Are you one of the world’s best rising photographers? With the deadline for the D&AD Next Photographer Award 2017 quickly approaching, we asked a few of this year’s judges to weigh in on what, in their eyes, makes someone stand out as the industry’s next rising star.

Andy Saunders, Vice President of Creative at Getty Images; Katy Niker, owner and director at Burnham Niker photography agents; Martin Usborne, east London-based photographer and co-founder of Hoxton Mini Press, publisher and writer and Emma Bowkett, Director of Photography at the Financial Times, opened up on the challenges and importance of being original, what makes a great entry and what they’d do if they swapped places with this year’s applicants.

Finding Originality

Total originality in itself may seem daunting if not nearly impossible in today’s photography world, but Katy Niker had some advice for how to pull out a unique point of view.

“The key to originality in any medium is the artist’s own mind.” she said, “They can also pull from age, or the experiences they’ve had in their life.”

Niker is a strong believer that a portfolio, regardless of the age or experience of the photographer, will evolve as the person does. To help her photographers who are having a difficult time understanding or communicating their own perspective, she challenges them by asking the following:

“Imagine you had no way of visually showing someone any of your work, and they ask you to describe what you’re about, not your genre, but what is the essence of what you’re trying to achieve?”


Laura Thompson: Senseless
Laura Thompson: Senseless

“The world is so saturated in pictures,” added Martin Usborne, “much of them technically perfect, that what counts is uniqueness.  To do this I think photographers have to be honest with themselves and willing to expose something raw about themselves.  It’s fairly easy to see when something is authentic.”

Andy Saunders elaborated on this, explaining that he’s looking for someone who is able to see the world from a very individual perspective, and also has the ability to communicate this point of view effectively through their work.

“It’s a combination of originality and power,” he said. “Great ideas are rarely easy to photograph, so it’s someone who can bring that vision to life through the skill and artfulness of their imagery that becomes successful.”

A Consistent Narrative

Strong, style-centered storytelling emerged as another theme for our judges. Niker described portfolios as book-like.

“Good portfolios tell the story of how the photographer wants to be understood, creatively,” she said.

In addition to a solid narrative, Emma Bowkett emphasized the importance of a sense of freshness in a portfolio, as well as a prominent visual language. The necessity of a strong, clear concept and language uncovers the value of what the judges described as consistency across a submission.

Juliana Kasumu: Irun Kiko
Juliana Kasumu: Irun Kiko
Juliana Kasumu: Irun Kiko

“Consistency and creative quality of the imagery across a submission is all important,” Saunders said. “All of the images submitted should play a part in supporting the narrative or helping create the idea.”

In other words, the most frustrating thing a judge can encounter in a situation like evaluating entries for the D&AD Next Photographer Award 2017 is an obvious talent whose images don’t come together well as a cohesive series or work well as a unit, as this is a crucial part of the decision they will later have to make.


Be confident in yourself and what it is you’re trying to communicate with your work; it’s an easy and (nearly) fail-proof way to grab the attention of the panel. A clear concept and a fresh approach to an ultimately coherent group of images are what will impress your judges.

Solmaz Daryani: The Eyes of Earth

“The photographers that most impress me,” Niker said, “are those that are able to bring their own individual perspective on an object, situation or person, and combine that with a strong personal style.”

Want to be a future D&AD Next Photographer Award Pencil-winner? There’s no age limit to enter, and you can submit any type of photography, both commercial and personal. Find out more at D&AD – deadline for entry is February 22, 2017.