Prints That Win: Randy McNeilly’s Triple Crown

In November, Shelby, N.C., photographer Randy McNeilly celebrates 40 years in photography, a true milestone in the industry. Over the years, he has seen many changes when it comes to the art of capturing and conveying a story with images. Through all the changes, McNeilly, who won three regional Sunset Print Awards in the PPA Southeast District this year, believes the biggest change was the switch from darkroom to digital.

“Classic” by Randy McNeilly

McNeilly was prepared for this inevitable transition, as he was already doing his own work in a color lab. McNeilly says “digital didn’t increase my workload,” because he had always been so hands-on every step of the way, from capture to completion.

He takes pride in focusing on portrait and in-studio work, because he feels there is an emerging trend of more photographers going outside the studio, vying for the unique exterior setting. McNeilly estimates that “about 90 percent of my work is still in the studio, and I feel that there is less competition” because many other photographers concentrate on exterior settings, while he works with the clients who still cherish the look and feel of a cozy, studio photo shoot.

Two of his winning Sunset Print Awards, “Classic” and “Military Intelligence” show McNeilly’s portrait prowess. His third, “Heavy Metal,” is a study in machinery details.

“Heavy Metal” by Randy McNeilly

McNeilly was profoundly influenced by late portrait photographer and educator Dean Collins. Early in his career, McNeilly was purely a commercial photographer, but shifting to studio photography about 10 years into his craft once he discovered the work and teaching of Collins.

“I really believe that he grasped the concept of photography,” he says of Collins. McNeilly also names Florida photographer, Thomas Kelly, as someone who has helped shape his passion for the world of portrait photography.

Getting into the mind of a client and learning which story is begging to be told is important to McNeilly. Before each photo shoot, he spends time with his client and learns about their lives. It is during this consultation where the ideas and narration begins, ending with the client being presented with a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, a story told through a photo rather than words.

“Military Intelligence” by Randy McNeilly

The image “Military Intelligence” commemorates the retirement of a communications director for Air Force One. Knowing that this gentleman was an intellectual, he used the bookcase as the perfect backdrop, paying close attention to such finite details. “I thought it would be a nice touch to have him reading The Art of War, by Sun Tzu during the session,” McNeilly says of the open book in the image.

For printing, McNeilly chose LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin Paper 300g for color prints “Classic” and “Military Intelligence,” but decided upon LexJet Sunset Fibre Elite 285g for his black-and-white winner, “Heavy Metal.”

Thesis Exhibits Get Graphic with LexJet Print-N-Stick

When designer Nathan Lambert of Full Color, Inc., a professional printing lab in Dallas, needed to put together his master of arts thesis exhibit along with a handful of his peers, he opted for an easy-to-use product that would work on all surfaces, floor to ceiling.

“For these big final presentations, we used LexJet Solvent Print-N-Stick Fabric everywhere,” Lambert says. “We printed all the wall graphics, and used it for floor graphic and pedestals, too.”

Throughout the exhibit hall, Lambert and his peers put together elaborate displays that featured topics like color therapy, gender identity, mobile fresh markets and superhero archetypes. Lambert’s thesis discussed the benefits of contemporary middle school uniforms.

For his exhibit, he covered stationary walls with white-on-black text graphics, while mobile walls carried bright imagery along with informative text. He used Print-N-Stick to cover two pedestals holding manikins wearing uniforms that were dye-sub printed. Full Color utilizes Epson and Kodak printers to get the jobs done.

“When we got the Print-N-Stick from LexJet, we did some test printing,” Lambert says. “For a bunch of designers, it was like giving us a toy to play with. We were able to get some really cool stuff out of that material.”

His team used a Graphtec cutter for some of the more complete exhibits. “That made our lives really easy,” he says. “We used some technology we hadn’t used for our regular work.”

For this job, Lambert used an Epson SureColor S80600 to print 200 linear feet of Print-N-Stick. “We were so blown away with the color,” he says. “LexJet sent us the color profile to use with Onyx software — we were just blown away with how vibrant everything was. As a designer, that’s pretty awesome for us.”

In previous years, taking down printed graphics was a challenge, as many adhesives would remove the paint, as well. ” Everyone got excited by how wonderful the quality and colors, and how it came down without damaging wall,” Lambert says. “This product would be awesome to use in a home — like a child’s bedroom or the living room where you want to put something cool on the wall.”

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Prints That Win: Mother

When Shayna Lohmann first started experimenting with photography as a middle school student, she didn’t expect it to become a possible career option. “I was kind of bad at it when I was in middle school,” she says. “But as soon as I got my first roll of film developed, and it came out perfect, I thought that this is meant to be.”

Lohmann studies photography at the Antonelli Institute in Erdenheim, PA.  Recently, she won the Sunset Print Award for her winning portrait in the Contemporary Portrait category for the Antonelli Institute Print Competition.  Her portrait named “Mother” depicts her own mother looking intently into the lens.

“My mom was sitting there and I thought the whole composition was great in that moment, so I took the shot,” she explains. “It was so raw and powerful, and I think the judges felt that way, too.”

During the summer, Lohmann likes to experiment with different styles and approaches saying, “I have been asking my friends and family to model for me and I pick out the outfits I want them to wear.”

She finds inspiration for her work in vintage fashion magazines and photographs. One of her favorite photographers is Helmut Newton, a successful fashion photographer born in Germany in 1920. “His photos were so stark, but had movement in them,” she says. “They were very natural.”  His work has inspired Lohmann to pursue fashion photography in the future.

“Once I graduate, I want to be a portrait photographer or a fashion photographer,” Lohmann says. “I really like looking through magazines and seeing all of the portraits; I think there’s something that’s special about photographs of people compared to other forms of photography. The emotion you can capture is crazy and amazing.”

Lohmann’s experiences with submitting her work in competitions has been overwhelmingly positive. “I learned that anything is possible,” she says. “You should never doubt yourself or compare yours to other prints because you don’t know what will happen.”

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.

Prints That Win: Pastel Passage

When you’ve been competing in print competitions as long as Idaho photographer, Dennis Hammon, capturing beautiful landscapes comes as natural as the photo’s subject itself.

While teaching a photography workshop aboard the Celebrity Silhouette cruise ship, Hammon was admiring the view during the ship’s departure when he noticed a sailboat along the horizon. Using his keen eye and his Canon 5D, he snapped a couple of pictures of the scene, and a winner was born.

The Sunset Print Award winning photograph, “Pastel Passage,” displays placid waters complete with breathtaking hues of pink and purple pastels that were bestowed by the sunset.