So, what is a fearless award?
I’m excited to announce that this week I won my 3rd and 4th fearless awards for outstanding candid wedding images! But maybe I should explain the significance of what that means for me and what it means for you. What is a fearless award and why should you care about them? In this post I’ll dive in to the world of ‘fearless’, what these awards are about, and the stories behind my four awards! I joined Fearless photographers in 2016 and honestly? I never thought I’d win one. I still felt like being one of the best wedding photographers out there was a pipe dream. I started my photography business when I was only 16, but even as I aged (I won’t claim to have ‘grown up’) inside I still felt like a kid playing dress up with a hobby that I was pretending was a real job. So I was very surprised and honored when this image made it to win in collection 32 in June of 2016.
My First Fearless Award – 2016
The story behind this one is that I was actually second shooting – that’s when the lead photographer hires a second photographer to shoot for them on a client’s wedding day. Since I was not the lead photographer, I had no communication with the clients before or after their wedding day, and they might not even know this image is an award winner! I do hope they love it, as Nico kissing his mom’s hand just before walking her down the aisle was a totally unscripted moment that nobody had planned for – he just leaned in and loved on her (SOMEONE was also cutting a lot of onions at this wedding). As much as I was honored to have won an actual fearless award, I felt like I was just standing in the right place at the right time, and also that every other winner in collection 32 was far stronger than mine. Anyway.
What is Fearless photographers?
Fearless Photographers is a organization dedicated to lifting up wedding photographers’ candid work from around the world. They value photojournalism and realness. Their website also helps couples who are looking for amazing unposed wedding photography connect with photographers who are available. After joining, photographers submit between 6 and 18 photos per collection to a panel of judges, who award less than 2% of the 10,000+ images submitted. That’s an epic boatload of images to process! To say it is hard to win one is an understatement. Competition is fierce with only the best of the best winning a Fearless Award. It’s also one of the fairest photography competitions out there. All images are judged without anyone knowing who took them, and no photoshop, panoramas, composites or double exposures are allowed. In other words, photographs must represent authenticity. In every collection/round of judging, the judges change, so each time a photographer submits, they are putting their images in front of new eyes. The best thing about fearless’s judges is that they are wedding photographers themselves, so they absolutely get what goes into a wedding day, and the images aren’t judged against families, landscapes, or any other kind of photography. Since my first award was totally a fluke in my head, I tried for the next two years to shoot with Fearless in mind. To embrace the candid moments that may not be as pretty as what I was seeing on wedding blogs. To not always photograph the couple, but the people around them. People watching suddenly became a useful skill. Still, I submitted this image of Grandmas Smoking Only a dozen times before the right judges awarded it in collection 45.
My Second Fearless Award – 2018
Despite getting fire ants up my pants while shooting this wedding, (true story), it was still a blast. I first saw this ash tray close to the venue with this hand written sign taped to it before the ceremony, and thought that was an odd sign – whose grandmas were going to be smoking at this altitude? The answer was BOTH the bride’s and the groom’s grandmothers. And they needed this smoking zone to be closer to the barn so they didn’t have to walk as far to light up. It took me a few minutes to find the right angle to get both women and the sign in the frame, which was fine with them as they chatted about the health benefits of their different styles of cigarettes. I can’t make this stuff up! So I felt great that I had captured this funny and authentic moment between strangers that left as friends, but also just plain lucky that this funny thing happened at a wedding I was shooting. Fearless awards are often full of wild, wacky, party-hard, drunk-on-the-dancefloor, big emotion moments, and I felt like those things never happened at the weddings I was shooting so I’d probably never win one again. I have learned that every wedding has these moments, whether they are quiet or loud. And now I hunt them down like a stray cat looking for dropped cheese. No wedding is safe.
Fearless is one of the only sites where photographers are ranked by their awards – in other words, on the merit of the actual photos they take. You cannot pay to be listed higher, so it is not a pay-to-play vendor listing like The Knot or Weddingwire, where some photographers spend thousands to guarantee a spot in front of your eyeballs. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is!! Anyone looking for a photographer can go onto their site and fill in a request – say for their Colorado Wedding On July 30th. Photographers then respond if they are available, so couples don’t have to waste time contacting photographers who are already booked. You can use this feature here.
