Prints That Win: From the Ashes

The portrayal of a Phoenix rising from the ashes is not only a Sunset Print Award winner for Enid, Okla., photographer Dawn Muncy, it’s also an indication of the state of her career: on fire. A member of the high school yearbook staff, Muncy says that’s where the decision was made to work in photography. “I got to see life differently, looking through the lens. Not to mention, the darkroom was an escape for me,” she says.

Out of high school, Muncy attended the Colorado Institute of Art for a year, but she didn’t feel at home. “Initially I wanted to be a commercial photographer, and they did allow me to focus on that,” she says. “However, after I photographed the same cereal box for weeks, I realized I needed people. I needed conversation. Commercial photography wasn’t for me.”

After leaving the art institute, Muncy decided she was going to take it upon herself to learn about photographing people, so she started doing photography on the side. She says it was her marriage that really moved things forward. “When I first started, it was before digital cameras, then my husband and I got married,” she says. “He knew I had the bug and it wasn’t going away. I finally got my first digital camera in 2001.”

As she delved deeper into her craft, Muncy says she found inspiration everywhere, especially from local photographers. She remembers walking by one studio with a picture of a beautiful brunette in a red sweater and the photographer used a red gel for lighting. “It was very striking and all I could think about is one day, I want to create something as striking as that.”

With the support of photographers like Karen Moore, Jackie Patterson, and Dwaine Horton, who helped her with technique, she became involved with the Professional Photographers of Oklahoma and then PPA where she then found inspiration in photographers like Tony Corbell and Kristi Elias. “Once the floodgates open and you meet that kind of talent, you realize there’s so much more out there that you need to learn,” Muncy says.

Prints That Win: The Gentle Giant

When it comes to capturing the personality of pets, Wyoming photographer Jen Hargrove has it down to a science. In fact, fellow photographer Dan McClanahan calls her the “Dog Whisperer” and has told her she should embrace this rare talent. That’s just what she did for her Sunset Print Award-winning photo “The Gentle Giant.”

For Fynn, a big, lovable English Mastiff – which Hargrove calls her “non-human muse” – the young chick was almost too much to handle. He’s so big in comparison, but the chick had him on edge. “Next year, I think we’ll try baby ducks. They aren’t quite as small and don’t seem to intimidate him as much,” she said of her very patient muse. “In fact, I would like to do an entire series with Fynn and other farm animals: cows, ducks, turkeys.”

When it’s photo shoot time, Hargrove doesn’t scold or discipline the dogs and she doesn’t want the owners doing so either. She gives them about 15 minutes to get acclimated to the set and then she starts shooting.

Sunset Bright Velvet Rag for Perfectly Distressed Edges

For Oklahoma photographer Kimberly Smith, 2017 was quite the year; not only did she take home a Sunset Print Award for her entry “The Beauty of Innocence” in the Southwest PPA regionals, but in February, she was presented with the 1st Place prize for the 2017 National Sunset Print Award at Imaging USA.

To create her signature style in these winning images, Smith uses LexJet Sunset Bright Velvet Rag 315g with distressed edges that create a fine art finish to her work.

In quite the follow-up to 2017, Smith won another Sunset Print Award in the 2018 Southwest PPA District, and she stepped to the head of the class for the first time to teach a group of students about the art of black-and-white photography … as well as her favorite deckled-edge finishing technique.

While preparing her curriculum, Smith wanted to include the distressed technique for her students. “I want to print out a few different images for them to practice tearing the edges,” she said. Of Sunset Bright Velvet Rag, she says “the thickness (of the paper) means the tears on the edges are perfect for a soft, multi-layered look.”

Sunset Bright Velvet Rag is a 20-mil thick (315g) 100% rag paper with a velvet surface. The bright white finish is the perfect complement to Smith’s preference for high-key black-and-white printing. “The cottony feel and thickness is what caught my attention and it prints beautifully,” she says.

With all the print competitions she does, it’s important that her prints stand up to being held, shipped and displayed all over the country. “Several of my images have been handled a lot, packed in print cases and shipped several times,” she says. “They come back looking the same.”

Bright Velvet Rag will continue to be part of Smith’s award-winning formula for a while. “It’s a beautiful product that I will continue using myself and highly recommend for others.”

If you are looking to give your photographs a fine-art finish, call your sales representative at 800-453-9538 to discuss LexJet Sunset Bright Velvet Rag 315g or visit us at lexjet.com.

