Hey, fellow shutterbugs and creative souls! Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes when your masterpiece hits the competition floor? Well, get ready to peek behind the curtain, because we’ve got the inside scoop straight from the judges themselves!

In this blog post, we’re exploring the age-old question: What in the world do those judges actually look for? We get to hear from the pros to uncover the real deal. No fluff, no fancy jargon—just honest insights from the folks who hold the power to make or break your entry!

But hey, that’s not all! We know that gearing up for image competitions can sometimes feel like stepping into the unknown. That’s why we’ve got your back with our exclusive APNPI member’s library complete with a whole section dedicated to Image Competition, stocked with everything you need to sharpen your skills and boost your confidence. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned competitor, there’s a great bundle of resources waiting just for you.

So grab your favourite drink and get ready to crack the code of competition judging. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to swing by our member’s library—it’s your ultimate destination for all things competition prep and beyond!

APNPI Image Competition Judges on What They’re Looking For

“Impact and a clear story are what initially grab my attention. Images that tell stories draw you into them more. Why? They illicit emotion from the viewer. And a great story creates great impact. Any image that can make you draw your breath in when you see it for the first time, is an image that captures the soul. Combine that with incredible technical ability, stunning lighting, color harmony and the “right” post-processing will do well every time.”
Julia Kelleher


Julia Kelleher is a Nikon Ambassador, WPPI and PPA Master, PPA Master Artist and APNPI Ambassador. In business 13 years she specializes in newborn, children and family portraits out of her retail studio in Bend, OR. She is a seasoned judge and print competitor, having won multiple prestigious awards from all over the world. She is a passionate educator, teaching creatives how to strategically run their businesses with profitability and efficiency, while at the same time helping them balance family and personal obligations. She is a marketing guru, having helped multiple studios grow from in-home start-ups to 6-figure retail companies with steady, loyal clients and systemized processes.

“When viewing your image competition submissions, I am looking for authentic connections, beautiful light and creativity.”
Irene Bibee


Irene Bibee ~ the award-winning photographer behind Vine and Branch Studio in Prospect, Kentucky. With over 10 years of experience, Irene specializes in capturing the essence of Motherhood, Family, and Branding. Her keen eye and artistic touch have earned her acclaim in the photography world. Through her lens, she transforms moments into timeless treasures, creating visual stories that resonate with warmth and authenticity. Join Irene on a journey of visual storytelling, where every click captures the beauty of life’s precious moments.

Wow factor has a tendency to trump all. Being intentional with your work and really applying an understanding of lighting, shadows, lights, colors etc to tell your story will bring impact is what I look for.

Autumn Skoczen


Autumn Skoczen’s passion for photography has awarded her several international accolades and recognition. Specializing in maternity, newborns, and composite editing, She loves challenging herself with lighting, AI technology and diving deep in the evolving world of photography. She teach lighting, editing and business classes regularly as Autumn also shares a passion of helping other entrepreneurs and artists being their vision to life. She lives in Cleveland Ohio with her four kids and 2 dogs.

“I am looking for an image that stops me in my tracks. Unique images. I love seeing contrast, the use of color and creativity.”
Claudia Aguilar


Claudia Aguilar is the founder of Captured by Claudia Photography. Her studio is based in Texas, where she photographs mothers- to- be and babies. Photography found her by accident almost 10 years ago when her husband bought her her first camera. Claudia has always liked to share her knowledge, she therefore offers mentoring to help photographers to succeed and make a living from their passion. Claudia is known to be the photographer that LOVES to use COLOR in her images. It simply makes her HAPPY!

Creativity and impact! These are strong elements for me.

Attention to details and care taken when creating art.


Creativity with lighting means the photographer demonstrates technical ability and skill in order to create their art.

Tianna Jarrett Williams


Tianna Jarrett-Williams  Tianna is a maternity and newborn photographer based in Birmingham, United Kingdom where she has a small studio near to the city centre. Her love for this speciality grew from her past career as a professional and registered nurse and midwife. Whilst photography began as a hobby after the birth of her first daughter, she quickly fell in love with the craft and soon became consumed by the desire to be creative. After navigating a few specialities, Tianna settled on the art of pregnancy, motherhood and newborn photography because these genres in coalescence with her passion for women becoming mothers and their journey through motherhood inspires her daily. Whilst the primary focus is on maternity and newborn photography, Tianna does enjoy creative and styled projects with a special interest in culture which often can be appreciated in her work. Tianna lives with her two young children Zara and Olivia; and long term partner Ashley, near Birmingham.

I am looking for images that have a wonderful story, great composition and excellent technical skill. Each image will receive equal attention and consideration.

