A photographer from Hatfield Heath won an international award for her striking portrait of a 10-day-old baby boy nestled among autumnal leaves.
Rachel Sloan was named International Newborn Photographer of the Year 2021 as her entry was selected from thousands in the prestigious Master Photographers Association (MPA) International Awards.
It was announced at a virtual ceremony on Saturday January 22. A select number of winners then received surprise visits from MPA directors who delivered the awards in person.
Said Rachel: “The whole family were watching with me and we were literally jumping in the air when we saw my images appearing on screen as a finalist.
“As my name was announced as the Newborn category winner, the doorbell rang and I was over the moon to see the MPA chairman Ray Lowe and MPA director and fellow photographer Ian Boichat standing there with my trophy.”
Ian said: “I’ve always been a fan of Rachel’s photography, which only seems to get better every year, and this win is testament to her hard work.”
Her winning photo, of baby Arthur, was described by judges as “a timeless and stunning portrait of a newborn baby” with its beautiful tones and use of props.
She said: “I’d done a maternity session with that family and they were such a lovely family to work with. When I saw his auburn hair, I knew I had to create an autumn set – I just created it on the fly.
“Arthur moved his arm into that position above his head himself and I think that’s what makes this shot.”
Rachel lives with fellow award-winning photographer husband Mark – he was International Wedding Photographer of the Year 2018 – and their two daughters, aged 13 and 10, in West Hayes, Hatfield Heath.
They moved to the village about five years ago from Harlow, where she grew up and went to school at what was Brays Grove and then Leventhorpe in Sawbridgeworth. She studied business and psychology at the University of Cambridge.
After uni, Rachel worked for a small business doing its sales and marketing for 10 years. She took on the role of photographer and over time grew to love it.
She started as a wedding photographer in 2008.
“My husband was moving into it as well and we grew our business, Expressions Photography, in weddings,” she said.
“After people get married, they tend to have children, and everybody kept asking me, ‘Can you do our baby?’ I turned it down for years because it was a very different genre and then one of my clients messaged me and I said ‘OK, let’s give it a go’.
“The first session was the worst session in the world, really difficult! Then my best friend fell pregnant and handed over her baby and let me play around with no pressure, and I absolutely fell in love with it – that was eight years ago.”
Rachel founded her newborn photography business in 2012, specialising in maternity, newborn and family portraits. “It was a very organic growth – I developed a passion for it and just ran with it.
“It’s wonderful because people trust me to capture the next incredible stage of their lives, after their weddings, which is having a family. It’s really special.
“I just love meeting these new families and creating pieces of art for them to enjoy for years to come.
“Each shoot is different and tailor made for every client according to their taste, with a little sprinkling of creative magic from me!”
She said that her award “means so much to me”.
“The last few years have been really difficult as a photographer, with nearly six months downtime because of Covid restrictions.
“I’m in total shock and feeling a tad emotional about it too. I love being a photographer, but didn’t dare to dream I could have won this and I am so, so proud.”