What an insane week. It started with my birthday madness, shared on our Facebook page because the MTog’s gave me the best surprise of my life and it continued non-stop thereafter. There is so much to cover so instead of just posting on socials and running out of characters, this needed a vlog and a blog. Really, this is about the Convention, an annual event hosted by The Societies of Photographers in central London over 4 days featuring a trade show, classes, superclasses, a live 20×16 print competition with incredibly stringent judging complete with transparent scoring criteria, along with an evening awards ceremony on Friday night. It starts on Wednesday and ends on Saturday, but in between is where all the magic happens.

It’s not the first time I’ve entered the 20×16 print competition and I did have a 90+ scoring finalist last year, however, this year was extra special because I’d been focussed instead on preparing a panel of 20 images to put through for a fellowship. A fellowship is the highest qualification level a photographer can get inside the organisations, and although I achieved one with the MPA in 2021, a Societies fellowship was one I’d been aiming at for a while. Over 100 hours went into creating the panel, and it was scheduled for judging at 10am on day one of the event. 

The print competition runs over Wednesday & Thursday, with an exhibition of high-scoring images to view on Friday and Saturday. I knew before heading to London that the only category that I’d entered, Pet Portrait, was scheduled for Thursday from later morning/early afternoon onwards.

In between all of the events, we needed to do a lot of other things. Three booked shoots with epic dogs in London, a little bit of work around the trade show, an MTog meet-up on one of the evenings and, of course, the awards ceremony on Friday. I’ll walk through the days briefly below, you might want to skip some bits, that’s fine!

Day 1

Wednesday 15th March

I am so very proud (and relieved!) to announce that I passed another Fellowship qualification this week with the weirdest set of work I’ve ever created. I felt sick whilst prepping the prints and shook like a leaf whilst delivering my statement to the judging panel, but after their deliberation and me thinking it was a sure-fire fail, the result was announced and I’ll admit that I cried. 

Over 100 hours and countless sleepless nights paid off. The feedback was insane and although I was already totally in love with the images and very proud of the panel, I haven’t quite come back down from this one! Technically, this makes me “Jessica McGovern ABIPP FSWPP ACIM” and I have another Fellowship level panel booked in already (because why not put yourself through this pain again, right?!). 

So very grateful to the judges and their feedback, totally overwhelming, and some epic highlights from judges mouths included:

  • “It’s really unusual … I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it” and “having seen hundreds of panels, I haven’t seen one quite like this and that just blew me away”
  • “This is elevated to an art form, I could have any one of these photographs hanging on my wall … and I would never get tired of looking at it”
  • “I think these are really intellectually intelligent, I really love that you’ve got this technique and you’ve used it to really express something about these animals”
  • “Everything about this is gorgeous”
  • “I also love the fact that you obviously really enjoy rule-breaking… Images 1 and 20 are like I’ve started as I’ll finish”
  • “You’ve not jumped out of the box, you’ve smashed that box”
  • “A really well done on an amazingly original panel – you really deserve it”

There have been countless other incredible moments this week, but this was very much up there! Thank you ever so much to the incredible judges: Christina Lauder, Angela Adams, Duncan Cauchi, Mike McNamee and Fiona McKean. 

On the evening, it was MTog meet-up time and we headed to the designated meet-up venue, a pub in Hammersmith. It was so incredibly lovely to see these legends in real life instead of through a screen and we sat and talked, laughed and joked for a good few hours. At the meet-up, Craig handed me a small pouch and said that this “little gift” was from the MTogs for my Birthday (same week, on Monday!) to use to treat myself in any way I wanted, but probably something to do with relaxation or downtime. Inside the pouch was a literal wad of cash and I immediately tried to give it back. 

Craig said that he couldn’t take it because the money wasn’t his. No amount of pleading to redistribute that money worked, and so I’ve been thinking about how I can use it to meet the criteria given by the too-kind premium members. I need to do some more research but I promise it will go toward its intended purpose. Thank you, ever so much (but also, if you’d like it back I can do a bank transfer?)!

Day 2

Thursday 16th March

This day started with a team call to Emma & Sirley back home at the convention hotel and by 9am I was headed down to check out the judging status. I tried to remain calm while waiting for my category and did nip upstairs to the busy trade show to say hello to our industry friends. Adorning the walls of Digitalab’s stand were some of our favourite images, and over at Light Blue Ian was sipping out of his Tog Spot water bottle between customer discussions. Click Props Backdrops had the epic Charlie in perfect meet-and-greet mode and we saw lots of familiar faces elsewhere too. 

