Behind the scenes of my award-winning year at NZIPP’s Iris Awards

This year was my first year as an accredited photographer entering the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP) Iris Awards. 

I received three bronze awards in the Portrait category, as well as a bronze, silver, and remarkably a GOLD in the Family category. To come away with six awards from my first accredited year is a wonderful result from a lot of hard work to be a better photographer, to juggle life, family and small business aspirations this year. 

I worked really hard for this. When I wasn’t working, I was working on my entries; talking with peers, friends, and my mentor, editing and re-editing my work, refining my choices for entry, and then *gulp* paying the money and submitting the work. I even travelled to Palmerston North to meet with Rachael Smith of Rāhera Creative to discuss the best possible print options for each of my entries. I trusted her expertise and appreciated her patience with me as I learned about the best papers for my work (Rachael is a Master of Photography, NZIPP Distinction, and an Ilford Master! She’s also an Iris judge for nature and landscape categories). 

I had previously entered in 2021 and won a bronze award in the Portrait category which was amazing and terrifying. In 2022 I attended the live judging in Nelson. Soaking up the atmosphere, absorbing every detail, every word of constructive criticism I could, all with the aim of becoming a better photographer. I came away from the 2022 NZIPP conference with a new goal in mind: to become an accredited photographer and to win some awards!

The New Zealand Iris Awards aim to raise the profile and standard of professional photography throughout New Zealand. It offers photographers the opportunity to challenge creative boundaries. It provides inspiration for any photographer and it definitely sets the bar high for entrants.

You watch the judging live where a panel of five high calibre professional photographers view your (anonymous) printed photo, or digital entry, and award it a score out of 100. High scores are awarded bronze (a score between 75-79), silver (80-89), or gold (90-100). Distinctions are awarded if judged a high scoring silver or gold. A print is judged not just on the subject, story, professional standard of the photography but also of the print product and the presentation. Prints are handled behind the scenes by volunteers wearing white gloves, prints are individually displayed on the judging podium under special Ilford lights. The room is quiet while the judges observe, make their score, and then are given the opportunity to comment on your work. This all happens LIVE, which you can watch remotely or in person in the judging room. It is terrifying. And exhilarating. Devastating and the biggest high all in one. 

Rebecca McMillan selfie in front of her Gold award-winning photo 'A Royal Portrait' in the family category at NZIPP Iris

Getting to see my printed work on display after judging complete with a 'GOLD' award was pretty special

NZIPP Distinction of 'Associate of Photography'

Through the result of six awards this year the NZIPP Honours Council awarded me an NZIPP Distinction of 'Associate of Photography' at the Gala dinner. It even comes with a medal on a beautiful blue ribbon. So now I’m hooked. I’m already thinking about my entries for next year. I’m yet to set my goals for 2024 but challenging myself and making beautiful work continue to be motivation. I’m so grateful that our industry body provides this opportunity to grow and learn and to win some awards in the process. Thank you to the NZIPP!

A group photo of professional photographers in front of a photo wall at NZIPP Gala 2023

That's me (beaming) third from the right, with my fellow 'Associate of Photography' distinction award winners on stage at the Gala. Photo credit: Doug Records for NZIPP