From Clicks to Critiques: Becoming a Judge of Prestigious Photography Awards

hospitality and hotel photography

Maraya Concert Hall, AlUla, photograph by Gerry O’Leary

Photography awards foster creativity and innovation as well as advancing the art form. As photographers, gaining recognition for our images can lead to better opportunities. I discuss my recent path from winning the Architectural Photography Almanac Awards to becoming a judge. 

I have spent over half my lifetime striving to illuminate the inherent splendour of the built environment through my lens. Throughout my career I have had the great honour of collecting many prestigious awards and serving as a judge on eminent panels where I was rewarding other photographers’ skill and creativity.

Founded as a hub for architectural photographers

In the past few years, I have formed a brand new association with the Architectural Photography Almanac Awards (APALMANAC), an annual photography competition created for and by architectural photographers. These awards are judged by expert professionals from the fields of architecture, publishing and museum curation.

APALMANAC was founded by Mike Kelley, a renowned photographer based in Los Angeles. He established the awards as an international resource for architectural photographers who could come together and take “a critical look at the craft of architectural photography.”

Architecture Photography in Dubai : Mosque of light, Dubai: Dabbagh Architects
Mosque of Light by Dabbagh Architects, photo by Gerry O’Leary

Winning the ‘Photo of the Year’ 2021

In 2021, I was commissioned to shoot the gleaming Mosque of Light in the United Arab Emirates by Dabbagh Architects. My photos were an important part of their submissions to many international architectural awards (which they won) but also garnered fantastic recognition for me, as one of my images was selected as the winner of ‘Photo of the Year 2021’ by APALMANAC.

I also received the runner-up award for Project of the Year for the Mosque of Light series.

Consecutive awards for architectural photography

Last year, I was both surprised and delighted to discover that I had won ‘Photo of the Year’ again, for a different project. This time, it was for my image titled ‘Geo Forma’ of the magnificent Maraya Concert Hall in AlUla, Saudi Arabia.

It is the world’s largest mirrored structure, nestled amid the desert landscape of Saudi Arabia. My aim was to convey the remarkable harmony between the colossal monolithic concert hall and its natural surroundings, underscoring its role in enchanting rather than disrupting that environment.

When awarding the image, Judge Celeste Bolt explained, “I love the horizon line has been honoured in this shot, with a gently faded light quality that doesn’t overpower the viewer, tempering the overpowering impact of the building.”

From winner to judge of the architectural photography awards

Having won ALPAMANAC’s best architectural image award for two consecutive years, I have been invited to be on the esteemed judging panel this year to adjudicate over this global awards programme. I was greatly honoured to receive a personal invitation to judge from the founder Mike Kelley, as I regard to be the best architectural photography competition on the planet. 

I’m sincerely grateful for the recognition I have received to date, it is humbling. I will never tire of my profession – both crafting images and being inspired by other photographers’ innovation and imagination. It will be exciting to see the entries for the ALPAMANAC competition this year.

I am based in the Middle East but often travel internationally for photography commissions, judging and awards. If you’d like to learn more, please get in touch.