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.”

Prints that Win: Kung POW Chicken!

Tracye Gibson Sunset Print Award

For the second year in a row, Tracye Gibson, M. Photog., won a Sunset Print Award for her artistic flair and masterful use of Photoshop and Corel Painter.

Last year’s winner, Little Miss Muffet, combined Gibson’s portrait photography with digital paint. This time around Gibson had an idea featuring fighting roosters, but didn’t have any roosters nearby to photograph.

“For the Master Artist competition category at the Southwest PPA you don’t have to take the photo yourself; you just need to show how you put the elements together,” explains Gibson. “I usually shoot my own photography for that category, but I don’t have any roosters in my backyard here in Fort Worth. I know I’m from Texas, but… I’ve been obsessed with roosters and chickens lately because I like trying to figure out how to paint all the different feather textures.”

Gibson bought stock rooster illustrations (the four images at the bottom of the panel) as the basis for the image she had in mind and went to work with Photoshop and Painter.

“I composited different parts of the roosters together and positioned them in Photoshop. Then I took it into Corel Painter and painted in multiple layers. I like to add colors with pencil on the print, but I didn’t have time for that,” says Gibson. “For the background I went in and grabbed some colors from the roosters, drew some oval squiggles and overlaid them over each other. I took that into Photoshop and put a motion filter on it – zoom, I think – so that it gives it that center pow look. I did some cloning with different brushes, did a lot of dodging and burning, and always take it into Photoshop and apply other filters and layers as well.”

Gibson framed the final print with two layers of plain white mat. Though Gibson says she normally uses Sunset inkjet paper for her competition prints, she used Hahnemuhle Torchon for this image because she thought the texture of the paper complemented the image. Gibson floated the mats a bit, added a bevel to the outer mat and colored the bevel with a burnt-orange pencil.

“Presentation is very important, especially in the Master Artist category, because they want to see the before images, and sometimes it’s hard to get them on there without being distracting,” says Gibson. “I laid the before images on top of the top mat, backed everything up, photographed it, and sent the file in digitally just in time for the deadline.”

Prints that Win: Reverie

Reverie by Kelly Willis, Modello Fine Portraits
Reverie by Kelly Willis, Modello Fine Portraits.

Kelly Willis, owner of Modello Fine Portraits in Deer Park, Texas, made a deal with one her best clients who wanted a boudoir photo session. She gave the client and any friends who also wanted a boudoir session a special rate if they agreed to pose for photos she could use at competition.

“She posed and let me take that picture for competition. It was shot in my studio with a canvas backdrop. After I shot it I edited in Photoshop and took it into Corel Painter and painted it. The flowers and the basket were not in the image; I composited them in. She had bent her leg where the bottom of the foot was showing and I didn’t like that,” explains Willis.

The image scored a perfect 100 at the recent Southwest PPA District competition and won a Sunset Print Award. Beyond the overall composition and Willis’ masterly painting, the judges were drawn to the rim lighting.

“I had a strip of light on the right-hand side, the direction she’s facing, up against the wall angled toward her to get that rim lighting. I had a fill light in the back of the room and a reflector on the other side to throw just a soft light on her back; I didn’t want a strong light,” explains Willis.

The print originally scored a 91, but one of the judges challenged it. He wanted to review the image because he thought it was flawless and used a perfect color palette. He was especially drawn to the use of rim lighting. Upon further review, the other judges concurred and brought the score up to 100.

“One of the judges pointed out that there are eyes in the background, and another saw a face and thought it had a haunting quality,” recalls Willis. “I didn’t do that on purpose, and didn’t notice it until the judge pointed it out. I worked on this image for how many hours and didn’t notice that?”

Willis says she used a filter for the water effect in the foreground and edited the image in Photoshop to get the exact colors she wanted to use prior to taking it into Painter.

“I edited it in Photoshop by adding and changing color, compositing in the basket and flowers, and then painted the entire image in Painter. The original background canvas had a design with a darker brown, but because of her hair and yellow scarf I wanted to bring out the yellow, for example” explains Willis.

The image was printed on a fine-art watercolor paper with a deckled edge by Jonathan Penney Inc., Chapel Hill, N.C.  Though created and printed specifically for competition, this image is representative of Willis’ commercial work as well. “I like to paint the final image and provide a one-of-a-kind oil painting portrait for my clients,” adds Willis.

To find out more about the Sunset Print Award, competitions where the award is being presented, a portfolio of past winners, and the Sunset inkjet media product line, go to

Prints that Win: Snowy Morning

Snowy Morning by Cheri MacCallumCheri MacCallum, owner of Art by Cheri, Idaho Falls, is a photo painter extraordinaire. Photographers around the country send her files to paint digitally in Corel Painter to add that extra value that comes from painted portrait photo.

