Three Bay photographers have achieved success in one of the country's leading photography awards.
Bay of Plenty Times photographer Mark McKeown took out the Photojournalism category at the prestigious Epson/New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP) Iris Awards.
Jake Thomas of Waihi has won the New Zealand Wedding Creative Photographer of the Year award.
It's a tough competition where all the entries are judged anonymously over three days by a panel of some of the most qualified and renowned local and international photographers who awarded just 14 gold medals this year.
Mark McKeown is a Multi National Award Winning Photographer and a NZIPP Fellow and Master of Photography. He is the current 2012 NZIPP Photojournalist of the Year and was a finalist in 2011 and also won the title in 2010. In the last three years he has won 23 NZIPP Iris Awards (1 gold, 11 silvers and 11 bronze).
"In 1994 I moved from NZ to the USA on an athletics scholarship to study and later in that same year began working as a photojournalist at the SDSU (South Dakota State University) Collegian newspaper. After completing a Bachelor of Science specializing in Editorial/Photojournalism, I continued working in the USA as a photojournalist until 2003 when I decided to return to NZ to base myself in my hometown, Tauranga."
On return to NZ, Mark began working as a freelance photographer and set up Musae Studios.
"I began shooting weddings and doing commercial work in 2003, along with freelancing for the Bay of Plenty Times newspaper and joined the NZIPP. Joining the NZIPP proved to be of great benefit, as well as my everyday involvement with the local community through the newspaper, where I have been working full-time since 2005."
The Epson/New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP) Iris Awards, a six-day event held in Christchurch at the end of September, saw Jake, and Mike Hill of Waihi Beach come away with 10 and nine awards respectively.
Mike also wanted to amass enough points to get his masters, which he did, and he is now a Certified Master of Photography with the NZIPP.
It's quite a coup for the area as there were more than 1200 high calibre entries from photographers in New Zealand and Australia.
Jake's accolade came about after the top three people who scored the highest in the Wedding Creative section each had three of their images taken out and judged again as a portfolio. His final image received a silver distinction award.
"They didn't have to be from the same wedding, and mine were from three different weddings," Jake says.
However, as Jake and Mike had only booked to attend two days at the event it wasn't until an hour and a half after Jake arrived home that he received a call asking if he would be going to the gala dinner - as he was a finalist in the wedding category.
"I couldn't believe it. I had to pack up the family and fly back," he says.
"Winning something like this is so epic and feels so good, but for me it's not something I did on my own. I feel humbled that I received the award, but so many others made it happen - my wife, Mike Hill and Nick Pitt."
This was the first time Jake, who specialises in wedding photography, had entered the competition. He admits he was nervous although he didn't have a lot of expectations, "I just wanted to learn and meet some other like-minded photographers, so I was stoked".
Jake, 30, a multi-award winner in Australia, has been working in the industry for the past 15 years, and owned his business for 10 of these, while Mike, 42, who has had a life-long interest in photography, has been a professional for the past four years mainly working in weddings and portraits.
Mike, the 2011 NZIPP Classic Photographer of the Year, had two goals this time: to get an award for a Waihi Beach Image and one for an image of one of his daughters, Chilli, 5.
"I always like to enter images from Waihi Beach because that's my home. I came away with a silver for my water image looking out towards Mayor Island with low cloud and reflections, taken with the camera in a water-housing just submerged. It's a very moody image. And I received a bronze award for the photo of Chilli, so I was stoked," he smiles.
"Gaining my masters is something I have been working on and I am very pleased to have gained this."
The awards allow a maximum of 10 prints to be entered in 12 categories. In the Landscape category Mike won silver and bronze, four bronzes in the Classic Portrait and two bronzes and a silver in the Classic Wedding.
Jake also entered three categories: Travel - winning two bronze, Wedding Classic where he won two silvers and two bronzes, and Wedding Creative where he won a silver distinction, silver and two bronzes.
"With the amount of passion you put into your images, you want to measure it on a national scale with your peers," Mike says, and Jake agrees, "It's a great experience to go up against other photographers and see where your craft is at."
Mike continues, "The good thing about the NZIPP awards is that you are expected to lift your game and your creative side.
"Having Jake here is inspiring," he says, but Jake quickly chips in, "We inspire each other and I have grown as a photographer by collaborating with Mike."
To which Mike responds, "The great thing about Jake's style is, it's very different from mine and it makes me look at my own style from a different perspective. The best thing for me is that it's pushing me as a photographer to be better."
One of the photographs Jake entered in the competition was taken at the museum in Te Aroha of a bride before her wedding - it won silver and Mike sums it up, "It's quirky brilliance."