When I entered my first international photography contest in 2013, I couldn’t even imagine earning one, let alone 15 Fearless Awards! The world is a big place, with countless incredibly talented wedding photographers I feel so incredibly fortunate to be ranked as one of the top 20 wedding photographers in the United States by Fearless Photographers in 2019.
Awards are given by a rotating panel of judges from all over the world. They look for innovative photographs that creatively tell a story. They want to be stunned, amazed, or feel like your images are redefining wedding photography. Photographers are grouped regionally, and for 2019 I was ranked in the “Top 20 in the USA” and “#1 in Pennsylvania.” The competition is intense, but I am extremely humbled to be off to a good start in 2020 by earning an award for the photo below.
This is my *15th* Fearless Award— Thank you to Kyle & Kalyan for being your awesome selves & having a killer wedding party who *brought it*!
Other 2020 award-winning images worldwide:
Here are just a few of the other winners across the globe– with stand out images from Mumbai, Florence, Shanghai, Moscow, Wales, and many other locations all over the globe! Congratulations to all! (See my photo in the middle of the top row?)
How does the competition work?
Fearless Photographer rankings are based on the number of awards given by several panels of judges across the globe throughout the year. Winning photographs are chosen for showing creative imagery, bold storytelling, and consistent vision. Narrowing the top wedding photographers world-wide takes time and there are several steps in the year-long process.
In the interest of keeping the judging as impartial as possible, images are anonymous, the panel of curators changes for each collection, and there are rules/limits (especially on photo-shopping, etc). With so few awards given worldwide, earning 2 in 2019 ranked me #1 in PA and in the top 20 in the USA!
My secret sauce:
In general, I try to fill the entire frame with a story, capture emotion, have a lot of pop (either vibrant colors, bold contrast, or both), and to capture something a little unexpected. I also keep in mind general rules of composition like the rule of thirds, leading lines, negative space/pattern, etc.
Of over 10,000 images submitted two of mine were finalists in 2019 but didn’t earn awards. This is one of them:
While current awards put me on “top photographers” lists (as I’ve shared I currently have 2), Fearless Awards are also tracked over a lifetime, and I have 15 of those. While my current awards have kept me at the top of several lists annual lists, including being one of the “Top 50 Photographers Worldwide in 2013” (with 6 awards) and “Top 50 Photographers Worldwide in 2016” (with 4 awards).
If you look at the list of “Top 100 fearless photographers of all time,” I’m currently on that list, too, at the very bottom, haha. With Victor Lax of Barcelona at the top with 94-lifetime awards and me at the bottom with 15. Very humbling indeed :).
Here is another 2019 finalist that didn’t make the final cut…
Want to see my other 14 award-winning photographs?
Before I show them to you, I want to mention that something very important to me is incorporating the uniqueness of individuals & capturing authentic moments in my photography– I’ll capture pretty portraits for sure, but what really makes me come alive is capturing authenticity whether that is a country scene in grandma’s back yard, a champagne toast that literally makes you feel a little tipsy, the serenity of having a private beach all to yourself or the hilarious moment when your flower girl attacks the chocolate fondue table in her white gown!
Here is my first award:
Country: Back in 2013, I was using sepia toning hehe, and I think it works… this is a dress shot from Kyrie & Andrew’s Stormy Lehigh Valley Wedding. I like the country scene here– a storm rolling in the bride’s gown and her baby’s romper pinned to the clothesline, the woodpile, windchime, cornfield, and the star of the show, her grandma’s dog who just wanted me to throw him a tennis ball!
Wheelbarrow: This image was from the same wedding and actually taken at just about the same spot in grandma’s back yard, haha! I wanted to capture the motion and excitement so I used a slow shutter and panned at the same speed as the groom was being pushed by his enthusiastic groomsmen in the wheelbarrow!
