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: La Petite Mademoiselle

About four years ago, Massachusetts-based photographer Andrea (Andy) Joliat came to a creative standstill. She felt stuck in her artistic endeavors, unable to create as she had in the past; the writer’s block of photography. In the hopes of overcoming this, she turned to her fellow photographers, interviewing them about their creative resources, and even writing an article (pg. 34-36) on the subject that was published in Professional Photographers Magazine.

As a photographer with three decades of experience, Joliat was determined to overcome the creative obstacles. “I’ve thought a lot about creativity and where people get ideas from,” she says. “They come from different places… I might see some colors that I like, and I’ll remember those colors and want to create something in that palate.” In her article, she discusses her methods of finding inspiration, many of which come from literature. Discovering and exploring these outlets of creativity – whether it’s color palates or Robert Frost – is imperative to developing one’s style.

The exquisite, Sunset Print Award-winning photograph, “La Petite Mademoiselle,” beautifully portrays Joliat’s knack for creating aesthetic, touching images. The viewer is immediately struck by the little girl’s expression of curiosity and reticence, paired with the light, pastel composition of the color palate.

Joliat became interested in photography after taking a course in college. “I just fell in love with it my senior year,” she says. After she graduated, she continued to the New England School for Photography, and she’s been a professional photographer ever since.

She photographs a wide variety of subjects, but portraits of children are among her specialties. “I feel like I can connect with them in a quiet way, and it brings out a good expression in the child that is usually thoughtful,” says Joliat. “I’m a fairly quiet person and I feel that they are comfortable around me.”

La Petite Mademoiselle_ Andrea Joliat_Her portrait of this little girl is both precious and impressive in technique. Joliat adjusted both the lighting and complexion of the girl, painting her cheeks and lips to create the effect of a little doll. “When I think back to that session, her personality was very observant. She watched things,” she says, “Maybe that’s why her eyes came out so much in the picture, because she was a curious little girl.”

As one can tell from her winning photo, Joliat successfully found her way through the creative block, delving into her past along the way. “When I was young, I used to explore my grandmothers garden, and it felt like a journey to walk through and discover things and not have anything in mind, but to just go in and look for something” she says, “And I think this ties back to creativity. I felt like I had to have a specific idea or goal each time when I went out to take photos. And I got to a point where I could just go and be open-minded, explore, and come across new things.”

Joliat, who has been entering her work in completions since the late ‘90s, has won many awards over the years. She highly recommends that photographers of all skill-levels participate in such events, though she has unique advice for them.

“I think people should take the constructive criticism that they get from the experience, but still do their own thing,” she says. “I see a lot of people thinking that their work has to look a certain way, or look like an image from someone they admire. So listen to the criticism, but always maintain your style.”

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.