After an exceptionally hard-fought contest, Dusica Paripovic has been crowned the winner of APOY 2013. She talks to Jon Stapley about the highs and lows of the competition

Round one Portraits in Artificial Light entry scored 34 points for Dusica

The Amateur Photographer of the Year competition 2013 is all over. After ten rounds, thousands of entries and 500 images selected by our judges, all that’s left is dust, smoke and a handful of determined photographers whose images shone consistently and brightly enough to pull ahead of the pack.

Yes, this year’s APOY has drawn to a close, and after a protracted battle, Dusica Paripovic of Bosnia and Herzegovina has emerged the winner. Dusica entered every APOY round, and the judges always looked forward to her interpretations of the briefs.

 There are many aspects of technique and style that make Dusica’s images undeniably hers – the sparse, creative use of lighting, effective simplicity in composition and colour -yet it was never possible to predict what she would enter for any given round, and always a pleasure to find out. She didn’t score points in every round, but she hit the mark often and hard enough that it was a pleasure to award her with first place and £5,000 worth of photographic goodies courtesy of Panasonic.

‘Since I learned that I had won, I haven’t been able to do anything productive!’ Dusica says, ‘I’m too excited, and I just can’t wait to get those fantastic prizes!’


Dusica’s image for the Life in Motion round (2) failed to make it into the top 50

However, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that Dusica would take the title. Until the very last round of the competition she was neck-and-neck on points with 2012’s winner Dan Deakin, until in the final stages she managed to squeeze past him by a single point.

‘Dan contacted me to congratulate me on winning, which I thought was really nice of him,’ she says. ‘I think he is a fantastic photographer, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of his photos in APOY 2014.’


Dusica scored 40 points for her entry in the Animal Kingdom round (3)

From the Beginning
While Dusica has loved photography for as long as she can remember, she only considers her true start to have come four years ago with the purchase of her first DSLR, the Nikon D5000 she still uses today. Working around her job as an English language teacher and translator, Dusica has put in the hours to develop her personal style of photography.

‘I have learned that you don’t have to have the best equipment or live in a beautiful place to take beautiful photos,’ she says, ‘and I’ve learned that competition doesn’t matter because we all have unique styles.’

Dusica scored 32 points for her image in the Interior Architecture round (4)

That may be easy for a winner to say. Whether or not competition really matters is a debate that could rage all day, but Dusica was well and truly in APOY to win it. This was just as well, because by no means did the other competitors give her an easy ride. It took a few rounds for her to gain momentum.

‘The competition was tough,’ she says. ‘After each round I would go through the gallery to get inspired and to learn. The most challenging round was the second [Life in Motion]. I just don’t have good action shots and I wasn’t surprised when I got no points.’

Fortunately, when it went well, it went really well. Dusica scored her first big coup with 40 points for her entry in Round Three, The Animal Kingdom. It’s a fantastic shot, showing the personality of a mother dog and her puppy with a clever use of a shallow depth of field that makes it unique. The shot remains Dusica’s favourite that she submitted to the competition.

This image was awarded 34 points in the Floral Still Life round (5)

‘Perhaps it’s because it’s cute and sad at the same time,’ she says. ‘The mother was the dirtiest dog I’ve ever seen, but all her pups were clean and perfect. I wanted to show that contrast.’

Of course, this is easier said than done. American comedian WC Fields supposedly warned, ‘Never work with children or animals’, and in getting her Round Three shot, Dusica found out why.

‘The puppies wouldn’t stand still for a second,’ she ruefully recalls. ‘And there was no messing with the mother, either. This meant the shot wasn’t posed – I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time.’


‘I thought about the Round Six People at Work subject for weeks,’ says Dusica

Being in the right place at the right time is especially critical, in Dusica’s case, as she isn’t one for rescuing a shot in Photoshop. While many of her images are reliant on post-processing effects for their specific look, turning a poor shot into a good one isn’t quite her style.

‘I’m not very skilled at post-processing work,’ she says. ‘It just comes down to removing the clutter, adding contrast and sharpening, and my favourite part – adjusting the colours. I love using filters and actions, and just playing around until I get something I like.’

Flashing Lights
As already mentioned, often the quality that instantly allowed the judges to identify a Dusica image was the use of lighting. A single, strong source of light is a frequent visitor to her photography, especially in her portrait work, and it is what often gives her images that sparse beauty and a stripped-down feel to the composition.


