Round 1, Water in the Landscape. Deakin took fourth place in the Water in the Landscape round, with the judges saying that ‘the infrared accentuates the foliage and clouds to stunning effect’

Last year, just 17 points separated Amateur Photographer of the Year winner Simona Bonanno from runner-up Lee Jeffries. In 2012, things played out a little differently. APOY veteran and familiar face on the leaderboard Dan Deakin produced a series of technically accomplished images that consistently impressed the judges and kept him in the top ten. Despite the return of old APOY faces, some of the most impressive entries yet from all over the world and plenty of tough decisions for our judging panel, Deakin’s dedication and skill eventually took him to the top of the leaderboard with a total of 314 points.

‘I’m absolutely thrilled,’ says Deakin, ‘I knew winning was a possibility – I got in the lead early on – but I had visions of it all going wrong and me going down in the last round.’

Round 2, Natural Light Portraiture. Deakin finished in 24th place with his image ‘Grandmother and grandson’

APOY first caught Deakin’s eye back in 2009. ‘I entered one or two rounds randomly, and I was always around the top 30,’ he says. ‘I never won anything, but I looked at the scores and realised that if you score well in every round, there’s a pretty high chance that you’ll win overall. So I entered in 2010 thinking I could win a round, and within two or three months I was top of the leaderboard!’

Deakin maintained this lead for most of 2010, but a drop-off in the last two months meant that the competition was ultimately clinched by Sean Slevin, while Deakin finished a respectable second. ‘I got in touch with Sean and he’s a good guy, so I lost to a worthy winner,’ Deakin says. ‘But I was pretty gutted.’ Deakin entered the fray again in 2011 and emerged from that tight competition in fifth place, having given the top scorers an excellent run for their money. Although that was a fantastic achievement by anyone’s standards, this year Deakin was keen to do even better.

Round 6, Exploring the City. Deakin shot this image of a spiral staircase in Boston, USA, for the Exploring the City round

Early Inspiration

‘I got an SLR in 2005,’ says Deakin. ‘I was always interested in photography as a teenager, but I was totally put off by the cost of film.’ Deakin cites his younger brother Jacques as being a large influence on his interest in photography and his decision to pursue it as a hobby. ‘He’s a bit of an artist – he does a lot of painting and sculpting – and he was doing photography when I was just getting into it, so I learned all the basics from him. I got a lot of inspiration from my brother,’ says Deakin.

Currently using a Nikon D700, Deakin has recently been experimenting with infrared techniques. He says that what he loves most about photography is the endless challenge it offers.

Round 4, At Dawn and Dusk. The Giant’s Causeway in Co Antrim was the venue for Deakin’s image

‘There’s always stuff to learn,’ he says. ‘As soon as you start shooting something new, you’re right back at the beginning of that steep learning curve. And there’s always something new – there are whole genres that I’ve never explored.’

An orthopaedic surgeon by profession, Deakin doesn’t get much of a chance to express himself creatively in his work, so he enjoys the chance that photography gives him to flex his creative brain.

Deakin did find some of this year’s rounds tougher than others, and he says that one constant source of support has been his wife Helen. ‘She screens all my entries and I ask her what she thinks,’ he says. ‘She’s given loads of advice on each round’s entry, and thinks of herself as a bit of a “photography widow” when I get a bit too carried away. She thinks all our holidays are planned around my photography, and I guess there might be a bit of truth in that!’

Round 7, On the Streets. Deakin took this image his home town of Nottingham

The Competition

Throughout 2012, Deakin proved himself to be a very adaptable and consistent photographer, scoring highly in almost every round. This isn’t to say that the competition was without its challenges.

‘To do well in this competition, you’ve got to be ready for all genres,’ he says. ‘I actually found the woodlands round [round 9] the hardest. I don’t know why this was difficult, because I do a lot of landscape work, but I must have gone out to Sherwood Forest four times and just got nothing – I was completely uninspired.’ Despite these setbacks, Deakin’s entry won him eighth place in that round.

Round 9, The Great Outdoors. Deakin’s image earned him 41 points and eighth place

Fortunately, Deakin remembers some of the other rounds a little more fondly. ‘I quite like the spiral staircase from round 6,’ he says, of the hypnotic, upwards-perspective architectural photo that won him seventh place in July. ‘I was in Boston, USA, for a week and knew that I needed some APOY shots. All my best photographs come from when I’m travelling, or when I’m in a new environment, so I had a really good couple of days with some incredible architecture. My entry was a funny photograph because it was totally unassuming: I saw this interesting staircase from ground level in a 1970s tower block. I took a few pictures of it and was just about to leave when I looked up and saw how they’d painted the ceiling orange. It was a totally unexpected shot.’

Despite the far-flung location of his city shot, the photograph Deakin says he had the best time finding was actually taken on his home turf in Nottingham. ‘I probably enjoyed shooting the street image most,’ he says, referring to his perfectly timed shot of a man leaping through a heavy deluge of rain, which bagged him 35 points in August. ‘I’m near the city centre, so I can run into town when I see thunderclouds. It’s actually pretty hard to time your arrival to get there when it’s chucking it down. I legged it in, leaving my long-suffering photography wife, and managed to get some good pictures of people in the downpour.’

Round 5, The Beauty of Plants. This round saw Deakin reach seventh
place with this image, which the judges described as ‘delicate and
compositionally interesting’

The Future

‘I’ll always be an amateur,’ says Deakin, when asked where he’ll be taking his photography next. ‘But a genre I’ve always enjoyed is documentary. When I get a bit more time, that’s what I’d like to concentrate on. I’d like to take on a personal project, develop it over a period of time and create a series of images that work together. It’s the sort of thing that’s never going to sell, but I can develop it.’

This is something that Deakin has already been experimenting with, thanks to some fortuitous new arrivals at home. ‘I’ve got a 16-month-old boy, and he’s probably occupied most of my photography,’ he says. ‘I guess you could say that’s been my project, although a lot of the images aren’t entered in competitions. Most people probably wouldn’t be interested, but it’s what I enjoy shooting.’ Deakin’s son has featured in APOY twice this year – his hand appears in the ‘Grandmother and grandson’ image for round 2 and in the third-placed shot for round 10.

Round 10, Life in Monochrome. The last round saw Deakin take third place, his highest position in the competition, with this shot of his son

Deakin has also found himself inspired to continue with these kinds of projects thanks to his admiration for his fellow competitors. ‘Lee Jeffries is an incredible portrait photographer,’ he says. ‘I only got into his work after APOY. That sort of work is the kind of way I’d like to go, I guess, although the fun of it is also that you don’t quite know where you’re going.’ Indeed, Deakin seems quite content that his photographic future is not set – when asked if he’ll ever be returning to the APOY arena, his response is a cryptic, ‘We’ll see…’

APOY Round by Round

Dan Deakin finished in the top 30 of APOY in eight of the ten rounds.
His highest position was third.

      Round and Theme  Position  Points 
 Round 1 Water in the Landscape   4th 36pts
 Round 2 Natural Light Portraiture   24th 35pts
 Round 3 The World Up-Close   00 00
 Round 4 At Dawn and Dusk   13th 35pts
 Round 5 The Beauty of Plants   7th 45pts
 Round 6 Exploring the City    7th 43pts
 Round 7 On the Streets   20th 35pts
 Round 8 Wildlife at Home or Abroad    00 00
 Round 9 The Great Outdoors   8th 41pts
 Round 10 Life in Monochrome   3rd 44pts

Why not enter the APOY 2013 competition?