new way.

I have tried many things that have not worked out, but rather than thinking of it as a failure I look at it as part of the learning process. There have been many times I have had an idea for a new image and I ask myself:

  • Is this a good idea?
  • Is there a way I can actually create this or tell this story?
  • Too different? I haven’t seen anything like this before…should I even consider this for an award entry?
  • What will people think?

If you are asking yourself these questions then you are well on your way to creating an award-winning portrait.

Final Thoughts

I know now that a great portrait can merit a bronze and slowly build my points up to earn my accreditation, so I continue to submit what I consider regular client portraits into the Portrait Masters Awards. But I also want to challenge myself to level up, master my craft and work towards more silver and gold winning entries.

I now approach the awards and accreditation program as a tool in measuring how I am progressing at mastering my craft. Through this journey I have learned many things along the way, not only about what makes an award-winning portrait, but also that we can grow so much as an artist and better ourselves through the process.


    1. Thank you, Marie! Are you preparing any images to submit for this round of awards and accreditation?