This image scored 16 points in Round Seven Black & White World

‘I’ve watched many video tutorials, and they pretty much all teach that we need a main light, a fill light, a hair light, a background light and then, if we’re outside, we need to learn to mix ambient light with flash,’ Dusica says. ‘I believe all that is complicated and unnecessary. I have one cheap flash unit and a white/silver reflector, and that’s all I use. When I’m outside, I don’t bring anything but my camera.’

The single light doesn’t always have to be artificial (witness the clever use of the setting sun in Dusica’s entry for Round Nine, Going Abstract, but one of the most intriguing examples of the technique came about through the use of Dusica’s trusty flash unit.

For Round Six, People at Work, Dusica submitted an image of a masseuse (herself) at a table With only the hands and the subject’s back illuminated by the soft yellow light, much of the frame is darkness. It’s a perfect example of distilled photography – so much detail has been removed, and yet the viewer understands instantly what’s happening.


Dusica failed to score any points for this image in Round Eight Wideangle World

‘I thought about the Round Six subject for weeks,’ Dusica says. ‘I walked around the town many times and got absolutely nothing. Then I got the massage idea, but I didn’t want it to look like a stock photo.’

Taking inspiration from a similar image she submitted in Round One, Portraits in Artificial Light, Dusica set about creating the minimalist lighting set-up that would let her achieve the effect she wanted.

‘After every shot I would run to see the photo, run back to move the light and position the hands,’ says Dusica. ‘It pretty much came down to setting the flash unit to the lowest setting, and finding the perfect spot for it. Every centimetre, in every direction mattered. Also, the flash unit didn’t work properly and would fire once every 15-20 clicks. But in the end, it was worth it.’ 


The setting sun is the single light source in this picture – Round 9 Going Abstract

It certainly was. Dusica’s entry for Round Six won second place, and saw her gaining a lead on the competition.

Do it all again?
This has to be the closest APOY competition we’ve ever judged, but however tough it was for us we know it was much harder for the competitors. Dusica isn’t the only person who rose to the challenge, as a host of photographers produced fantastic images for each and every round. It’s just a shame that space and prize allowances do not permit honouring them all.

‘Enter every round, because every point counts,’ is Dusica’s advice for new entrants. ‘I wish when I started I had known that APOY was different. I’m really tired of photo competitions where portraits of wrinkly, homeless old men always win, where the same photos come top over and over again.’


A score of 34 points in the final round Under the Weather saw Dusica take the 2013 APOY title

Dusica has plans to expand her photography in the future – and first on the list is to start working with models so she takes fewer self-portraits and stops ‘bothering friends’. But what we really want to know is, will she be entering the APOY 2014 competition?

‘I’m looking forward to it,’ she says.

If you think you’re up to the challenge of entering APOY, which is held over ten rounds, see AP magazine dated 1 February to find out more or look for the details on the AP website.

Dusica’s Kit Bag
As well as her trusty inexpensive flash unit, Dusica also has a host of other equipment that accompanies her on a shoot.

‘I use a Nikon D5000 camera, a kit lens, a Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6, a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 and a Nikkor 35mm f/1.8,’ she says. ‘I use a tripod, but only when I have to. What I like about the kit lens is that I can come really close to the subject – I shot my Round Five, Floral Still Life photo with it.’

The Nikon D5000 was a well-received camera on release, but it did draw some criticism for its relatively unimpressive ISO range – native 3200 expandable to just 6400, which wasn’t all that high even in 2009 when the camera was launched. However, as one of Dusica’s pet hates is image noise, this doesn’t bother her.

‘I try to avoid raising ISO whenever possible, and that has cost me many great shots,’ she says. ‘I don’t recommend limiting yourself like that. I’ve had my camera for four years, and the first time I shot with a really high ISO was when I was out shooting for Round 10, Under the Weather!’

Dusica Paripovic finished in the top 50 in seven of the ten rounds of APOY. Her highest position was second

see the APOY 2013 gallery for the top 30 photos in each round

               Round Position   Points  
1. Portraits in Artificial Light    25   26pts
2. Life in Motion 0   00pts
3. The Animal Kingdom   6   46pts
4. Interior Architecture   16   32pts
5. Floral Still Life   17   32pts
6. People at Work   2   45pts
7. Black & White World   36   16pts
8. Wideangle World   0   00pts
9. Going Abstract   0   00pts
10. Under the Weather   20   34pts

To see more of Dusica Paripovic work visit www.fineartamerica.com/profiles/dusica-paripovic.html

Read runner-up Dan Deakin’s interview