Fearless awards are about moments.
So, what kinds of images win awards? I like to think of it as moments that cannot be recreated. Moments that will never happen twice, and are so fleeting you’d miss them if you blinked. This is NOT a competition of who shoots in the prettiest location, with the prettiest people, at the prettiest time of day. Most of the awards are presented in black and white to emphasize the feelings in the photograph. Color images are awarded when the color contributes to the power of the image.
When I heard that my friends Ruth and Will were having a Nerf gun fight to kick off their reception, well.. at first I was a little bummed that I wasn’t going to get to shoot a nerf gun myself. Then I got over it. I was SO stressed before the nerf fight because I knew I wanted a killer shot of the action, and didn’t want to mess it up or light it badly. I think I adjusted my lights about 25 times and still never got quite happy with it. Even though an announcement was made to please NOT shoot the photographer, as soon as the war began my only option was to get low, and people were running all around me, picking up bullets and mostly trying to avoid the bride who was packing serious heat with this purple and orange machine gun. Phew – I nailed it with this photo of Ruth LOVING every moment of dominating her guests. Since I shoot mostly color images, I was so super thrilled to win an award in color this time for my third award.
COVID-19 and Event Photography… not a good mix.
The COVID19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on all the couples hoping to marry and have big parties this year, and I couldn’t be more empathetic to their hard decisions and cancelled plans. And it has also devastated my business as most folks have moved their weddings on to next year, leaving me with 10-20% of the income I’d started the year with. The night I won my third fearless award, I was talking about giving up. I felt like I couldn’t support my family on events anymore. I literally STOMPED upstairs to my office, almost in tears, sat down at my desk and saw that this image was fearless. In that moment, my imposter syndrome was broken. One fearless award, could be a fluke. Two fearless awards was crazy lucky. But when I saw I’d won my third award I felt like I was actually a great photographer – it couldn’t be luck this time. I shoot moments, and people, and fun, and sillyness, and people who want to look like themselves, and you know what – I’m good at it.
My Fourth Fearless Award – 2020
So cue my total shock when the next morning I saw I’d won my fourth award, also in collection 56!
When an image is selected by the judges in the first round, but doesn’t earn enough points to make the top 2% (often missing by just one or two points!) the image becomes an honorable mention. Images that get awarded an Honorable Mention twice become full fearless awards, which is how I got my fourth award of the very best flower girl in the world, Grandma Margaret, as she sprinkled the aisle in ultimate motorized style. A funny story behind this image is that the couple didn’t want to cause any stress to Margaret, so they only told her she was the flower girl on the day of the wedding! They decorated her scooter and she decorated herself and the aisle. Because she came up the aisle first, the entire wedding party and both spouses did not get to see her entrance – making this photo even more valuable to them! I’ve entered it many times since I took it in Sept 2019, and it was given an HM in Collection 54, and then another in 56, making it a true fearless award this round.
Over the last five years with Fearless, I’ve learned how to anticipate moments before they happen. I’ve been so inspired by the other award winning images and driven to win more of my own. I’ve also met some incredible Colorado fearless photographers whose friendship and encouragement means the world to me. Couples who hire candid wedding photographers value someone who they trust to capture a moment before it’s gone, because it transports them right back to what they were feeling in that instant. Sometimes these moments are ones the couple didn’t even get to witness on their day. The following images of mine were finalists, meaning they were selected in the first round of judging, but didn’t get enough points to earn the Honorable Mention or award designation. To me, that means these images are good enough and I just need to get them in front of the right judges!
So, why does any of this matter? Well, I feel like I got a promotion in a self employed world! Consistently winning awards means I’m prepared to catch your moments as they happen. I value the authenticity of capturing the shenanigans, unplanned wtf’s, and hilarity just as much as the epic photos of you looking like a badass, or sharing a romantic sunset walk. Whether it’s for your proposal, engagement, elopement or wedding, photography can and should be fun, exciting and deeply emotional and most of all – REAL. That’s what it means to me to be fearless.