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How I won a luxury holiday to Sri Lanka with photography

Updated: May 20, 2021

A girl having a tea party with all her soft toys in a field of grass. The winning image of the Dilmah and Canon tea inspired me photography competition.
The picture that won me an all-expenses-paid, luxury holiday in Sri Lanka.

Imagine waking to a soft knock on your door. Your own personal butler comes in with a tray of steaming tea. He pulls back the drapes and starts the bath drawing before leaving you to awaken to your thoughts of how quickly you could get used to this lifestyle.

When you arrived at this beautifully restored colonial villa set amidst miles and miles of rolling tea plantations, all the staff were waiting on the steps to greet you. The chef comes every day to personally discuss the menu and any special requests with you.

High tea is served in the afternoon - accompanied by a tea menu and exquisitely delicate sandwiches, scones and pastries. And then there’s time to take a dip in the infinity pool and lounge in the spa where the most plush, deliciously soft towels you could imagine, are brought out to you.

Around us, the other guests are wearing Gucci sunglasses and Calvin Klein socks, while my husband and I are winging it.

We’re trying to carry off a boutique, hippy vibe in our Kiwi shorts and jandals, because the thing is, we’re not actually paying for this luxury holiday.

I entered a photography competition and, to my shock, disbelief and amazement, somehow managed to win the top prize - an all-expenses-paid, five-star trip to Sri Lanka. It included our flights, luxury accommodation, meals to die for and we even had our own car and driver. I know, insane right!

I still clearly remember the day I was lounging in the armchair, scrolling through Facebook when I suddenly sat up and showed my hubby a post.

‘Imagine winning this prize,’ I said.

I think the response went something along the lines of ‘yeah, whatever’.

It was a photography competition was being run by Dilmah Tea and Canon. The theme was ‘tea inspired me’ and the winner’s prize was a 10-day trip to Sri Lanka and $4000 of your choice of Canon gear (this was actually the starting point of me launching my own biz, but that’s a story for another day).

Visiting the Dilmah cafe in Colombo, Sri Lanka

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given about winning competitions is ‘you’ve got to be in to win’.

It’s so true. You just never know what’s going to happen.

Do you remember Aussie speed skater, Steven Bradbury, who rode an insane amount of luck to not only make it the final, but to win Australia’s first ever gold medal at the winter olympics in 2002.

At the outset he looked to have no hope of winning, but when you’re in the race there’s always a chance. In his case, at the back of the pack and dropping further by the second, there was, unexpectedly, an almighty pile-up and he sailed past them all to cross the finish line first!

Well I wasn’t a professional photographer when I came across this photography competition (the competition was open to professionals and amateurs) - just a girl with a camera who loved taking pictures of her family.

I am also a serious tea addict. Tea is my coffee and my day hasn’t started until I have a cup of fragrant Earl Grey in my hand!

So with my dual love of tea and photography I was inspired and came up with a whole bunch of ideas. Motivated by the thought ‘you can’t even have a shot of winning if you’re not in’ I actually went out, cajoled all my family and friends to be models, and shot all the pictures in my head.

I entered about eight images in the competition, but my winning picture was one I set up with my then 5-year-old daughter having a tea party with all of her favourite soft toys in a field of long grass.

The day I got the phone call to tell me my photograph had just won me a holiday in Sri Lanka my first reaction was disbelief! I sat in the car stunned asking over and over again "are you sure you've got the right person"?

When I look at that picture today I don’t even think it’s that great. I would shoot it very differently now. But I obviously captured something and I do remember we all got at 6am so we could be on location and ready to capture the beautiful light of sunrise.

To get this picture, however, I didn’t just need the idea, I also needed a good basic understanding of my camera and how to shoot in manual.

If I’d still been at the stage of using my camera in auto, I could never have got this shot. Auto wouldn’t have given me the right exposure for the beautiful light - depending on where the camera was pointing it would have been too light or too dark.

If you have a camera with manual capability that you recently (or not-so-recently) bought and you’re struggling to get your head around the settings then I have a workshop coming up in Dunedin which will take you from auto to manual in one day.

Learning to use your camera in manual is how you unlock the camera’s true potential and can become so much more creative with your pictures.

Set your creativity free, and who knows, you might go on to win your own amazing prize simply by taking your photography to the next level.

Click the link below to find out more.

beginners photography workshop in Dunedin



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