Guest Blog: The Power of Print Competition

By Christie Newell, winner of the 2016 National Sunset Print Award and co-owner of Sonshine Portrait Design in Germantown Hills, Ill.

Christie Newell, M.Photog., Cr. CPP, guest blogger

The ever-evolving photography industry vastly changes on a day-to-day basis. How do we stay ahead? How do we rise above the other photographers around us? What makes us grow? The answer to these questions and so many other questions is print competition.

I have been asked why I enter print competition. It can be misleading and make one think you are competing against other photographers. That is not the case. Yes, I am a photographer who creates art pieces for my clients, but I am also a print competitor, it just runs through my blood. I enter print competitions because I know how much I learn and grow. Improving my everyday work for my clients. By setting goals, reaching beyond what I think I am capable of and either failing or conquering.

Documenting the Emperor’s River in Multiple Moments and Big Prints

When photographer Philipp Rittermann talks about his work, there’s one thing that becomes clear almost right away: passion. A passion that took him on multiple trips to China in the last two years, traveling and photographing the Grand Canal, creating an astounding collection of massive photos in his Emperor’s River project.

“It’s a self generated project that came about when I was invited to show my work in China at a photography biennale. That was my first excuse to go to China; I hadn’t had an opportunity before then. I decided that if I was going to go, I needed to educate myself about it. I came across multiple references to the Grand Canal and it seemed like something to follow. It’s just such a huge country and the Grand Canal would help define my direction; rather than wandering aimlessly for years, and still not really scratching the surface,” Rittermann explained.

The Grand Canal is the world’s largest water project, the beginnings of which date all the way back to 460 BC. “It’s historically, culturally, militarily and economically hugely important in China’s history,” Rittermann said in explaining his decision to follow the river for a combined 10 weeks. “I also figured it would take me through large cites, small cites, rural areas and everything in between, and that this would reveal a pretty comprehensive socio-economic cross section of eastern China today.”

Rittermann wanted to achieve something in these images that he is often fascinated with in photography. “It’s about how photography makes time visible in a way that I can’t experience it,” he explains, describing the technique of capturing and expanding a single moment in time.

Now is very short and it’s continuously moving, so we, as humans, can never see multiple moments next to each other; we are always in the Now. So by photographing multiple moments, and then putting them together I feel like I can open the curtain a little wider,” he says. “I make multiple passes across these scenes. If there is something interesting happening I might take three or four or five frames in that particular area of the image, and then later figure out which moment I want to reveal. It allows me to composite a time-picture of that scene.”

The collection of images is currently on display at The Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego. “It was actually surprising that they wanted to show it. They were the last ones on my list in terms of probability, but the first ones in terms of desirability,” he explains.

In a few weeks the images will make their way to a gallery in San Francisco. “I would like it if the framed work never came back to me for storage,” Rittermann explained with a laugh, “because they are huge.”

It’s not an understatement either; the printed images are huge, some as long as 10 feet. But what’s even more striking about the photos, all printed by Rittermann on his Canon iPF8100 on LexJet Sunset Fibre Satin, is the incredible detail in each print.

Photographing China“They’re made out of multiple images which are fused together, so there really is a lot of resolution there. You can get your face right up to them and there is a lot to see. They don’t fall apart when you get up close,” he says. “It’s something I really enjoy about photography… That you can climb into an image and go for a walk in it. My requirement for myself is that I don’t put something on a wall that doesn’t hold up to that kind of scrutiny. There is nothing worse than walking up to an image that looks great at a distance, and goes to mush right in front of your eyes. That’s a letdown.”

Barking up the Right Tree with Photography and Inkjet Printing

Jack Kenner’s photography has covered a range of areas through the years, from capturing happy couples at formal events in the early days to shots of exotic and endangered animals across the globe. But his latest focus has been portraits of man’s best friend.

Inkjet printing in-houseHis interest was sparked when a photo he exhibited at an art show, featuring his two West Highland White Terriers in the household dishwasher, was a huge hit. “By the end of the day I was doing dog portraits. Since then I’ve been doing dog portraits on demand from coast to coast. I go all over California and Texas, up to Connecticut, down into Florida and Atlanta, and over to Colorado and Wyoming,” the Memphis-based photographer explains.

He will spend a week or so at dog shows across the country, taking portraits or getting commissions for portraits in other areas, then return home to his Memphis studio, where he does all of the printing himself. Kenner has been doing his own printing almost as long as he has been behind the camera, a passion that was sparked in his teen years.

“Right off the bat I’ve found it was easier to go in and print my own work. I actually got a job in high school as a printer for a commercial lab. I was using enlargers and doing color enlargements,” Kenner explains. The experience there gave him the foundation he would need for his own career, leading to another lab job while he attended Brooks Institute of Photography.

“I’d go to school during the day and work at a lab at night. I was doing commercial printing for photographers in Santa Barbara, California, and I would work all night as a printer, and by that time I knew what color was all about so I would just do my own work. I would print and color correct and deliver it in the morning to the lab, then have to leave and go back to school again,” Kenner says.

