Prints That Win: The Beauty of Innocence

For photographic craftsman Kimberly Smith of Muskogee, Okla., a hobby that started as a way to document the growth of her family through scrapbooking turned into a full-blown career. “I really was looking for a better camera to take better pictures of my kids. It turns out, not only did I find a better camera, I also found my passion,” she says.

Once Smith decided to pursue photography, she began looking for classes or other educational opportunities. A friend of hers suggested she reach out to Shannon Ledford of Broken Arrow, so that’s just what she did. “When I showed her my work, she said she could tell that I had a good eye,” Smith says. “She was so encouraging to me and my craft.” The two women bonded over photography and became fast friends, with Ledford inviting her to conventions, to her studio and into the lab for experience and training.

Nowadays, Smith has embodied the role of mentor to up-and-coming local photographers, saying, “it’s important to me to be able to inspire and encourage others, even if it’s as simple as going to their social media posts and commenting on the talent that I see.”

Attending conventions is still part of Smith’s routine, along with classes and competitions – affectionately known as the three C’s – making her a perpetual student of the art. Of competitions, like the Sunset Print Awards, Smith says, “they push me to do better. With every competition, I improve and they make me stronger.” She stresses that learning what to do or not to do and finding new ways to be creative are some of the most important lessons to be garnered from entering competitions.

During a recent Southwest PPA show, Smith had a few entries and was excited to see how the judges would rate her various prints. She was delighted to find out that her first image to be judged – “The Beauty of Innocence” – received a score of 100.

Thinking back on that particular portrait session, Smith notes, “a serene 1-year old is not necessarily something you would expect to have at the end of a photo shoot, but at that moment, the little girl just had a look of curiosity and a calmness about her. I could see the artistry in the shot and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to capture the image.” With the soft light coming through the window and the white jumper, she decided the image would be even more striking as a black and white.

Once the editing was complete, Smith worked with Red River Digital, an Oklahoma City based company that provides printing services for local artists, to ensure the print was competition-ready. She knew she wanted to use a thick art paper so that she could distress the edges of the print, adding a classic feel to the modern print. She decided on Sunset Hot Press Rag 310g, which gave her just the look she had envisioned for her winning entry.

Smith understands that her drive to compete, her desire to learn and willingness to share her knowledge contributes to her success. “In the end,” she says, “our memories and photographs are all we have. Enjoy life and capture it.”

Prints That Win: Prepare There’s Trouble

Award-winning master photographer Terry Blain was not always telling her story from behind the camera. She spent the past two decades traveling all over the country looking for interesting people to capture; however, in her early days as a model, she was the one who was captured on film. One day, after a particularly uninspired photo shoot, she realized that she would have set up the shots differently, had she been the one taking the pictures.

Utilizing her experiences on both sides of the camera, she has a self-awareness that helps her envision the best way to optimize the lighting, the setting and the model to strike the right tone and properly tell her story. “Putting the models at ease and making them comfortable is the best way for me to get the most flattering shot,” Blain says. “Often, I want to accentuate and flatter the highlights of the scene while downplaying the low-lights. I’m lucky enough to have experiences on both sides of the lens to help me clearly communicate this to my clients.”