The winner of APOY 2023 was Daniel Sands. Here, he shares his thoughts about his success, and adds some advice for this year’s entrants

When did you start taking pictures?

I’ve been interested in photography since I was very young. I studied photography at A level years ago, but didn’t own a camera until 2008 when I started my current job as a programmer. The camera spent most of its life in a bag not being used, until I started taking photography a little more seriously in 2016 and bought a Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

What are your preferred subjects to photograph?

I’ve flirted with most genres of photography, especially during lockdown when I tried out macro, toys, creative portraits, etc but I think I’ve settled recently on landscape and low light.

You have a quite distinctive style – how did it develop?

My introduction to ‘more serious’ photography was social media – I set up a page on Facebook and quite quickly became hooked on capturing mass-appeal type images. I craved likes and followers, and attributed higher follower counts to being more successful. More likes made my images better.

This was completely unsustainable of course, so in 2018 I made the decision to shoot for myself regardless of reception. This freeing of the shackles (as it were) led to me exploring many different techniques in my work – from Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) to blending Multiple Exposures (ME) both in-camera and in post. Ultimately, as I was shooting for myself I was producing work that I liked, so I guess my style has developed based on my own tastes more than anything.

A drone with a strobe attached was flown in a circle around the lighthouse, for something a little different daniel sands apoy 2023 winner
A drone with a strobe attached was flown in a circle around the lighthouse, for something a little different. Image: Daniel Sands

What were you hoping for when you entered APOY?

The hope was to get a top ten place in one of the categories, to see my image printed in Amateur Photographer. I never really dreamt of winning a category, never mind finishing top overall! Having been a subscriber to AP for some time, I thought I might as well use the entry code from the magazine – nothing to lose, as it were.

What was your plan?

As I knew I’d get a free entry to each category, I looked at each of the months and picked an image from my collection that I thought might suit. None of the entries changed except for the low light one, ironically, which I had a last-minute change of mind about! [Daniel won the Low Light category.]

Which categories did you feel were best suited to your style?

At the start of the year, when laying out my entries, I felt my strongest contenders were in the B&W and landscape rounds. I was a bit stumped by wildlife, though, because this is an area I’ve not had much experience in. In hindsight, in a review of my images, I think I’m drawn naturally to low light. 

What might you do differently next time?

As a personal challenge to myself to try new things, I might try to take a new image each month to meet the corresponding APOY category.

Long exposure of the famous Cobb at Lyme Regis, taken during blue hour
Long exposure of the famous Cobb at Lyme Regis, taken during blue hour. Image: Daniel Sands

What did you spend your MPB vouchers on and why?

I’m a long-time lover of the Canon EOS 5D series of camera bodies, having owned a 5D Mark III since 2016, so the vouchers went on a long-overdue upgrade to the 5D Mark IV. I’ve already found the upgraded features immensely useful, not least the built-in intervalometer and bulb timer.

What were your feelings when you learned you’d jumped from tenth place to first?

Honestly – disbelief. I remember when I received the email letting me know I’d won. I read it over and over and it still didn’t feel quite real! 

What advice would you give to someone entering APOY for the first time?

I’d strongly recommend you try to enter something into every round. Even if you don’t feel it’s your strongest area, try to assign an image to each category now, and perhaps use the time before a round opens to improve any areas you feel are your weakest. But above all else, shoot for yourself. Even if your image doesn’t get shortlisted, remember to have fun with photography and try new things – we’re amateurs after all and have nothing to prove, so we can afford to be experimental.

figure sitting in the light of the overhead bulb at bus stop daniel sands low light apoy 2023 winner
This image pushed Daniel from 10th place on the leaderboard, to first in the final round of APOY 2023. Image: Daniel Sands

Amateur Photographer of the Year 2024 and Young Amateur Photographer of the Year 2024 is now open for entries! Find all competition details and enter your photos here.

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