Moreover, MacCallum’s work has won various awards, including the LexJet Sunset Award two years running at the PPA Western District Competition. We profiled last year’s winner, Dennis the Menace, and had to wait for national competition judging to unveil this year’s winner, entitled Snowy Morning, which scored 100 at the PPA Western District Competition.

Snow Morning Award Winning Photo by Cheri MacCallum
This is the original capture of Snow Morning before Cheri MacCallum applied her digital painting magic.

MacCallum found the scene depicted in Snowy Morning on a little dirt road outside of Idaho Falls. The first snow had just blanketed the landscape and MacCallum saw great potential in the composition.

However, it wasn’t until she added the digital painting that she thought it would be competition-worthy. And competition-worthy it was, grabbing the attention of the judges for its composition, lighting and use of accent colors so that the viewer can almost feel the chill of that day, contrasted to the warm tones of the wood in the dilapidated fence and early winter foliage. “Adding the accent colors really helped a lot in the feeling and mood of the image,” she says.

“We went back a couple of weeks ago to see what it looked like in the summer, but we couldn’t find it,” says MacCallum. “We’ll have to try to figure out where it is so I can capture it in another season and contrast it with the winter scene.”

MacCallum printed the image for competition on LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin on her Canon iPF8300S, and says she chose the eSatin in part for its thickness and durability. “The year before I used a gloss paper. I liked how it looked, but it was very easy to ding and crimp, so I went with a thicker, more durable paper,” she adds.

Prints that Win: Dennis the Menace

Award Winning Print

Cheri MacCallum, owner of Art by Cheri, Idaho Falls, Idaho, is one of those talented few who have had the honor of winning a LexJet Sunset Award two years in a row.

Unfortunately, we can’t show you MacCallum’s latest winning image; she’s entering it in a national competition and it’s not a good idea to let it leak out to the public. There are affiliated jurors who might see it, who would then have to disqualify themselves from judging.

We had the same issue last year following the PPA Western District competition. The good news is that we can now reveal last year’s winning Sunset Award winner from the PPA Western District: Dennis the Menace.

MacCallum says Dennis the Menace, a portrait photographed in New Orleans, was likely an award winner in the Portrait category for three factors: expression, lighting and painting. MacCallum is a masterful artist in Corel Painter who also paints for other photographers.

“I work on it in Photoshop and re-touch it, take it into Corel Painter and bring it back into Photoshop to prepare it for printing,” says MacCallum. “When I enter print competitions I don’t think about awards, I think about improving myself and pushing the envelope. If the judges think it’s worthy, all the better. Any good photography makes a good competition print as well: posing, lighting, color, composition, subject material… the whole nine yards has to come together.”

MacCallum adds that for competition, the print itself could spell the difference between winning and losing. For this image, MacCallum printed the image on LexJet 8 Mil ImagePro Gloss with her Canon iPF8300 and applied it to art board.

“I called LexJet and told my rep what I was doing and that I didn’t need anything really thick and heavy, or what I normally provide my clients: fine art paper and canvas. Based on that, we came to the conclusion that ImagePro Gloss would be a good fit. Print presentation is definitely one of the elements they look for, and this print material worked well,” adds MacCallum.

Prints that Win: Something Old, Something New

Portrait photography

Lightning does strike twice, or at least the LexJet Sunset Award for outstanding photography did. Ann Naugher was honored earlier this year with a LexJet Sunset Award at PPA’s Southeast District competition for her portrait entitled Windswept, and most recently added another to her collection with another portrait entitled Monet’s Garden at the PPA’s Southwest District competition.

Naugher’s specialty is children’s portrait photography enhanced with Corel Painter, printed on fine-art canvas, embellished with oil paints and then finished with a lacquer. What results are classic yet timeless pieces of art that have gained a nationwide following of enthusiastic and appreciative customers.

Though Naugher has carved a popular and award-winning niche with her style of portrait photography, she likes to share credit with the artist who paints her backgrounds – David Maheu of Backgrounds by Maheu – and the subjects of the photos.

For the Monet’s Garden portrait, Maheu painted a rendition of Monet’s Rose Garden at Giverny, which Naugher then used as a background and the key element from which everything else in the photograph flowed.

“My business is primarily based on high-end, classic children’s work. When I do ‘classic’ I never want it to be stodgy, boring or monochromatic; I want to incorporate contemporary with classic,” explains Naugher. “The old master’s work at the time was very contemporary and the colors used are very much in vogue today. I wanted to give my client something new and vibrant, but born of something old and timeless.”

When Naugher visited with the judges following the PPA Southwest District competition, her goals were corroborated by their comments, such as that it’s a classic portrait that incorporates good lighting, balance and composition. “That’s what I was hoping to accomplish,” she says.

Monet’s Garden garnered a 99 out of 100 at the competition. Previously, at the Oklahoma competition (Naugher is based in Tulsa), it scored a 100.