Jennifer Gilbert


Jennifer Gilbert CPA is a Nationally Accredited Family and Portrait photographer, as well as Accredited Judge, with the Professional Photographers of Canada. She has been photographing families at all stages of their lives since 2008 and recently celebrated her 15th year in business. Jennifer is based in Tottenham, Ontario, and her images are classic and timeless. Her clients love to hang artwork in their home from their session. She prefers to photograph families outdoors at a location that is special to them. She ensures each client feels special and takes them through a consultation and image reveal meeting.

I like to see images that are in focus, cropped well, clean edits, and have good transitions in the background. I also look for images that have an interesting perspective, or level of creativity. I love to see images where color theory and harmonies are well executed.

Joanna Booth


Joanna has won several silver awards in the prestigious world-renowned image competition at WPPI and Portrait Masters. She has achieved her associate photographer accreditation for both and is working towards becoming a master photographer designation. Joanna has been featured over 20 times in Vogue Italia. Her work can also be seen in online magazines and articles such as Voyage Houston, ShoutOut Houston, and Houston Family magazine. In addition to these features, Joanna has taught on the Tomaiya Colvin Education platform, and has been interviewed by the Sue Bryce Portrait Podcast and Creative Collaborations.

Submissions should combine a stong composition with clean lighting as well as allow the view to be drawn into the subject and or feel the emotion of the moment.

Trayc Dudgeon


Trayc Dudgeon ~ Trayc is an APNPI Mentor, accredited in Maternity, Macro, Sitters and Newborn Posed categories, serves as a judge and is an avid contributor to the APNPI community. She creates stunning imagery having been educated as a photographer at Humber College with over twenty years of experience in the field. Trayc is safety trained and internationally recognized as a qualified newborn photographer with APNPI. She is also an award winning accredited portrait photographer with PPOC (Professional Photographers of Canada). She’s been passionate about art and photography her whole life and was inspired by her first photography class in high school where she fell in love with the art form. Tracy is wife to her best friend, super proud mama to 2 amazing young adults and 3 fur babies.

“For me, the people I photograph are always at the center of my art. I want to see how photographers beyond creating beautiful photographs but capturing people’s precious moments and stories in a beautiful light.”
Shan Fisher


Shan Fisher is an international photographer educator, motivational speaker and the owner and CEO of two successful companies –Shan Fisher Photography and Shan Fisher Education. She is specialized in the timeless white and emotional storytelling photography style. She built my 6 figure photography business from the ground up, while being the mum of two little boys. She is one of the most sought-after photographers on Isle of Man, British Isles and has received the Awards of Excellence Enterprise for 2 consecutive years (2018 & 2019).​ Her signature training and coaching programs, which give photographers a streamlined business framework, modern marketing techniques, and support to develop an entrepreneurial mindset for success. Her purpose is to empower photographers to follow their dreams, overcome their limiting beliefs, discover their true potential and self-worth, and build a profitable business with passion and compassion, so they can live the life they love!

“When I am presented with an image to judge, the first thing I’m subconsciously aware of is the obvious – the image’s initial impact.
It doesn’t stop there, but it’s where I start. That isn’t to say that a low-impact image would score low or that a high-impact image would score high. It’s just the starting point, and that gut reaction forms the baseline.
From there, it’s an investigative journey. It’s a more conscious exploration. I let the image guide my eyes as I observe elements such as subject matter, emotional impact, storytelling, composition, lighting and colour.
Depending on what I’m judging for (accreditation, image competition, etc.) and the guidelines for what is acceptable and the pre-defined standards, I add or subtract points, mentally, from the image.”
Bryan Caporicci


Bryan is an award-winning wedding and portrait photographer based out of Fonthill, Canada. In 2014, he was awarded his Masters of Photographic Arts (MPA) designation by the Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC), making him one of the youngest Canadian photographers to receive this level of achievement. Bryan is the lead content creator at SproutingPhotographer.com and the host of the Sprouting Photographer Podcast. He teaches at workshops across North America, including industry-leading conventions and conferences such as WPPI, Shutterfest and Canada Photo Convention. Bryan is also the CEO and Founder of Sprout Studio.

Charmekia Bias

“In the imagery, I am always looking for emotion. As photographers, we can all take beautiful images but without emotion it’s just an image. I need to feel the emotion. That’s what’s captivates and grabs my attention.”

Charmekia Bias


Charmekia is a maternity, newborn and family photographer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a wife, mom to two beautiful children and takes pride in being an Air Force Veteran. She’s been a professional photographer for nearly 4 years and has always had a love for photography but quickly gravitated more towards newborns. It’s truly been an amazing journey perfecting her craft. Being a newborn photographer has brought her more joy than she thought she could ever have with a career.

