Dan Deakin has entered an image into every single round of our Amateur Photographer of the Year competition for the past five years. He was second in 2010, fifth in 2011, first in 2012, second in 2013 and now, once again, first in 2014, for which he wins £5,000 worth of Olympus kit. Let there be no doubt – discipline and hard graft pay off.
‘I didn’t think I’d won!’ Dan says from his home in Nottingham, where he sits atop a makeshift throne of prize cameras and vouchers (probably). ‘I’d been in the lead for most of APOY 2014, but I didn’t score in three rounds this year.’
The last of these was round nine (see Dan’s complete scoreboard below), which Dan admits shook his confidence a little. ‘I thought, “Oh damn! I haven’t done too well,” but I knew that round ten was a strong image, so I thought that as long as I could stay at the top or near the top there would be a chance.’
The secret to the competition, in Dan’s view, is consistency. You don’t have to be a master of all trades, but you do need to be able to produce something for a wide range of genres, many of which will likely be out of your comfort zone.
‘It’s definitely made me shoot stuff I wouldn’t otherwise have shot,’ Dan says. ‘Flowers – I wouldn’t ever shoot flowers other than for APOY. I’ve got a total of three shots of flowers, all of which have been competition entries! It just makes you acquire different skills.’
Since we last met Dan, he has returned from a year spent living in Vancouver, Canada. Inspired by work he saw online – he cites a Portuguese black & white street photographer named Rui Pahla (www.ruipalha.com) – Dan set about creating a portfolio of similar images from his new city. And it paid off. Dan’s image ‘Kissing Couples’ earned a hefty 49 points in APOY 2014’s very first round – Street Life.
Despite this, when I use the term ‘street’ to describe the images, Dan mildly resists it. He instead suggests ‘people in the urban landscape’ as a better fit. Sounds like splitting hairs, but looking at his images you can see what he means. The people who feature are a smaller part of a larger story – that story being the city of Vancouver, which Dan had as his playground for a year.
‘I always take my best photos when I’m travelling or going somewhere new,’ he says. ‘We’d moved to a new city and it was all totally inspiring.’
Although he may not be entirely comfortable with calling it street photography, a significant proportion of Dan’s shots from his time in Vancouver definitely have that sense of spontaneity to them. What sparked this off, as he tells it, was downgrading his equipment.
‘I bought a little micro four thirds camera [a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7], and I took it everywhere,’ he says. ‘I took it to work, literally in my coat pocket. When you’ve just got this camera on you, that’s probably not quite as good as my full-frame but not far off, and the light is good or something happens, you can just get your camera out.’
Most of Dan’s entries for APOY 2014 were taken in Vancouver. During the time he and his family stayed there, he got to experience all four seasons, or as he refers to it, ‘the full roster’.
‘You can see the seasons change, and get the apps to tell you which way the sun’s coming up at different times of year,’ he recalls. ‘I guess the motivation was that I wanted some really good stuff for my walls to remind me of our year there.’
Dan brings up his walls a fair bit during our conversation – they’re the space where his best photos end up. He’s looking at them as we speak.
‘I’ve got a load of photos on my wall, and a lot are entries to rounds from this year,’ he says. He pauses to look around and a thought occurs. ‘Actually, there are quite a few entries on my wall!’
His time in this big, beautiful, unfamiliar city allowed Dan to experiment in a number of other ways, too. One of his APOY successes was taken from a series of urban landscape panoramas he spent a month working on.
‘That big panorama I took for the travel round [round seven], I had to get access to the top of one of the skyscrapers,’ Dan says. ‘It’s the best viewpoint in the city, so it took quite a bit of mischief to get up there.’
When I ask what kind of mischief, Dan suffers an inexplicable attack of vagueness. ‘Just, sort of, bending rules, talking to people,’ he says, the smile audible in his voice. ‘I managed to get up there three times. You want to get up there in perfect light, so if it was rubbish light I wouldn’t go up there and use one of my “credits” to get to the top again.’ He does not elucidate.
Whatever unorthodox methods Dan may or may not (a disclaimer for our readership in the Canadian police force) have used to get his results, that shot was worth it. How do we know? Because it’s passed the Deakin test – it’s up on his wall.
Closer to home
It’s worth reiterating that Dan has entered an image into every single round of APOY for the past five years. It is, he says more than once, perhaps time for a break.
‘I wasn’t going to enter this year,’ he explains, ‘but I came second by one point last year!’ He laughs at the memory. ‘It was pretty frustrating, so I thought I’d have another go to see if I could do a little better this year, and it worked out.’
The fact that the rest of the leaderboard might be sick of his name isn’t the only reason Dan might be taking a break from APOY. He admits that since he and his family returned from Vancouver, he’s found it harder to get inspired to take photos.
‘I haven’t really had much inspiration since I got back,’ he says. ‘I’ve been busy at work, busy changing jobs, moving house, with the kids.’
Indeed, Dan’s achievement and discipline in APOY is all the more impressive when you factor in raising two boys, one almost two years old and the other almost four – and he pauses more than once during our chat to tend to some urgent child emergency. Understandably, these days his photography involves less charming his way into skyscrapers than it does family portraits.
‘Most people wouldn’t be interested in it,’ he says. ‘But those shots are priceless, because you can’t go back six months, when your kid was half as old as he is now, and reshoot. If you don’t shoot now, you don’t get it at all.’
This isn’t to say, however, that Dan has been sacrificing photography as his art form for the sake of recording his children – instead, he’s been combining the two, and with some success. His entry for round eight, a shot of his sons in a tunnel, scored him a tidy 24 points.
‘I try to apply the same sort of creativity,’ he says. ‘Try to make a piece of art out of a family portrait, or a kid in the landscape. One entry that I loved, the kids in that black and white tunnel [round eight], is a family portrait for me, but for other people it’s just a black & white image that works.’
Dan never quite gives a definite answer as to whether this is truly his last APOY for the time being. Maybe in 2015 we’ll see him shooting up the leaderboard again. But one thing is for certain: in the future, there will be plenty more images up on his walls.
Dan’s APOY scoreboard
|Round and Theme||Position||Points|
|Round 1 – Street Life||2nd||49pts|
|Round 2 – Animal Plant||21st||30pts|
|Round 3 – World in Motion||7th||33pts|
|Round 4 – By the Sun and the Moon||0||0pts|
|Round 5 – Dawn & Dusk||0||0pts|
|Round 6 – Macro World||38th||13pts|
|Round 7 – In a Faraway Place||18th||33pts|
|Round 8 – The World in Black & White||27th||24pts|
|Round 9 – Kept in the Dark||0||0pts|
|Round 10 – Building Blocks||34th||17pts|