Prints That Win: Back Alley Beauty

When Chicago, Ill.-based photographer Michael Novo attended a destination wedding as a guest several years ago in Monte Carlo, he captured a brilliant shot of the bride on the stairs with a point-n-shoot camera. Everything was perfect: the lighting, the composition, the ambiance and of course, the bride. Excited about his newly discovered talent, Novo came home from Monte Carlo and immediately purchased nicer equipment. However, as he started delving deeper into the world of photography, he realized that perfect shots don’t just happen.

“I learned that I couldn’t rely on the light to just be right. I had to create the perfect lighting. I got lucky before, having the right lighting and right setting,” Novo says of his initial foray into professional photography.

After treating it as more of a hobby and dabbling a bit, he decided to show his work to some trusted friends in the industry. They offered some constructive feedback and suggested that he take classes and compete. Novo started working with a bog-box studio with two additional local area photographers, doing 40-50 wedding per year. Initially, he was hired as the third photographer, eventually moving up to second, and finally earning the Lead photographer position. Although he was gaining experience with the studio, the much-needed training was still elusive.

Finally, after about two years of event photography, Novo discovered a couple of photographers who drew him in with their style. He attended two separate 5-day workshops with Knoxville-based Bryan Allen. Allen’s Savannah and Knoxville workshops were beneficial in helping Novo learn the artistic aspects of photography. Working with technical specialist Kevin Kubota helped him learn more about the lighting and editing facets of the industry. He continues to work with both mentors and will be joining Kubota for a motorcycle tour through Italy later this year.

Through all of the training, workshops, event opportunities and practicing that Novo has accomplished over the years, the best piece of advice for improving his craft came from Grand Master of WPPI, Jerry Ghionis. The advice? One word: “compete.” As Novo learned when he first started competing, “you really aren’t as good as you think you are, but with each competition, you learn something. About you or the art, or the competitors. You go in against the best of the best. There are no levels, no ‘beginner’ groups. You are immediately tested and pushed to your limits. That’s how you improve.”

His wedding portraits are created to bring out the personalities of his clients, and that’s just what he did with his Sunset Print Award-winning print “Back Alley Beauty.” As a first-time recipient of the prestigious Sunset Print Award, Novo said the opportunity to capture the happy couple as they walked into their nuptials was too hard to pass up. “It’s important they see their style in the images. I’m taking the photos for them, not for me.”

Looking at his body of work and seeing the joy he brings to his clients on their special day, Novo realizes he’s come a long way from that first destination wedding image he captured. For him, it’s not how often one of his images is viewed, it’s about evoking emotion. As for his signature style, he says, “You might view it [an image] often, or you may view it rarely. But you will always feel it.” As long as you feel it, he’s done his job.

Prints That Win: Vigilante

“Vigilante” by Billy Dzwonkowski

As a child, Billy Dzwonkowski would take pictures of trains, but the Bradenton, Fla., artist didn’t realize then that he would one day be a preeminent photographer. “I liked taking pictures, but I had no idea I wanted to make a living doing that. I wasn’t on the yearbook staff in high school and when I went on a trip to London, I didn’t even take a camera,” Dzwonkowski says.

Later in high school, fate stepped in and subtly guided Dzwonkowski to a world behind the lens. He was in marching band with photographer Al Gordon’s son. He was the unofficial marching band photographer and would often suggest that Dzwonkowski come by the studio so he could teach him the art of taking pictures. It wasn’t until two years later – on his 20th birthday – that he took Gordon up on his offer, and he hasn’t looked back since. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years now, and it never gets old,” he said.

Prints That Win: On Fire

Orlando, Fla. photographer Gary Shaver has no shortage of beautiful scenery surrounding him, but with so much beauty, it takes a keen eye to catch what some may miss. As part of the Orlando Camera Club, Gary and the group often go on “shoot-outs” to local hot spots like Disney’s Animal Kingdom or Bok Tower to practice, learn and teach in a group setting.

While on one of these shoot-outs, as Shaver was teaching other members of the club some tips and tricks about photographing flowers, that he noticed a bloom about three-quarters of the way opened. “Once I lined up the shot, I realized there was a full bloom in the background that created a fiery halo around my partial bloom,” said Shaver. “Then it was a matter of using the deflector and diffuser and adding a little texture during editing.” The result was his Sunset Award-winning shot “On Fire.”