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Lily Ahmad-Davis – 2023 Winner of the Duval Scholarship

Lily Ahmad-Davis from Auckland was announced as this year’s winner of the Duval Scholarship. Supported by Canon, she wins Canon camera equipment, as well as a day of mentoring with Virginia Woolf, one of Canon’s Professional Masters.

Lily won the Duval Scholarship award after completing her year 13 photography boardthrough her self-portrayal of “Identity Loss”. This includes a series of clear self-portraits that progressively became distorted using photoshop.

“The catalyst of the idea was to represent the feeling of looking at your reflection and if you look at it for a long period, it becomes almost unrecognisable. Whilst this was very much about self-discovery and portrayal, I am still exploring photographic styles and subjects. I particularly enjoy the natural world – capturing the beauty of our environment in a natural state.”

Lily Ahmad-Davis using Canon gear to photograph the beach

How the Duval Scholarship began

The Duval Scholarship began with a very tragic but inspiring story of a teenager who had a passion for photography. Louis Duval was a keen mountain biker and very talented behind the lens of a camera. Louis’s ambition was to become a wildlife photographer but sadly passed away at the age of 15. The Louis Duval Scholarship now provides a promising photographer with the support of industry professionals to help them follow their creative dreams.

The Canon team first met Louis at Crankworx 2020, a mountain biking festival held in Rotorua attended by many sports photographers capturing professional cyclists. Even at an early age, Louis had set his heart on becoming a full-time photographer and to travel the world.

In 2021, Canon partnered up with Whangaparāoa College who nominates a winner of the Duval Scholarship every year. The award is both recognition and encouragement for young photographers to express their creativity. Lily was clearly delighted to win the award, but also respectful to the legacy of Louis Duval.

“I was both excited and very honoured to win the scholarship – it was great end to the year. I also feel very grateful to the Duval Scholarship, whilst being mindful of the award and its catalyst – giving young people the opportunity to follow their photographic dreams like Louis.”

Lily spends the day with Canon Master, Virginia Woolf – with both sharing their thoughts about the day.

I was presented with a lot of ideas to help with my photography. It was a very focused day of learning and discovery. We were also very fortunate to have such perfect and beautiful natural scenes to photograph.

It was a very early start at our location in Devonport,Auckland. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted with a dramatic sunrise behind Rangitoto, which cast the landscape in a stunning golden glow. Specifically, Virginia taught me how to use an overhanging branch to frame the scene and draw attention to the sunset.

Image of the sunset in the mountains taken by Lily Ahmad-Davis

In a second shot of Rangitoto, we were standing and shooting from Mount Victoria. The bushes dipped in the centre and reflected the peak of Rangitoto, which is something I wouldn’t have noticed so soon if Virginia hadn’t pointed it out to me.

My biggest takeaway from the day was what I learned about motion photography. I learned about its importance when it comes to nature photography as it’s a way to capture the true essence of a scene. I learned that you have to observe your target so that you can anticipate its movement, which helps a lot to get a successful shot and was especially helpful in capturing shots of the dogs on the beach. I’d never put much thought into motion photography before the mentor day but I now find I want to practice it more.

Canon Master, Virginia Woolf – tells how she was inspired to take up photography as well as sharing some of the tips and events of the day with Lily

My professional career began 12 years ago when I broke free from the corporate rut to pursue my love of photography. After leaving behind a career in food science and food marketing, I returned to university student life and studied photographic design.

My first paid jobs were working as a photo assistant which provided great learning opportunities and travelling around the world, and I was also a press photographer honing my craft photographing people in all sorts of situations and from all walks of life - much of which still applies to my commercial work on outdoor adventure, lifestyle and portrait shoots.

I particularly love photographing people, places, and capturing the stories in whatever situation and wherever my assignments take me.

When Lily and I spent the day together, she was keen to learn more about composition and shooting motion - freezing it and blurring it. We spent the day on the North Shore starting out catching the dramatic morning light and stormy skies at Narrow Neck Beach looking out towards Rangitoto Island and were also fortunate to have people walking their dogs on the beach. The excited, fast-moving dogs were great subjects.

Image of a dog at the beach taken by Lily Ahmad-Davis

Composition tip
• Keep moving and get low at the same level/height as the dogs, take time to observe and anticipate their movement (their run, their wagging tail, shaking water off their back after coming out of the sea)

• Focus on their face/their eyes to draw the viewers eye into the image, and then frame up the shot (pay attention to the edges and what’s in the background).

Motion tip
• Visualisation (what you want to capture before you shoot) - to freeze and have everything in focus or show some movement/action with motion blur and isolate the subject from the background.

To freeze the action, we observed the speed of the running dogs and dialled in a fast/high shutter speed, used a fairly wide aperture to help isolate the dog from the background, and experimented with continuous mode to capture the frames of action as the dogs came barrelling towards us!

Lily continued to practice the fast and high vs slow and low shutter speeds by capturing a runner (aka me!) passing through her composition between two trees - I ran at the same speed between the two trees on the left and right of her frame and she captured all the detail by freezing the motion, and then again capturing the movement of the runner in a blurred motion.We then continued on to Takapuna Barry’s Point Road and to the busy main road where traffic was coming off the Auckland Harbour Bridge to test out more motion with panning.

Image of a motorcycle in motion taken by Lily Ahmad-Davis

Panning tip
• Stand well-grounded with feet shoulder width apart and dead centre of the pan, hold the camera as steady as possible and follow the movement in a smooth sweeping motion right through your visualised frame moving only your upper body (twist from the waist), keep the speed of your movement to match the speed of the moving subject, enable 1-point AF and tracking to focus on the subject.

Lily was able to apply the fast/high shutter vs slow/low shutter to see the different effects that both had and experimented with how much motion blur and drama was desired.

With the heavy rain, we took a break and diverted to the Maungauika, North Head historic military bunkers and the Devonport ferry terminal, both locations providing some great composition captures of non-moving subjects.

Lily Ahmad-Davis with her Canon gear

Composition tip
• Move the camera around to frame up the symmetry, leading lines, angles, diagonals and triangles, patterns and textures - see what elements works and gives the most dynamic, interesting composition.