Prints that Win: Waiting for You

Waiting for You

Each portrait Kristi Elias creates is a unique work of art that is relevant and appropriate to its subject. Last year, Elias won a Sunset Print Award at the Professional Photographers of California state competition for You Won’t Bully Me, a grungy portrait of a young martial arts competitor.

Elias followed up this year, taking home another Sunset Print Award at the California competition for a decidedly different subject, entitled Waiting for You. This portrait purposely evokes Renaissance art.

“I wanted a painterly feel with a lot of detail in the props, like the bottle. There’s note in the bottle, and you can see the contours and the detail. There was a lot of time put into those details of the portrait. You can see even the music on the floor, and all the shading and detail in it. I did it just like it would have been as a Renaissance painting, and how they paid so much attention to detail on all the props,” explains Elias.

The portrait of her client, who also poses for Elias to spark modeling ideas, was captured in the studio. Elias purchased a custom dress from Bulgaria for an authentic touch.

Elias added a new background, a photo she took of a Gothic cathedral in Tuscany. She used Photoshop, Nik Software and Alien Skin to edit the image.

“When I edit I don’t use the same actions every time. I look at each portrait as its own piece of art. Some of it is my own custom actions, and some of it is edited with Nik Software to bring out the detail in the shadows. I like to put a lot of detail in the shadow for that hopeless romantic look. I took any painterly effect off of her skin so there’s no texture on the skin, because that doesn’t go well with judging,” says Elias.

Master printer Jonathan Penney, Center Moriches, N.Y., printed the image on a fibre-based paper to complete the beautiful, Renaissance-style portrait.

Sunset Print Award Grand Prize Winner: Permanent Bond

Permanent Bond by Tammy Bevins

The judging panel for the first annual National Sunset Print Award described the First Place Grand Prize winner – Permanent Bond by Tammy Bevins – as “flawless,” “masterful” and “fully resolved.” The image depicts the bond her twin sons have had since before they were born.

In fact, there was little debate about the print, other than how perfect each element of the image – from composition to lighting – was absolutely spot-on.

Permanent Bond was one of 29 prints judged at LexJet headquarters in Sarasota, Fla., on Thursday, Nov. 13. All of the entries in the National Sunset Print Award competition won a Sunset Print Award at state and regional competitions across the U.S. in 2014.

Permanent Bond won the Sunset Print Award at the Professional Photographers of South Carolina (PPSC) competition, and was thus automatically eligible for the national competition.

Sunset Print Award
One of Tammy Bevin’s twins prepares to get into the water tank for the Sunset Print Award-winner, Permanent Bond.

“It took four minutes to photograph something, but it took me four years to come up with the idea,” says Bevins. “For several years I’ve been trying to come up with a concept to show the bond my twins have with each other and what it means to be a twin. It’s one of the most amazing experiences to have twins that look so much alike and have been best friends. Over the years I didn’t come up with something I was inspired to do until I came up with Permanent Bond. I wanted to position them like they were in the womb together, and I used rope to signify the umbilical cord.”

The shoot actually took more than four minutes as Bevins built a water tank in the back yard filled with a few inches of water and dry ice to create the fog effect. What you see is basically what Bevins captured; there was very little Photoshop work done to the image.

Bevins captured the image with a Canon 5D Mark II with a 24-70mm lens at 1/200, f/4.6, and 160 ISO. Master printer Jonathan Penney, Center Moriches, N.Y., printed the image on fine art paper.

Sunset Print Awards
The judges at the first annual National Sunset Print Awards evaluate Permanent Bond by Tammy Bevins. Photo by Billy Elkins.

“I used available light and a 2×3 soft box. I had the soft box on pretty low and wanted the light skimming across them and coming up from the top a bit,” explains Bevins.

Bevins runs Nuvo Images in Charleston, S.C., with her daughter and son-in-law, both of whom are award-winning photographers as well. Bevins has nine children – six girls and three boys – ranging in age from 13 to 29. The twins are the third and fourth out of the nine.

“I grew up in West Virginia, and everyone in my family were coal miners. I moved to South Carolina after I got married and was in the medical field. We started having children and I stayed home with the kids, which gave me some time to explore my creative side,” says Bevins. “About 13 years ago I started taking art classes in oil painting at the local museum and I absolutely loved it. My husband suggested I take photography classes, and it really exploded for me and fit my lifestyle. My first year in business was 2004 and I immediately joined PPA and PPSC, and shortly thereafter got interested in print competitions.”

The National Sunset Print Award judging panel - from left to right,  Carmen Schettino, Julie Hughes, Jessica Vogel, Tom Carabasi and Rich Newell - with their choice for First Place, Permanent Bond by Tammy Bevins. Congratulations, Tammy!
The National Sunset Print Award judging panel – from left to right, Carmen Schettino, Julie Hughes, Jessica Vogel, Tom Carabasi and Rich Newell – with their choice for First Place, Permanent Bond by Tammy Bevins. Congratulations, Tammy!

Bevins’ accomplishment at the National Sunset Print Awards is made all the more remarkable by the quality and variety of the images entered in the competition, from fine art photography to portraits and landscapes.

Julia Kelleher of Jewel Images in Bend, Ore., won second place for He Has Arrived. Click here to read the story behind Kelleher’s award-winning print that scored a 100 at the PPA Western District print competition.

Pete Wright won third for his retro image, Temptress, which won a Sunset Print Award at the PPA Southeast District competition. Click here to read the story behind this stunning image.

