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: Homestead

Veteran Michigan photographer, Kari Douma, has paid many visits to the winner’s circle at print competitions. Ever since her first competition in 2007, she has been capturing numerous show-stopping photographs that catch the judge’s eyes.

Her photograph, “Homestead,” is no exception. She won the Sunset Print Award at the PPA Northeast District in the spring, and was named the third-place winner at the National Sunset Print Awards in November. Coming across the scene captured in “Homestead” happened almost by chance.

An unseasonal spring snow in Montana inspired her to go for a ride in search of the perfect landscape. “We were driving on two track roads out in the middle of nowhere when I saw the scene and captured it,” she says. “I loved it so much that I wanted to come back at sunrise the next morning but I still liked the original one better from the day before.” After some slight editing in Photoshop, “Homestead” was primed to be a winner.

Prints That Win: The Boxer

Photographer Ben Tanzer may have left a theater degree behind, but he certainly kept his flair for the dramatic. In his “Identity Series,” he transforms himself into iconic characters, for self-portraits like “The Boxer,” a grungy interpretation with 1920’s style that recently won the Sunset Print Award at the Plymouth Center for the Arts Fine Art of Photography.

Tanzer_Ben_TheBoxerThe conceptualized image is a clear shout out to Cindy Sherman-esque photo and editing work. “I’ve always been drawn to Cindy Sherman — she was one of my first crushes ever, as a photographer,” Tanzer says. “The Boxer was my first piece for the Identity Series … I just became really interested in what it means to be human … and how we define ourselves by what it is that we do.”

For the competition print, Tanzer did some Photoshop work with overlays and brushes to create the gritty look, but says, “I don’t do a lot of what I call ‘liposuction editing.’ Just dodging and burning to emphasize certain areas.”

Tanzer_Ben_The_LadyIt’s a technique that he perfected in the second of the Identity Series in which he portrays a female karaoke singer in a low-cut, cleavage-bearing red dress.

The final competition print of “The Boxer” was a 9-by-9-inch square “Instagram cut,” as he calls it, that fit the mood of his self-portraits, thanks to the self-involved, “selfie” flavor the crop provided. The image was printed on Epson Cold Press Bright White 100% cotton rag paper.

While Tanzer, currently a production assistant for a Texas animation studio, has participated in photography shows for eight years, he’s been entering print competitions for just two years, and is looking to do more.

“There are a whole bunch of competitions out there,” he says. “And there are a lot of people around the country who care about this as much as I do.”

Prints That Win: And They Left Their Boats in Search of Him

When New Orleans photographer Yvette Ponthier first learned about print competitions, she was initially turned off by what seemed to be subjective judging and nitpicking. “I saw these beautiful images just being picked apart,” she says. “So I said, nope, not doing that. That was the biggest mistake I ever made.”

yvette Ponthier And They Left Their Boats In Search of HimFour years ago, she changed her mind and began competing with images like “And They Left Their Boats in Search of Him,” at left, which won the Sunset Print Award at the 2015 Southern Pro Exposure Competition sponsored by Professional Photographers of Louisiana.

“Print competitions totally make you more creative in every aspect,” Ponthier says. “I should have stuck with competition because being an active participant has taken my photography skills to levels I never thought possible.”