Window: As the bride’s family members gathered in the sitting room, there was something about the scene through the window that really caught my eye. Part of it was the original glass pains that gave the photo a painterly quality as well as the way they broke up the scene so perfectly if I stood in just the right spot. Geri & Nick’s timeless Philadelphia Wedding:
Limo: This one might make you feel a little tipsy, which is exactly my intention. You might need to take a second look ;). It is from Lori & Thomas’ fabulous New Jersey wedding:
Tools: So many ring shots are surrounded by pretty objects in photographs, I know I’ve taken many photos like that :). But for this shot, I noticed light beautifully hitting rusted tools and coins, and I thought there was something fun about having the wrench seem to be tightening the ring. From Eileen & Kevin’s wedding:
Prayers: When I first met with this couple, they mentioned how important their faith is. They explained their preparation space to me, they said it’s the room in the church where people have Bible studies. When I arrived I saw a room with conference tables and fluorescent lighting, when the girls were gathering to pray for Tina, I asked if it was ok if I turned off the lights, they said sure, when I did the conference table disappeared, so did the flicker and squeal of the fluorescents and what was left is the serene scene you see here. Khoa & Tina’s Harrisburg Wedding:
Glasses: It was about then that I noticed that one of my photography idols, Todd Laffler, was looking to hire his second photographers for the next year, I had one of the dates open, it was even at a venue I had photographed before. I reached out, showed him some of my work. He had me photograph the groomsmen getting ready and this is one of the shots I grabbed.
Judges shared, “This show makes you do a little work. Your gaze enters on the sharp subject in the background, jumps to the out of focus men framing the foreground, and then- finally- circles back to the reflections in the glasses. This little trick of perspective gives the image a nice sense of depth and narrative, plus a dash of humor.”
You’ll definitely want to take a closer look:
Turkeys: This was actually the first time I met Ashley & Jake, I have since photographed several of their friends and family member’s weddings, the last being Jake’s sister, Joanna, but at this point, I knew that Jake was a turkey farmer… I was like, do you think we could get some with them, too? (I love to incorporate unique elements that are significant to the couple whenever I can).
Waiting: I still remember the moment I showed Angela this photo, she was like, what?? I don’t even remember you being there!!. So sometimes I go into ninja mode. I find a place with an interesting scene with key players and good light and I just camp out quietly. Here the groom is helping Angela’s brother’s out on finishing touches as his father watches from the back window and Angela watches out the window as the guests arrive on the lawn for the ceremony.
Beach: A private beach all to themselves… I wanted the tranquility of the scene to be palpable with the billowing clouds above waves below and lone sailboat in the distance. I got sooooo far away from Julia & Max as they just enjoyed the view. I was shooting with a 200-millimeter lens and was probably 50 yards away because I wanted to get the full compression in the scene.
Jump: When we initially talked about her background Sarah shared that she was a cheerleader and that was something I wanted to bring in to her photos if I could find the right moment. I liked this space, the light and lines, and kind of camped out there. Sarah was just about to put on her dress and I could tell she was super excited, a ball of pure energy, she lept down the stairs and we wound up with this…
Judges said, “This scene is absolutely spilling over with lines and frames and gestures, It took an expert eye to combine them into a composition that works so well. The two brightest areas of the frame link the main narrative events. The dress and the excited bride, in a happy tale of the wedding-day preparations. Everything else either slips away into shadow or guides our gaze back to them. Tilting the camera to make all the lines diagonal perfectly suited the bride’s unexpected pose.”
Chocolate: Haaaaa, unforgettable– Lauren & Dan’s chocolate-loving flower girl in a white dress and all of the adults are living it up on the dance floor… I used a wide lens here so you could see all the fondue tools to really give a sense of place and filled the frame with elements of the story.
Ladybug: There was luck involved in this image for sure, when Alessia & Tim met me on location for this engagement session, I noticed a bunch of ladybugs hanging out in a very unphotogenic area of the winery, I put on my 100 mm macro lens and headed right for the swarm of them, placing the couple in the best light.
Judges said, “Ladybugs symbolize love, joy, and prosperity– so it’s got to be a pretty good sign to have one land on your engagement ring, right? The photographer got super close to capturing all of the detail, but didn’t overlook the opportunity to enhance the image with a sweet pose. Having him hold her hand and lean down to kiss it made the image even more special.”
Anticipation: This was the moment that the limo and Bentley arrived for Nancy & Kevin’s wedding. Everyone is in the same room viewing the same scene, yet they all seem to be thinking something different.
Nancy’s expression is priceless, such focus and anticipation— she shared that she is thinking about how close she is to finally seeing and marrying Kevin. Her little nephew is at the window saying “limo” in his cute, tiny voice. Such a sweet, precious moment. I shot with a tight aperture so that all fo their expressions were in focus.
It has been an honor for me to have so many of my images recognized and celebrated in such a global way, and to be able to make a living capturing such incredible and beautiful moments. I’m so happy to be off to a good start with one award for 2020. I’m really hoping that things will open up soon and that I will be able to photograph weddings in 2020.