It wasn’t until he made a move back to Memphis after a stint in New York that Kenner realized it was time to get back into printing and set up a darkroom in his personal studio. “After that I got into the digital age and in 2000 I bought the Epson 2000.”

It was a few years later when he bought the Epson 7600 that Kenner first came to LexJet. Since that time he has increased his printer inventory dramatically. Currently, he’s working with a battery of Epsons and a Canon iPF8300 to produces his photos.

Photographing dog portraitsKenner’s diverse line of printers enables him to devote one printer to color, one to black and whites and another to canvas prints, but he says, “Now with the 8300 I can do all of it with one printer, which is really nice and simplified.”

Kenner uses three primary materials to print his work: LexJet Sunset Velvet Rag,  Sunset Photo eSatin Paper and Sunset Select Matte Canvas. “The eSatin is just so easy to work with; it reminds me of working with color paper in the old school days. And I’m working now with the Velvet Rag; I’ll actually do multimedia with that. I’ll print on it and then work with an artist to paint on top of it. I’ll also work with artists where I’ll print on the canvas and then come back and do multimedia on top of that with watercolor, oils or acrylics,” says Kenner. Like so many other LexJet customers, Kenner is always finding unique ways of using the products.

Photographic painting“LexJet is a great reference because when something is going haywire with the computer, Photoshop or the printer and I can’t get in touch with the manufacturer, LexJet is always there as a resource,” he explains. “LexJet is an ace in the hole to call on to get good advice, or find out how to fix the problem and get back to work immediately. In the old days I’d have to bring in somebody from out of town and pay them an arm and a leg to come and fix it and then they’d come in and it’d take forever to get the parts in town. Now with these machines and LexJet on the line I can get things happening within the same day. There’s no wasting time trying to get something fixed or figure it out.”

Fine Art Banners with Sunset Select Matte Canvas

You may remember Vickey Williams of Mountain Dreamworks in Ketchum, Idaho, and her recent Sagebrush Cowboy Ball project. That’s not the only interesting application she’s been working on. Recently, Williams has been using Sunset Select Matte Canvas in a unique way: to print outdoor fine art photo banners.

Printing fine art banners on canvasWilliams first started using Sunset Select Matte Canvas as a fine art banner when the supplier she’d been using for cotton and silk fabrics went out of business. “I had to find another solution and I started playing around with the canvas and thought, ‘What would happen if I splashed water on this untreated canvas?’ That’s when I started experimenting with it.”

She needed to know that whatever material she used would hold up against the unpredictable Idaho climate. “Now mind you I live at about 6,000 feet,” Williams explained, “So we get quite a bit of snow. We have seasons with rain, snow, sun, wind, dust and ice… we get everything here.”

To make sure the canvas would hold up and maintain the look of the photos printed on it Williams put the canvas through a long test. “I started by cutting printed test strips and hung them outside,” she explained. “Throughout the year I didn’t see any fading and the archival ink on my Canon iPF8100 did not run. Without any protective coating the ink would start to come off if I rubbed the canvas when it was wet, but knowing most of the photo banners would not be handled I thought this just might work.”

Williams decided to sew hems for pole pockets and went to a local welding company to fashion a 12″ x 12″ x 1″ steel plate with a loop in the middle for attaching the banner wire. “This added a final touch to secure the banners in place and added a rugged rustic look to our fine art photo banner presentation,” says Williams.

Williams wasn’t the only one pleased with the outcome of the banners. Her customers really seem to like them too, though she admits they may not work for everyone. “I can’t compete with the people who do vinyl, but the people who want a canvas look, and a more organic look, are not only fine with it, they love it.”

Peak to Peak: Glenn Randall’s High Country Photography and Printing

Capturing the sunrise from Uncompahgre Peak

The exhilaration and fulfillment one feels when they reach an almost unfathomable goal is often nearly impossible to describe. But Boulder, Colo.-based professional photographer Glenn Randall has gone one step further by capturing this emotion in images, first on film, and now on high-end digital equipment.

Since early 2006 Randall has been capturing stunning shots of the early morning sun peeking up from the mountain peaks of Colorado in a project he calls Sunrise from the Summit. In the past five years he has achieved 39 photo shoots from 26 of Colorado’s 54 famous Fourteeners, those peaks that reach a height of more than 14,000 feet.

Randall’s journey to the peaks really started 30 years ago when he set off to launch his career in journalism. “For quite a while I thought of myself as a writer and photographer and then in 1985 I lost a writing assignment because the editor at the magazine said that basically the writing is fine and we’d be happy to publish it, but the photography stinks,” he recalls.

This harsh critique, however, kicked Randall into gear. “I decided it was either time to sell the camera gear or learn to use it better,” Randall explains. He went with the latter, upgrading all of his equipment and devoting time to studying the craft.

