For Dorr, Mich. photographer – and recent double Sunset Print Award winner – Kari Douma, photography has always been a part of her life. From darkroom classes in middle school and yearbook photographer in high school to recently completing the judging class to become an affiliated juror, photography is no longer just a part of her life, it’s intertwined in everything she does.
She initially started taking pictures to capture her children in special moments, but soon, family and friends were asking her to photograph them. “Eventually, I had to do a mental check. I wondered if I could really do this and make it a business, or continue as a hobby, where I might eventually have to turn people down,” Douma says of her decision to go pro. “I decided to go the business route and joined professional organizations so that I could learn more about the business.”
The first professional association Douma joined was Professional Photographers of West Michigan. It was the members of that local group who encouraged Douma to start competing. Before jumping straight in, she observed. “The first competition I attended, I just watched and hung on every word spoken. I had a notebook and wrote down everything the judges were saying. Every critique, every compliment. It’s all feedback.”
The notes and observing paid off. As a first-time competitor, she scored somewhere around 77-79, which is considered “above average.” As her experience and talent has grown, so have her scores. Competitions, by definition, are tough, but one of the biggest lessons that Douma has learned is that a score is simply the opinion of five judges on any given day. “It’s fun to create an image and match up to the Twelve Elements of Merit, but you can’t get caught up thinking about what five people are going to think about it.” She realizes the judges are there to help, “they are giving you feedback – good and bad – because they are there to help you grow as a photographer.” For Douma, the PPA – Northeast competition was successful, with wins in Landscape with “Winter Pastel” (pictured above) and Portrait with “Dressed to Impress” (pictured below).
In “Winter Pastel,” Douma was able to capture the beautiful pink sky, just as the sun was rising over an early-season Michigan snowfall. For the print competition, she used LexJet Premium Archival Matte with a torn edge and a traditional mat, which helped extend the texture of the clouds and snow beyond the edges of the image.
Douma’s second winning image, “Dressed to Impress,” was a photo that happened because of her husband’s morning trip to a local McDonald’s. While waiting in line, her husband spotted this gentleman saunter into the restaurant dressed to the nines: fire-engine red 3-piece suit, wing-tipped shoes, hat, pocket square, the works. She said, “he just walked right up to the man and said ‘my wife would love to photograph you.’ So, we set up a session, and the rest is history.”
When it was time to print “Dressed” for competition, Douma chose LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin Paper 300g to add an authentic photographic feel to the black and white image.
For Douma, what started off as a hobby to take beautiful images of her children has led to an opportunity to provide feedback and guidance, enabling photographers to grow. One day, there will be a photographer observing her first competition, and with notebook in hand, she will be hanging on every word Kari Douma says.