News + Features

Winning Image Stories – Portrait Masters Awards 2023 

April 25, 2023

By Abbey Pleviak

Earlier this month, Portrait System Members and participants in Free Week tuned into a live broadcast by Portrait Masters Awards & Accreditation Director Richard Wood, announcing the winners of the first round of The Portrait Masters Awards & Accreditation competition. This round saw over 4,000 submissions from around the globe, and led to the accreditation of three new Fellows, 4 new Masters, and twenty-two new Associates. Meet the new Fellows, who have attained the highest level of accreditation, and learn more about the accreditation process here

A panel of five judges awards points to each image submitted, and images have the potential to win bronze, silver, or gold merits depending on their score. Each category awards the highest-scoring image $1,000 and a trophy. The highest-scoring image overall receives an additional $1,000 and another trophy. 

View each category’s winning image in the slideshow above. Below, we spotlight the Grand Champion and four category winning images. 


  1. Travis Patenaude
  2. Erica Manning
  3. Forough Yavari
  4. Jo Frances

Travis Patenaude

Travis Patenaude

Meet Grand Champion Travis Patenaude  

Travis Patenaude got his first pet photography tips from a member of HeARTs Speak, an organization that helps shelter animals find homes. Patenaude and his wife had adopted an abandoned Spanish hunting dog, a Galgo, called Leena. They were so moved by this experience that they started an organization called Love Hope Believe Galgo Adoption, and a volunteer from HeARTs Speak taught Patenaude how he could take better photographs of the dogs he was seeking adoption for. His winning image pays homage to this issue so dear to his heart.

When he’s not helping Galgos or photographing dogs with his pet portrait business Stink-Eye Photography in Crystal Lake, Illinois, Patenaude works as a senior IT engineer for his county’s government. You can become an ally of the Galgos by purchasing Patenaude’s book, Galgo Espanol After the Hunt

© Travis Patneaude

The Story Behind Travis Patenaude’s Grand Champion Winning Image 

“Known as Galgueros, Spanish hunters that use dogs (Galgos) to hunt hares, dispose of the Galgos at the end of hunting season in the most horrific ways imaginable… hung from trees, thrown into wells, starved, beaten to death, or abandoned. It is estimated that 100,000 Galgos are killed every year. If merely abandoned, they are purposely hobbled so that they cannot physically return to the hunter or hunt hare on their own to survive. 

In certain parts of Spain, laws were passed to allow the hunters to shoot stray dogs. The Galgueros would cut out the microchip from the dog’s neck and then release the dog only to shoot it, claiming it to be a stray. The Galgueros call themselves the true Galgo Lovers but protect the hares from being hunted by all the stray Galgos they have dumped. 

So, I created this portrait as a question to the Galgueros, who do you prize more, the Galgo or the hare?” 

Erica Manning 

© Erica Manning

Meet Erica Manning – Winner of the Teen & Senior Portraits Category 

Erica Manning discovered a passion for photography over 13 years ago when her husband gifted her a little Canon T2i camera for Christmas. Just a few months later, Manning traded it in for a professional grade camera. She was hooked.  

In addition to spending countless hours in the studio taking portraits and refining her images in post-processing, Manning also wears her camera like jewelry on vacation and volunteers her time and services providing portraits for faith-based activities, such as baptisms, worship events, Sunday services, and with charity events like the Single Parent Fair, Brock Strong Foundation, Pink Ribbon Girls, and Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine.  

Manning is a Fellow accredited photographer with The Portrait Masters. She has a passion for DIY styling and loves doing post-production in Photoshop. Her winning image makes effective use of her Photoshop skills as it combines two of her images — one of the background and one of the subject.

Click here for Manning’s tips on how to get high scores in photo competitions. Her studio, Erica Manning Photography, is based in Columbus, Ohio.   

© Erica Manning

The Story Behind Erica Manning’s Category Winning Image 

“The idea for this image actually came from working throughout the year with the subject of the image (Kole). He was a member of my high school senior model team, and I had worked with him all year for various shoots and his senior session. He is a natural! I learned of his love for working on cars, rebuilding engines and such. His pet project was an old truck he had been working on since he was 8 years old, but he also had an old vintage Cadillac in his garage that he and his stepdad worked on together. Many of my favorite images have a vintage vibe, so I asked him if he’d be interested in doing a styled session involving his love for working on cars for an upcoming mentoring I had planned. His answer, a resounding YES!! I went to his garage about a week before his studio session was to take place, and photographed his truck and the old Caddy, so excited about the possibilities.  

