Prints That Win: The Chosen One

When Laura Wagoner’s son wanted to dress up as Harry Potter for a “character day” at school, she wasn’t planning on capturing a winning photograph from the event. “We were just having fun,” she says with a laugh. “My son was Harry, my daughter was Hermione Granger, and my little one was Draco Malfoy.”

Avid fans of the series by J.K. Rowling, her three kids were thrilled to portray their favorite characters. Wagoner did individual photographs of them, but this shot of her son immediately caught her eye, prompting her to enter it into the Minnesota Professional Photographer Association and Twin City Professional Photographer Association competitions, where she won the prestigious Sunset Print Award.

Wagoner has been photographing for years, ever since she took a class in 11th grade. “I knew I wanted to do something with art,” she says, “and after I took that class I just knew that was it.” She completed another five years of training and ultimately opened her own studio.

Her specialty is portraiture of children. “I just have always loved kids,” she says. “They’re amazing to work with and always in awe of things. I just love capturing the innocence.” She often enters these close-up portraits as her competition pieces because she feels they best portray the character of the subject.

Competitions are a key part of her self-development as a photographer. While she initially found the experience nerve-wracking, she says the learning process eventually out-weighs the butterflies. She also saw a huge change in success after she got her certification. “It made me think and relearn things,” she says. “I grew so much in just a couple years.”

She draws her inspiration from the “old masters” of art. “These last few competitions I’ve been trying to do something like Da Vinci or Rembrandt,” she says. “I just love that style, so I have arts books that I go through.”

For her, photography is a form of fine art. Using these master artists as muses, she combines multiple technical elements of editing to create the elegant, slightly surreal feel of her images, such as “The Chosen One.” Her soft-toned style of editing is reflected in her winning portrait. “The tones that are in this image – I love that type” she says. She’s also partial to a painted effect in editing, though taking the image is still her favorite part of the process.

Whether she’s photographing her son or another subject, photography allows Wagoner to showcase them through her artistic lens, drawing the viewers into highly detailed, expressive portraits.

“There wasn’t a specific moment I realized my passion for photography,” she says. “There was just something about it … I’ve always seen the world differently.”

Prints That Win: Departing Flight

While stalking birds in the Everglades, Seymour, Wis.-based photographer Steven Kemp captured a Brown Pelican in mid-departure. Birds taking flight aren’t typically viewed as spectacular, noteworthy moments; however, the photography veteran has a knack for capturing the simple moments of life and transforming them into amazing ones.

The Sunset Print Award-winning photo, “Departing Flight,” was naturally exquisite and only needed minimal editing to be a winner. Kemp cropped out the trees and the shoreline in the background and smoothed out the rippled water. He printed the image on LexJet Sunset Production eSatin 250g photo paper, and it was ready for competition.

Prints That Win: The Fluffle

Vermont-based photographer Kelly Schulze has always had an affinity for animals. After majoring in animal science in college, she originally planned to continue to vet school, but instead decided to combine her passion for photography with her love of pets.

“I remember sitting down one night because I was working at a job I really didn’t like, and I was trying to make either a career in animals or photography work,” she says, “And so I googled ‘animal photographer’ and thought: hey, if these people can make it work, so can I.” She now owns a successful studio known as Mountain Dog Photography.

Prints That Win: Kidnapped by Tuscan Fog

The sleepy, rolling landscape featured in this Sunset Print Award-Winning photograph was beautifully captured by Wyoming-based photographer Ty Thompson just outside Tuscany, Italy. While on vacation for their 16th wedding anniversary, Thompson and his wife decided to venture out to this remote location for photographs.

“We got up really early to go out and shoot a sunrise,” says Thompson. “We got out of the van, looked around, and realized we were completely stocked in with fog.” Thompson was originally disappointed with the photos, thinking the fog had kept him from capturing a good shot. However, in poetic irony, this exact element is what makes the image so captivating.

Prints That Win: Elsa

Nebraska-based photographer Keith Howe was scrolling through Facebook one night when he came across a client’s post about the bullying her 11-year-old daughter was facing at school. “Some of the other kids in her class were giving her a hard time, and she came home wanting plastic surgery,” says Howe. “And we said, ‘why don’t we have her come in as a model.’ So, we took her out to a lake and took photos of her, and I presented it to her as a modeling portfolio … she just needed a self-esteem boost.”

One of the photos from this series resurfaced when Howe was getting ready for his next competition. The beautiful, Sunset Print Award-winning portrait of the girl was named Elsa, reminiscent of the strong female character from Disney’s Frozen.

Sunset Print Awards Are Heating Up Around the Country

We’ve received more than 20 Sunset Print Award event registrations so far this year. Is your local or regional group involved? You can check out the ever-growing list of 2016 Sunset Print Award events on the Sunset website. Be sure to check back often, as the list is constantly updated with new events.

In February alone, we have award opportunities at these seven events:

  • Feb 3-9: PhotoPro Expo in Covington, KY
  • Feb 11-14: PP of Ohio Imaging Compeition in Lewis Center, OH
  • Feb 18-19: Southeast District Photographic Competition in Williamsburg, VA
  • Feb 19-23: Professional Photographers of South Carolina in Charleston, SC
  • Feb 25-March 1: Professional Photographers of Michigan in Detroit, MI
  • Feb 26-28: Northeast District Photographic Competition in Detroit, MI
  • Feb 26-March 1: Professional Photographers of Iowa in Des Moines, IA

Remember: Local/regional Sunset Print Award winners receive a trophy and a gift certificate for LexJet Sunset media. Plus, the local/regional winners will be able to compete in the National Sunset Print Award later this year.

Check the Sunset website for information about the individual events, submission rules, deadlines and more.