When it comes to photography and print competitions, a lot of contestants go for unusual subject matter to try to catch the judges’ eyes. But Lakewood, NJ, photographer Steven Yahr takes a different approach.
“The subject matter in my competition prints is always very simple,” Yahr says. “When I do workshops, I tell photographers that the hardest things to photograph are the things we see every day. You become immune to them.”
So when he walked past the spiderwort plant with the vibrant, violet blooms on the side of his house, a floral he’d bypassed day after day, he knew he’d found his next subject. “I have quite a few of them in my yard,” he says. “So I blocked the light and used reflectors – the same as you would do for a portrait.”
With a little Photoshop help to add a bit of contrast, “Spiderwort” earned Yahr the Sunset Print Award during the PhotoNorthEast Image Competition, held in Woodcliff Lake, NJ, earlier this month.
Yahr works as a contract wedding photographer and has competed in print competitions since 2000, although he’s been a member of his state’s PPA affiliate since 1993.
“I held off competing for quite a few years,” he says. “I was just observing other people’s work and asking a lot of questions. I tell other photographers: Don’t get discouraged. Try to hear what judges have to say. The critique is more valuable than score itself.”
Although weddings are his bread-and-butter, Yahr says his competition pieces are inspired by the work of artists, rather than other photographers. However, when photographing his competition subjects, he uses his portrait know-how, and vice-versa.
“It’s the same principles – the lighting has to be correct, and you need an unobtrusive background,” he says. “The same things that make portraits work, are the things that make still lifes work, too.”
Yahr paired the vulnerability of the delicate violet petals and the gentle highlight on the yet-to-bloom buds, with a dramatic black backdrop and double violet stroke border, to create his striking, winning image.