Back in 1936, in an endeavour to create greater interest in alpine photography, and also to obtain better illustrations for the New Zealand Alpine Journal, NZAC decided to hold a photographic competition. This competition was divided into two sections: alpine and scenic. A total of 55 photos were exhibited.
The first winners were awarded points and it is not clear if a monetary prize was given in the first year of the competition. In 1937 the prizes were: 1st prize £2 2s, 2nd prize 10s 6d, with prizes of orders with firms supplying photographic goods, or mountaineering equipment.
The 1937 competition was poorly supported, but despite this a further competition was held in 1938, then none in 1939. The Otago Section kept the competition alive during the war years and in 1946 a third category, ‘general’ was added. South Canterbury Section undertook the next competition (1947), but it was not until 1948 that a club-wide competition was again announced. The return of the competition also saw a new award being offered in the form of ‘The Guide Alack Challenge Cup’, donated by Mr Franck Alack, together with cash prize money of £2/2/- per annum for a period of ten years. This was the first trophy recorded for the photo competition where there had been only cash and goods prizes awarded before.The cup was to be awarded ‘for the most outstanding photograph of a purely mountaineering nature’. The first winner was Frank Newmarch of the Wellington Section. Frank convened and organised the sub-committee for the 1949 competition and they have been a regular event ever since.
In time three other trophies were donated by club members. Unfortunately, over the years many disappeared as they were passed from person to person each time they were awarded. In 2009 the John Harrison Memorial Trophy was rediscovered in Unwin Lodge at Mount Cook and returned to the new club ‘Home of Mountaineering’ for permanent display. Shortly after the Egmont-Tasman (also known as the Syme Trophy) was discovered in a garage, but minus its pictorial plate. It was subsequently restored by artist Corey Koppe, and is also now on display in the National Office library. The remaining two awards, (the Dorflinger and Guide Alack Challenge Cup) unfortunately appear to be lost for good. However, in 2009 a new Alpine Nature Award was donated in memory of Erica Beuzenberg and replaces the missing Dorflinger Trophy. A new Youth category was also created in memory of Gottlieb Braun-Elwert. The prize for this award to be a course, or trip, with Alpine Recreation, a family-owned guiding company started by Gottlieb. In 2014, Peter Garrett, on behalf of Alpine Risk Management, kindly donated a replacement cup for the Guide Alack Challenge. This is awarded for the most outstanding photograph of mountaineering not purely depicting alpine scenery (as judged by a mountaineer).
Currently there are six categories: Alpine Activity (AA); Alpine Nature (AN); Rock Climbing (RC); Youth (YO); Mountain & Climbing Culture (MCC) and Alpine Landscape (AL). The Journalism, Alpine General and Humour categories were discontinued in 2014.
From 2002 until 2008 winning images were printed in poster form. Folded copies were inserted in The Climber magazines.
In 2009 the posters were discontinued and some of the winning images were used to print the first New Zealand Alpine Club Photographic Competition calendar for 2010. Calendars can be purchased from the alpineclub shop.