In the secluded woods of West Virginia, Jaki Good Miller took her Sunset Print Award-winning photograph, Autumn Cascades. This is only her second year entering competitions, but her second win of a Sunset Print Award; her first was last year with her image Morning on Mormon Row. “I think it was skill, but also some luck,” she says with a laugh. Her vibrant image, Autumn Cascades, captures the brilliant colors and textures of this West Virginian landscape, instantly captivating the viewer.
She originally began taking photos in 2003, after she was diagnosed with cancer. “I had to take a year off,” she says, “so I spent that year in the woods, photographing everything from birds to flowers… and it was such a peaceful thing.” From there, she began posting photos on Flickr and created a local following and clientele.
While she has only recently begun participating in competitions, she finds the experience to be incredibly beneficial. “The other day, I captured an eagle in flight, headed straight into the sunset,” she says, “but I realized that, just because an image is super executed and sharp, it’s not necessarily going to speak to a panel of judges.”
The competitions aren’t about blue ribbons or trophies to her. “I am competing against me, not others,” says Miller. To her, the challenge is getting outside your own head and creating an image that has a story; something that people can connect to.
Her editing techniques have evolved over the years, especially since her involvement in competitions. “I’ve noticed that the more I learn in photography, the less editing I do,” she says, “I try to capture the photo and use Photoshop to enhance, not change, the image.”
Even her winning image involved minimal editing. “The exposure was perfect and the colors were so vivid, I didn’t even saturate it,” she says, “It would have looked unreal.”
She draws her inspiration in various ways, but her passion is nature and landscapes. “When I was a little girl, I spent most of my life outside,” she says, “my dad was a big nature lover.” Photographing the wilderness is spiritual to her in many ways. “The depth and shadow and pain really comes out [in the photographs],” she says, “It has made me see beauty in the unusual… in survival.”