What It Takes to Create an Award-Winning Photograph

What It Takes to Create an Award-Winning Photograph

What does it take to win an internationally respected photography competition? A few weeks ago, the Sony World Photo Awards announced their winners, one of whom was Fstoppers community member Mikkel Beiter, who won two awards: Open Travel and Denmark National Award. We caught up with him to find out about his work and his prize-winning photograph.

Beiter has entered the competition in previous years, making a shortlist of "Commended Photographers," which prompted him to enter again this year. He submitted 10 images for free and later took advantage to enter another batch as part of an offer, not expecting to win but happy to put his work out there in the hope of some recognition.

"I already know it will have a positive effect on my photographic career. I've received a huge amount of exposure, which is great," he explains, and he encourages everyone to submit regularly to competitions. His dream is to one day work for National Geographic and hopes that this recognition brings him a step closer.

Beiter prefers to enter competitions that allow free submissions, and in light of the recent IPOTY scandal, it's worth doing your research before paying any money. He also says that it's important to research the rules and various categories that are available when compiling any submission. His other regular favorites include the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year and the National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year.

Beiter is proud to be self-taught, experimenting early on with nightlife photography, a lot of trial and error, and then establishing his wildlife and landscape work, which he produces when he gets time away from his career in IT. He takes great inspiration from other photographers, especially the Fstoppers community, and has regularly sought to improve his knowledge through tutorials found on YouTube and those offered by the likes of Elia Locardi.

He acquired his first DSLR ten years ago but discovered a love of landscape and wildlife photography during a few months spent working as an environmental conservation volunteer in Botswana in 2013. Further travels followed — Namibia, the Caribbean, and Tanzania — before a trip to Lofoten in the north of Norway in 2016 transformed his approach. He began using filters and long exposures, as well as being more deliberate in his approach to his post-production work in Lightroom and Photoshop.

A few years ago, Beiter made his first trip to the north of Norway, which proved to be a pivotal point in his photographic career. He found himself researching in detail in preparation for the trip, checking times for sunset and sunrise, and calculating the angles of the sun. For the first time, he used a 10-stop filter from Lee Filters in addition to some graduated filters for the sky. All of this new attention to planning paid off, and he found that he really enjoyed the process, finding a new passion for landscape imagery.

His winning photograph, "Shapes of Lofoten," was captured during a subsequent visit to Norway, and came about as a result of a walk around Sakrisøy, one of the islands that makes up the Lofoten archipelago. The location itself offers some stunning vistas, and Beiter's visit was enhanced by a layer of fresh snow from the night before. "I caught something special, I think," he explains, capturing the shot handheld. "You can actually see how crisp the snow is. Combined with the cloud, the mountain stands out, and the cabin with its yellow color — perfect contrasts and perfect alignment!"

Beiter is a long-time user of Canon, shooting on an EOS 5D Mark III with an EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM, an EF 100-400mm 4.5/5.6L IS II USM, and a Tamron SP 24-70mm 2.8 Di VC USD G2. He enjoys using a number of filters made by Formatt-Hitech and explains that he loves the level of quality that they deliver. Be sure to follow him on Instagram and Facebook so that you can keep up with his next trip: back to Namibia, where he will be out exploring in a 4x4 with a rooftop tent.

Images used with permission of Mikkel Beiter.

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31 Comments

Jonathon Rusnak's picture

You can own the best gear money can buy, enough air miles to circle the globe, and a team of "photo slaves" to do your bidding. But you will still need to know how to use that gear, you will need to know where you are going, and your team will need proper instruction.

Jason Vinson's picture

Since it's so easy, let's see some of your amazing award-winning art.

Jonathon Rusnak's picture

You got me Bill, I'm hooked. Please enlighten me. What defines a "true artist"?

Anonymous's picture

I'm utterly confused by all of this; I too would like to see your "art".

I would acknowledge that we have seen way too many Iceland and Lofoten images of late. Just read an article about a travel photographer complaining that Iceland was so full of photographers he couldn't get a clean shot of many of the sites.
Of course, before that we suffered a lot of Antarctica images. And do not forget the Palouse.

We do have our list of hip photo spots and it IS true that we can see any number of these places on Flickr. Many are brilliant and many were a mere button push in the making.

A beautiful place surely helps make a beautiful photograph. A healthy checkbook makes it happen.

I always thought it was ETTR.

Jason Vinson's picture

Expose to the right to minimize grain when shooting at higher ISO levels. Expose to the left in order to preserve highlight detail when at lower ISO levels (if your sensor has good dynamic range to recover the shadows.

https://fstoppers.com/education/why-dynamic-range-my-favorite-and-why-i-...

Andy Day's picture

Fortunately, Sony appointed a panel of international judges, all respected in their field, to choose the winners, not some random internet troll hiding behind a keyboard. 😂

Anonymous's picture

Like a young troll learning to troll; this is so adorable.

"Enough money..." You know if you are passionate enough about something, you will find a means to accomplish your goals, no matter what your situation is.

Great story about Mikkel Beiter. But I noticed that in your other videos, Mikkel make no mention of Nikon, is there a reason for that?

Mikkel Beiter's picture

I don’t think I’m included in any videos? As far as I know :-)
I’m all Canon.

Benedict Eric's picture

Congratulations Mikkel Beiter

Mikkel Beiter's picture

Thanks a lot Benedict!

Studio 403's picture

killer photo. Well done, cheering you on

Mikkel Beiter's picture

Thank you so much!

Mikkel Beiter's picture

Thanks for the article Andy Day !

Andy Day's picture

You're very welcome. Super proud to have 'one of us' out there winning prizes. 😀

Mikkel Beiter's picture

I'm just happy to be a part of the community ;)

Mikkel Beiter's picture

The Fstoppers community has been a part of my journey the last couple of years, so I’m very much humble indeed :) Awesome place for inspiration and feedback!

Logan Williams's picture

Awesome image, love the composition

Mikkel Beiter's picture

Thank you Logan! Good to hear you like it!

Love the shot and I really enjoy reading a little of the back story about these photographers. Hopefully you'll continue to do this with other award winners.

Mikkel Beiter's picture

Thanks a lot Stephen! Good to hear you enjoy reading about my back story. Andy did a great job!

Lovely work and respect your process, Mikkel.

Mikkel Beiter's picture

Wonderful to hear George! Thank you!

Mark James's picture

Lovely work and a well deserved award. His style draws me in to explore more of the image and that is the most I can ask of a photo.

Mikkel Beiter's picture

Thanks for the kind feedback Mark! Great to hear your feedback :)

In fairness to him he was transparent in his submission that he removed items from the photograph. Having being there twice and spent a lot of time in Reine what he took out really changed the scene. He did a great job but it’s a sort of fiction. I know processing makes a big difference and taking out small distracting objects is quite common but taking out big bits is a bit too much for me.
Well done to him all the same.

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