Congratulations to all the 2014 Sunset Print Award winners who made it to the National competition! Go to to see all the winners from 2014 and earlier years, and the stories behind the photography. While you’re there, look around to find out more about the 2015 competition and which competitions you can enter for a shot at a Sunset Print Award.

And, special thanks to our judges this year, who not only did a thorough and fair job, but gave everyone at LexJet a valuable education in what makes a print stand out at competition. This year’s judges were: Tom Carabasi of Ringling College of Art + Design; Julie Hughes, Abbey of London, Jensen Beach, Fla.; Rich Newell, Professional Photographers of America; Carmen Schettino, Carmen Schettino Photography, Sarasota; Jessica Vogel, Jessica Vogel Photography, Shelbyville, Ky.

Prints that Win: It Was the Best of Times

Photographing and Printing Vintage Railroads

It’s a tried and true saying – do what you love and do it well – and Robert A. Howard, owner of Howard Studios in Lebanon, Pa., embodies it. He photographs it all – from portraiture to commercial advertising photography – and then some.

The “then some” is his lifelong hobby: railroads and capturing both modern and vintage railroads in striking ways. He’s part of a cadre of “rail fans,” aficionados of all things railroad past and present. About three years ago Howard created Rail Art, which takes the best of his collection and makes it available for sale to the general public.

“I was born and raised around a number of family members who worked for the railroad here in Lebanon: the Reading and Pennsylvania railroads. I somehow found time throughout my life to chase trains. Rail fans take a lot of photos of trains to share them with clubs, and now blogs and social media. It’s about finding rare rolling stock still on the rails and capturing it in various places,” explains Howard. “Presently, we have a catalog in print of just shy of 100 images for sale. Each is a carefully chosen railroad image that depicts both contemporary and vintage railroads.”

In the case of this LexJet Sunset Award-winning print entitled It Was the Best of Times, Howard and a group of photographers, videographers and painters gathered after Howard and Carl Franz of Western Maryland Railroad (WMRR) set up this shot of an old steam-driven Western Maryland locomotive hauling freight. Franz rented the railroad for the day, coordinated the volunteers who cleared some brush out of the foreground, and helped set up the shot.

“We choose areas that resemble the way they would look in that particular era. In this case, the locomotive is from the 1940s and 1950s. It was easy to set up in this case because we found a third-generation farmer who owns the land. We went out on an early morning just after a morning rain and it was captured with most of us underneath umbrellas,” says Howard. “The farmer’s barn burned down a number of years ago, so the rail fans got together with the local Amish and built him a new barn. This location is very historic. The Western Maryland Railroad was one of the oldest working railroads in the country that still used steam locomotives to carry freight. In addition to the tourist trade, it still hauls freight for the local community.”

Howard then brought the image into Photoshop, applying Topaz and Nik filters to get the sepia/watercolor look of a vintage 1940s postcard. The image was printed on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag by Jonathan Penney for its entry in the PPA of Pennsylvania and PPA Northeast regional competitions.

The image merited at the PPA Northeast regional and won a LexJet Sunset Award at the PPA of Pennsylvania for highest quality print and presentation.

“I’ve been trying to win the Sunset Award for awhile and was very honored to do so this year. It takes an incredibly high score at a state competition to win the award,” says Howard. “The Sunset Award is proudly sitting in our front window and will be featured in our local newspaper in a couple of days.”

Prints that Win: Walking the Lonely Street

Award winning photography and inkjet printing

One of the great ironies of photography is that you can turn a certain weakness in the original capture into a strength that sets the tone and separates it from the usual. Such is the case with Bob Klein’s LexJet Sunset Award-winning image at the Photo NorthEast competition called Walking the Lonely Street, which was captured in a village near Vienna.

The image has just the right elements that evoke an Old World scene. Or, as Klein puts it, “You can project yourself walking down the street in this scene.” Perhaps that’s what caught the judges’ eyes, but much of the beauty of portrait – aside from the framing of the street, the lone figure with an umbrella slightly off center walking away from the camera and the way the buildings come to a satisfying point on the horizon – is in its weakness.

Klein explains, “It was overcast with poor light and light rain, but I loved the way it looked. At the time I considered it unfortunate, but in retrospect it was fortunate. That camera I used is more for speed than high ISO, so it was kind of noisy. I had to figure out what to do with the noise, and decided to put more noise in it.”

Klein spent 25-30 hours on the image to get just the right effect, or as he calls it, “trial and error.” He essentially took all the color out of it and treated it like a painter’s canvas using Photoshop and Lightroom.

“The sad thing, or really the good part of photography for me, is that it’s a borderline obsession where I get lost in time. It offers an opportunity to be creative in capture and creative afterward,” he says.

Print master Jonathan Penney output the image for him and added the appropriate matting and deckled edges of the print to complement the image.

“The printing and the presentation are wonderful, and it’s something I’ve never seen anywhere else; it really enhances the image,” says Klein. “I sent it to Jonathan and he said that he’d hang it in his house. I was really encouraged by that, because he has some great images he’s printed for others.”

Klein is a partner in a media buying and strategy business. Photography is his creative outlet, especially on his extensive travels. Though not a full-time photographer, Klein says he spends almost as much time on his photography as he would if it were his full time job.

“I joined the Westchester PPA and started competing, and the critiques helped me see things differently and I worked to try and improve what I do. Fortunately, I have come up with some images that others say are good, and not just me thinking they’re good,” says Klein.