Photographing Colorado's 14,000 foot peaksIt was around this time that the avid outdoorsman began shooting many of the outdoors sports he was doing: rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, ski-mountaineering and sea- kayaking. This led him to purchase his first large-format field camera.

As time went on, Randall began losing interest in extreme sports. “I’d gotten married in 1989 and I could only get ten things done in one day. Rock climbing and ice climbing kind of became the eleventh thing that there just wasn’t time for anymore. My interest in those sports was waning, but my interest in being outdoors in the wilderness was still just as strong as ever,” he says. This led him to a specialization in Colorado wilderness landscape shots.

With a thriving career and a specialization, Randall took his photography to a new level by purchasing his first printer. “I jumped in whole hog. I had never owned an inkjet printer and I bought an Epson Stylus Pro 9600. So I went from nothing to a 44-inch printer.”

Before purchasing his Epson 9600 Randall had been using a local lab for his prints, but when they went bankrupt he explained that, “I either needed to find a new supplier or start making the prints myself.  It seemed like inkjet printing had evolved far enough that I went ahead and bought the printer and ImagePrint at the same time, both through LexJet.”

Printing fine art outdoor landscape photos
This framed piece, printed on LexJet Sunset Fibre Elite, is entitled Stormy Sunrise over Windom and Sunlight Peaks.

Since then Randall has upgraded to the Epson Stylus Pro 9800 after finding some limitations getting the color range he wanted for his shots with the 9600, particularly when working with vibrant oranges and yellows. “If you’re shooting Colorado in the fall you’re basically working with orangey-yellows. That’s the whole point of the photograph most of the time,” he explains.

Randall says he prefers fibre-based papers for his fine art work, primarily LexJet Sunset Fibre Elite and EPSON Exhibition Fiber Paper. For color plaques and gallery floats, he prefers to smooth surface of LexJet Sunset Photo Semi-Matte.

After using a friend’s printer to see what his photos would look like on the 9800 he was hooked. “The color saturation was virtually identical. And at that point I said, ‘Okay, I’ve got to have this printer,’ and so I upgraded to the 9800 and sold my 9600,” Randall says.

And that’s the printer he’s using today to produce the photos in Sunrise from the Summit, a project he was inspired to start when he noticed that so many photos taken from the summits of Fourteeners were essentially boring. Deciding this was due in large part to the poor lighting of mid-day Randall set a new goal of shooting sunrises from the summits.

It was a lofty task to take on. Photographing from a summit at sunrise meant hiking and climbing up to it in the dark. But the photographs proved well worth the extra effort. “I would like to do all 54. It’s been five years and I’m not quite half way there,” Randall says, but “the goal was never to simply tick them off.  Rather, the goal is to come back with outstanding images.”

Take Your Best Shot and Win in Photo and Imaging Contests

Photo and digital design contestsRangefinder Publishing is currently accepting submissions for two new photography contests: AfterCapture’s PIX Digital Imaging Contest and Rangefinder’s Take Your Best Shot contests. Both contests offer photographers the chance to have their photography recognized as the best of the best by these two highly-regarded professional photography publications.

“These photography contests were created to provide professional as well as up-and-coming photographers with an outlet to get their most creative and inspiring images noticed,” said Bill Hurter, editor of Rangefinder and AfterCapture magazines. “And in addition to a photographer entering to win these contests they also have the opportunity to have their entry chosen as a People’s Choice selection.”

The first contest, the PIX Digital Imaging Contest, recognizes excellence and innovation in digital design. Submissions may include retouching, CGI, 3D, compositing as well as other post-production techniques.

The deadline for submission is Aug. 15 and prizes for each category include a Canon Powershot G12, the complete Nik Software collection, a PhotoServe Portfolio, registration to Wedding & Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) 2012 with three Master Classes, a Gold Pass to the 2011 PDN PhotoPlus Expo, as well as a feature in AfterCapture magazine. There is a $35 entry fee per image, or $50 for a series.

Contest judges include: Zana Woods, Wired Magazine; Mark Mayer, Moving Image & Content; James Digby-Jones, Saddington & Baynes, Studio 3 and David McLain, Merge. For more information or to enter the PIX Digital Imaging Contest, visit: http://pixdigitalimagingcontest.com.

The second contest, Take Your Best Shot, invites photographers to submit what they think is their “Best Shot” of people, places or things. All winners will be featured in an online gallery as well as the December issue of Rangefinder. The grand prize winning photo will be featured as the cover of the December issue. The deadline for submission is Oct. 3.

First places winners in each category will receive a Digital SLR, a Tamron Zoom Lens, a $200 B&H gift card, registration to (WPPI) 2012 with three Master Classes, and a one year subscription to Rangefinder. The entry fee is $15 for WPPI members (per entry) and $35 for non-members. Judges include: Storey Wilkins, Bill Hurter and Bambi Cantrell.

For more information or to enter visit: www.yourbestshotcompetition.com/index.shtml