Kole showed up on the day of the shoot dressed in his work pants and a tank top full of grease – he understood the assignment! He also brought with him a bunch of old car parts, which he excitedly carried into the studio. We worked with many different props/parts, but the old red rag really had the most appeal. So simple and so effective. I brought the image into Photoshop and followed my standard workflow for creative images, including frequency separation, dodging and burning, placing the image of the Cadillac as the background, and color grading. I always take my time on images I know I will be submitting, and I spend a colossal amount of hours just staring at the image to determine what works, what doesn’t, and make tweaks until I think it is ready. I was thrilled with the finished image of Kole, and even more thrilled it was so well received by The Portrait Masters. What an honor to be first in the Teen and Senior Portrait category.” 

Forough Yavari

Forough Yavari

Meet Forough Yavari – Winner of the Challenge Category: Abstract Portrait 

Forough Yavari was born in Iran during the revolution. She studied painting at the University of Tehran and photography as a hobby. When she graduated, Yavari worked seriously as an artist, commanding high prices for her paintings before moving to Brisbane, Australia where she was unknown so was unable to get support from galleries. Her husband encouraged her to open a photography studio, and it took off, giving Yavari the financial freedom to continue to pursue art.

Yavari’s upbringing in the Middle East inspires her to portray the narratives behind the lives of women, and she uses expression and lighting to highlight those stories. Her winning image follows this theme as it explores the idea of hidden identity.

Yavari has won numerous awards for her photography. She holds Masters of Photography credentials from the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP), Wedding and Portrait Photography International (WPPI), and New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP). 

Her studio, Forever Yours Photography, is located in Melbourne, Australia. If you’d like to hear Yavari speak about her life and work, you can find her recent interview on The Portrait System Podcast here.  

© Forough Yavari

The Story Behind Forough Yavari’s Category Winning Image 

“I captured this image at the end of a fine art portrait session with the beautiful Ellie. I had this silk mikado fabric left over from a commercial shoot that had inspired me to create something new. The fabric was so soft and complemented Ellie’s beautiful dark skin tone while also providing a striking contrast. I wrapped the fabric around her, creating a minimalist look that also had a sense of 3-dimensionality. 

My goal was to prioritize simplicity, abstraction, and the reduction of detail to create a powerful visual impact while focusing on the mood or impression of the subject, rather than a realistic depiction, as abstract portraits aim to do. 

In this piece, I aimed to deconstruct the impact of societal beauty standards on individuals’ sense of self and identity. I represented the use of makeup and fashion to conform to these standards with circles, symbolizing the distorted and fabricated identity that is often presented to the public.” 

Jo Frances

Jo Frances

Meet Jo Frances – Winner of the Movement Category 

For the past twenty years, Jo Frances has been photographing families in Wellington, New Zealand. She began working primarily in black and white with minimal props and styling. Over the years, she has evolved to a more colorful, ornate work. However, Frances says, what has always remained constant is her passion for capturing genuine emotion, particularly between parents and children. For her, photographing families resonates consistently as work of lasting value, and she loves “the interactions and the hilarity of photographing families.” Her winning image explores a joyful interaction between father and daughter.

Jo Fances won the New Zealand Family Photographer of the Year in 2019, 2020 and 2021. You can find out more about her studio at Jo Frances Photography.  

© Jo Frances

The Story of Jo Frances’ Category Winning Image 

“My winning entry into the movement category was created for some of my favorite clients, Merete and Sanjay. They wanted a special photo to capture the relationship between Sanjay and their 3-year-old daughter Zara.

I didn’t have any specific ideas before the shoot, but when Sanjay told me he had brought his violin and Zara loved to dance along to him playing, I knew exactly what I wanted to try.

Fortuitously, the night before their shoot, I had been to a photography event and seen the amazing work of Amber Griffin, dance photographer, and was inspired to try to use slow motion to capture the joy they take in each other.

It’s definitely an experimental piece for me, and putting it together took a bit of work. I roughed the piece together in time for Merete and Sanjay’s viewing session, and have to admit, I had my heart in my mouth when I showed it to them and talked through where I saw it going.

The icing on the cake for me was the expression on Sanjay’s face when he saw it and when he told me that his vision for himself as a father had been to have a little duckling following him around. So, we call this the little duckling portrait.

It now sits proudly in a large frame in their living room and as much as I like winning awards (yes, a lot!), knowing I’ve made my clients so happy is the true win!” 

The Portrait Masters Awards: To see all of the top 20 images from this round and past rounds, visit the awards gallery. The next round opens on Saturday, July 15th with winners announced on Tuesday, August 15th. Learn more about The Portrait Masters Awards & Accreditation, including all the rules and how to enter, HERE.