“Images that catch my eye have a clear colour story as well as attention paid to technical details like cropping, temperature, and thoughtful use of light and shadows. When all of these elements are in harmony, they disappear into the background and I’m able to see and appreciate what the photographer intended to convey in the image.”

Jessica Nip


Jessica specializes in creating maternity, newborn, and family portraits that are soft, natural, and that capture authentic emotion and connection. Her relaxed lifestyle approach and fine attention to detail ensure clients are photographed in a manner that is comfortable while producing images that are flattering and timeless. Whether in her cozy Toronto studio or on location, her full service approach helps her clients feel completely taken care of from the moment they book their session to the moment their art is in their hands or on their walls.

First and foremost, I am looking for impactful images that evoke emotion and tell a story. This of course must be backed up with excellent technical skills and a pleasing composition.

Shailee Connolly


Shailee Connolly specializes in Newborn and Maternity Portrait photography. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, she has received awards and recognitions for her work. In 2020 and 2022, she was awarded first place in the APNPI competition in the newborn category, as well as a PPA silver photographer of the year award in 2017 and a bronze photographer of the year award in 2018. Additionally, she earned second place in the Children’s Portraits Category of the Professional Photographers of America’s Western District print competition in 2017. Shailee holds Bachelors degrees in Fine Art and Education, with a major in painting. This, along with her previous career as a high school Visual Arts teacher in her hometown of Brisbane, Australia, gave her a solid grounding in and passion for creating art in a variety of disciplines. When she became a mother in 2011, she transitioned her skills to newborn and maternity portrait photography. She has been a professional photographer for over 8 years after relocating to the US with her family from Australia. Shailee always aims to create stunning, timeless images that her clients will cherish for a lifetime. Her style blends fine art with a more natural, organic approach to photography, and she works closely with her clients to ensure that their vision is brought to life. She specializes in heirloom quality, archival printed artwork that her clients proudly display in their homes.

“The most important elements of a quality portrait is the ability of the photograph to communicate with the viewer. It should have good composition, lighting, and most importantly an in-focus subject matter.”

Angelica Lawson - Sam


Angelica Lawson – Sam is a published portrait artist specializing in Newborn, Maternity and Baby’s First Year portraiture in in Houston, Tx. She owns and operates A Little Taste of Heaven Photography, a full-service portrait studio. In addition to operating her studio full time, she is a educator and mentor. Sharing her knowledge of newborn safety, photography and business is her passion, and she feels extremely blessed to help encourage growth and education in the industry. She appreciates the people met, the stories told, the hours kept, and the capturing of some of life’s greatest milestones.

“What grabs my attention first – the overall image. I study light and the correct use of it as well as the posing of the client/newborn. When viewing a maternity image I regard posing, use of light and emotion the image leaves the viewer. Newborn posing should encompass safety and not overwhelming the image with the use of props. Remember, simplicity is always timeless.”

Alli Peck


Alli Peck is a Canadian photographer who specializes in newborn and maternity photography. Her specialty is the expecting mother and the showcasing the natural beauty of pregnancy through photography, Alli has travelled the world teaching other photographers how to capture this precious time by the use of lighting, posing and editing photography techniques. Alli is a proud Ambassador for APNPI.

“I look for creativity, lighting techniques, composition and visually interesting images. One of the most important things I look for is focus, focus, focus!!!! And I love to see originality, special touches and small details that help tell the story and/or show your personality and style as an artist.”

Caralee Case


Caralee Case is a professional photographer based out of Idaho Falls, Idaho and is easily recognized for her use of vibrant, rich color, her attention to detail, and her ability to capture the essence and purity of new life. She is a part-time photographer and a part-time educator! Caralee has two amazing children, and a wonderful, supportive husband who are the joy and inspiration of my life and my business. She is a lover of family, food, fun and photography. Her enthusiasm for photography started with the birth of her first child. Caralee started her photography business in 2008 and it has been such a wonderful journey!!! She loves to meet new people, make children laugh, capture the beauty of new life, and share her passion for photography with others.

For photography, the most important aspect for me is connection. Whether it be between the photographer and the subject(s) or between the subjects. I want to feel something. I want to think about how the people in the photographs will feel about those photos in 25 years. Photographs are our one and only true time capsule, all the details matter.
Angie Knutson


Angie Knutson found herself entering the photography industry when she was 20 after receiving an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts. Angie takes a really relaxed approach to her sessions, allowing the babies to determine every step of the way. Angie is also well known for her hospital Fresh 48 sessions. That genuine adoration in the faces of her clients is what she lives for. While posed newborn sessions are her bread and butter, there’s something about Fresh 48 sessions that can’t be touched. When Angie looks back at photos of her childhood, it’s the photos with the messy backgrounds, unplanned outfits and interaction that are her favorites.