Prints That Win: Ambers Anticipation

During her junior year in high school, Abbie Thomas fell in love with life behind the lens while taking a photography class. She always knew photography was in her blood – thanks to her grandfather – but once she started getting hands-on experience in class, she knew this was her calling. At age 17, a friend asked if she would photograph her wedding. Without any experience, and only a high school’s class worth of training, she borrowed her grandfather’s camera, loaded it up with black and white film, and shot her first wedding.

“It was the first time I’d been able to capture a wedding from beginning to end,” Thomas says. “Sitting down with [the bride and groom] after everything was over was amazing, to see the joy on the bride’s face … I just knew this is what I wanted to do.”

Years later, her wedding portraiture work has evolved into award-winning art. For the Sunset Print Awards, Thomas submitted her PPA Northeast winning photo “Ambers Anticipation.” Thomas was inspired by the amber waves of grain when entering the portrait into competition. This wedding shoot was especially personal to Thomas: She used to babysit the bride, Claire, when she was just a girl, and she captured Claire’s youthful exuberance in her senior portrait.

When Claire got engaged, the family knew that no other photographer would illustrate the day the way Thomas could. She was given free rein by the bride to do what she does best: witness the wedding day from beginning to end. To have played an integral part in so many highlights of Claire’s life, Thomas wanted to ensure that everything was perfect at the wedding.

Prints That Win: Misty Morning

Last November, photographers Kathryn and Gary Meek were vacationing in China, when one misty morning, they spied a junk boat moored to just a little wisp of a dock on the Yangtze River. Even though it was at rest, Kathryn Meek said she was struck by the serenity of the scene. She pulled out her camera and started shooting. One of the images she captured would later become “Misty Morning,” winner of the Sunset Print Award – Illustrative category in the PPA Southwest District.

“It is one of my favorite shots. The trip was a cool experience and I was able to get a really cool shot,” she says.

To properly convey the ethereal feeling of the scene for the print, she used LexJet Sunset Photo Metallic Paper. “It really made the image pop,” she said of the award-winning paper.

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.

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: Angels Bending Near the Earth

Idaho Falls-based photographer, Cheri Hammon, had an unusual start in photography. After abandoning a career as a hairdresser due to allergies, she happened upon a job in a local photography studio.

“They put me in sales and I was terrible,” she says, laughing. “So the photographer who owns the studio asked me if I was interested in retouching.” From that moment on, she had found her passion.

Her Sunset Print Award-winning image, “Angels Bending Near the Earth,” also had a unique inception. “Normally, I get a feeling when I start a project and it sits in my head for a while and kind of cooks,” Hammon says. “But this is the only one I’ve ever done that just hit me all of a sudden.”

Prints That Win: Deeply Attached

For Bend, Ore. photographer Julia Kelleher, photography is a family affair. Her photography studio, Jewel Images, is celebrating 10 years of capturing family milestones, including the arrival of newborns, pregnancy and other family portraits. Kelleher also shares her own family moments through the photographs she enters in yearly competitions.

“I try to enter my son every year,” Kelleher says. “My goal is to someday create an album of annual competition images for him from when he was very little to when he’s 18 or 19 years old.”

Recently, Kelleher’s quest resulted in a Sunset Print Award for her winning portrait, “Deeply Attached,” in the PPA Western District 2017 competition.

The portrait depicts her young son holding a toy dog attached to a blanket, a gift given to him by his aunt when he was born. Dean’s toy goes by many names, such as “Blankey” or “Stuffy.”