Bronze to Silver: Level up your Portrait Masters Awards Submission

January 21, 2021 Artist Spotlight

Episode 54: Matt Stagliano, Joanna Ziemlewski, Annie Marie, and Erica Manning

In Episode 54 of the Portrait System Podcast, Nikki Closser talks to four photographers who have all leveled up their Portrait Masters Awards submissions to achieve silver medal status after previously attaining bronze. You’ll hear many perspectives – all varied and wise – from Matt Stagliano, Joanna Ziemlewski, Annie Marie, and Erica Manning.  Remember, awards submissions are open from Jan 15 – Feb 15, and if you are looking for ways to bring up the level of your contest submissions and score more points, you won’t want to miss this podcast!

Keep reading below to see silver winning portraits and inspirational quotes from each of these photographers.


Matt Stagliano – Stonetree Creative

Know the reasons why you are going into the competition. For me, it was that I wanted something I could market the studio with, and say, hey, you come here, you’re going to get this consistent quality. So that was a big driver in me, trying to achieve the accreditation. Now that I’m there, my focus is shifting more towards the creative work to target the silvers, to up my game, to take all this learning from the community and make my images better, and that’s my goal from this point forward.”

How to Earn Silver Podcast

“You don’t need a lot.  You can do it all yourself. You know how to do all this.  Use yourself as the model. Just create. Just try things. Just don’t be afraid to fail, and you never know what you’re going to wind up creating.


Joanna Ziemlewski – SoulScaping

“What I really think the difference was, was that I did this session for myself. I knew what I wanted it to be. I knew the story and the emotion that I wanted to capture. And we – me and the model – we just did it for fun. You know, there was no pressure there, and we weren’t trying to make it perfect. . . And I think, that’s where the key was. And like I said, in that final editing, and really getting into those details.”

How to Earn Silver Podcast

“I actually did a lot more than I was intending. I will also add that I did get feedback from other photographers because I wanted their feedback. I was pushing myself past my limits – more than I was comfortable with. And when I posted it, and when I got the feedback, they told me, “No, it’s still too flat. Do more.” And so I went back and I really did a lot more . . . I spent a lot of time in the details, which is not something I do for regular clients.”


Annie Marie – Annie Marie Photography

“I started shooting for myself. That’s one thing I didn’t do in over twenty years of being in business. I never shot for myself and styled sessions and kind of created the whole image for competition and for myself. So I would invite past clients or do a little model search or something, and I would start getting ideas in my mind and shoot for competition. And then I learned the editing process that goes along with it because it is very detailed editing, and I just got obsessed with styled sessions.

A lot of it is in the details. You have to look at the entire image. You have to look at the background. You have to look at their clothing. You have to look at the posing, their expression. A lot of it I think can be dealt with in post processing – like cleaning up the backgrounds. And . . . you have to really know lighting . . . Find a client that you enjoyed working with, and take them in the studio and play with some lighting and some ideas and try to elevate the images just from sitting there looking at the camera to a little bit more – add a little bit more into it as far as storytelling, or add some props or something that maybe tells a little bit of a story and has a little more emotion . . . Sometimes you have to push yourself outside of a comfort zone.”


Erica Manning Erica Manning Photography

“My goal at that point was to submit silver level work, so after looking at the ones that scored low, I figured out why I thought they scored low. And a lot of times, it was just not enough time, not enough craft put into those images. And then the ones that scored high, again, well thought out – from concept all the way through editing, and often they told a story. It might be an overt story, or it might be a subtle story, but each one told a story, so I knew that was something that needed to happen again.”

Norm the Cat

“So much of my time is spent thinking about the concept. It’s just doing all sorts of research and trying, like for example, for the flapper sessions that I had done – Gatsby Sessions I called them – really looking at that era, looking at the hair styles, looking at the mood in the imagery that I had seen and trying to come up with a story for the subjects of each of those sessions. I would say that is where much of my time is spent – before I even shoot. It’s thinking through the concept, and then once I have that, then I execute. Then I create the styling, and I make sure my lighting is exactly the way I want it to be. And then I do the session, and then I spend a ridiculous amount of time editing – just paying attention to every aspect of the image.”

Flapper Dresses

I call it the cycle of Sue Bryce Education. I improve self worth. I charge more. Do fewer sessions. Fewer sessions means that I have time to improve my skills and try new things. Improved skills translates into better scores and awards and accreditation. And then those better scores helps improve my self worth, where I can charge more, so it just continues to cycle up and cycle up.”


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Learn more about the Portrait Masters Awards and Accreditation 

Submission window closes February 15, 2021