Heading back down it was time for the 20×16 judging session for Pet Portrait. With Craig, Frankie, Trish and more we all got comfortable for the prints to come out. I don’t remember the exact order that my own work came through, but I did watch every single print in the category hit that lightbox:

The scores were tough this year, slightly harsher on averages than 2022, but still consistent overall. I ended up with all of my entries hanging in the exhibition and a judge who didn’t know me said that he would never have guessed they were all from the same photographer, which is really nice to hear because I’ve been working on variety all year long.

MTog’s Frankie, Clara, Victoria and Katie all received scores needed to hang in the exhibition too:

I ended up with 4 merit images and 5 excellent images, meaning all of the entries across studio, outdoor, forest, beach, urban, dogs and horses, would hang in the exhibition. After the public live judging, the highest-scoring 5 images from the entire category would be re-judged and the top 3 at that point would become finalists, with a winner also selected at this point. 

Nobody knows who the finalists will be unless they’re score-watching closely. I was totally overwhelmed on Friday when we raced in to the exhibition to check the rankings between photoshoots that I had two images as finalists in that top three, alongside the ever-talented Jo Howell. This meant that I definitely would be walking up onto that stage at the awards ceremony, which struck the fear of god into me. We’ll get to that though! 

Here are my two finalists, though interestingly neither was my highest-scoring image:

On the evening of Day 2 we headed back to our hotel to grab our kit bags before meeting Amie and her dog Ruby at Hammersmith station for an evening in-the-dark dog photoshoot. We’d finished up gone 8pm, exhausted, and got a takeaway to eat at the hotel. A leopard can’t change his spots, even with amazing restaurants on every corner. 

Day 3

Friday 17th March

Starting early we headed to breakfast having already packed before getting the tube (underground/subway) to Covent Garden. There we met Olly and Moishe for the most adorable little city shoot I’ve ever done. A total pro despite the rain and crowds, little Moishe rocked his socks off and some of the straight-out-of-camera shots are incredible. We all took the tube back to Hammersmith to allow Dan and I to check the print scores (see above) and then raced back across to the other side of the city to meet Jess with Nova and Atlas. 

By this point, the rain as absolutely pouring but Jess and her partner had travelled over 2 hours to get to the location so aborting wasn’t an option. We met in a dog-friendly bar and after our pre-session discussion, we left with no rain falling whatsoever. Amazing. Both dogs were epic, as were the humans, and we raced again back to Kensington to get ready for the awards night. 

This is where things get a bit interesting. I said last year I didn’t want to wear a dress so revealing again but somehow I managed to up the ante and go even further. Anyhow, a pep talk from some industry icons later patched up my confidence to stop me from running away and hiding, and the night started well. 

It wasn’t long before the 20×16 Pet Portrait finalists were called up, so hand in hand Jo and I headed to the stage. We’ve both been the bridesmaid on more than one occasion and when my name was announced as the winning image for the title, the very first thing to cross my mind was “I wish it was Jo!”. I needn’t have worried though because she went on to get glass globe after glass globe so all was right in the world! 

With a title under my belt for Urban Elegance, a shot captured during the city shoots from last years Convention, I settled a little more into the evening and celebrated everyone’s successes with my random whooping and weirdly loud clapping. After seeing Team Tog Spot in the top 4 shortlist for Best Professional Trainer in the trade awards, my night was complete. I had to go up to the stage again to collect my fellowship certificate along with my fellow fellows, and that, for me, was the night done. It was so much better than I could have imagined and I was ready to vacate, drink, dance and be merry with the best of the industry at the bar… but no.

The night continued to get even more surprising when for some reason my name was announced again, this time for the overall 3rd place in the 20×16 print competition. What in the world was going on!? In disbelief, I headed up to the stage to take another globe but everything was a blur at this point.

2nd went to Kris, the most wonderful person I think I’ve met in a long time, and 1st went to the incredible, impeccable, insanely talented Jo Howell. Neither of us were bridesmaids anymore but if we’re being honest, those two Aussies need to prepare for extra luggage weight well in advance before flying over next year! 

We didn’t have a 4th day in London as we travelled home instead, so the week for me ended with the following successes:

  • A Fellowship from the Society of Wedding & Portrait Photography (FSWPP)
  • Pet Photographer of the Year 2023 in the 20×16 Print Competition + an extra finalist
  • 3rd Place in the overall 20×16 Photographer of the Year 2023
  • Shortlisted for Best Professional Trainer of the Year 2022 
  • 4 Merits and 5 Excellent grade images, all hanging in the exhibition

Although I didn’t shoot the volume I’d wanted to achieve, I am so incredibly proud of each and every image created in the last 12 months, including the entry selected by the Tog Spot teams, Blowing Bubbles. Thank you to the judges, the organisers, the trade, the community and of course my friends, team and epic husband. Without them, none of this would be possible. 

I’ll come down from cloud nine soon – but not just yet.