2019 Sunset Print Awards are Here

Awards season is in full swing and the 11th Annual Sunset Print Awards are “red carpet” ready. The first official competition to offer the prestigious award was held in Iowa earlier this week.

The awards are available to camera clubs and colleges that have 150 or more competitors as well as the five Professional Photographers of America (PPA) districts. Whether competing for the first time or a repeat National Champion, the Sunset Print Awards are a great way for photographers to hone their skills.

Read what some of our 2018 winners had to say about the importance of competition:

  • Jen Hargrove, PPA Western District – “Getting feedback is important and the judges want us to grow.”
  • Kari Douma, Professional Photographers of West Michigan – “[At her first competition] I wrote down everything the judges were saying. Every critique, every compliment. It’s all feedback.”
  • Kimberly Smith, 2017 and 2018 National Winner – “Impact is so important. I put a lot of emotion behind the story in my images and the judges can tell … I want them to feel something.”
  • Robert Howard, PPA of Pennsylvania – “I entered my first competition without consulting with anyone, and none of my images were accepted. I learned two important lessons: 1) always get a second opinion and 2) never take it personally.”

If you are interested in more information or you would like to register your group for the 2019 Sunset Print Awards, visit SunsetPrint.com.

Prints That Win: Heaven’s Hands of Hope

LexJet Sunset Print Award winner Brian Castle of Picture Perfect Photography was destined to be a photographer. The Kingsport, Tenn., native grew up in a town that was home to Eastman Kodak.

“Heaven’s Hands of Hope” by Brian Castle

“My dad worked for Eastman Kodak and I spent time in the darkrooms, where I learned to develop film,” Castle says. His experiences in the EK darkrooms and his parents’ influence led him down the photography path. “I was in high school when I picked up my dad’s film camera. I was hooked, it was over. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a photographer.”

Since Castle started with film in a pre-digital world, he had to learn to get the shot right from the beginning. “I learned early on that I needed to set the shot I wanted and then take it, not shoot a bunch of pictures and hope for the best,” he says. “Even with digital, I still set the shot beforehand. I guess it’s because I can still hear my mom and dad saying, ‘don’t waste my film’ when I was younger.”

Castle is already inspiring his 2-year-old daughter to follow in his story-telling footsteps. “Now that I’ve given her a camera, I’m teaching her about telling a story,” he says. “It’s not about getting the perfect picture, it’s about telling someone’s story. If I didn’t do that, I didn’t do my job.”

With his PPA Southeast District award-winning image “Heaven’s Hands of Hope,” Castle did his job by telling his own story. He says that he wanted to do something different, he just didn’t know how. The idea for the photo came to him in a dream.

“I wanted to tell the story of how I turn to God when the weight of the world is too much to bear,” he says. “The hands below me are my wife’s and daughter’s and represent my Earthly family. They are the ones who lift my hands to Heaven when I don’t have the strength.”

Castle knows that the presentation of the image is just as important as the story, which is why he used lighting to create an oblong vignette, giving the appearance of praying hands behind him.  To create a mystical look and complete the ethereal feeling, he chose to print the image on LexJet Sunset Cotton Etching 285g.

While this is a very personal image for Castle, he felt that it was important for people to feel the impact of the story and understand that there is a place to turn in times of struggle. He’s had such a profound response to the image that he’s decided to make a video about the image to share the story and show people how to look for help when they need it.

Creating impact for his clients is what drives him. His motivation comes from his clients, but he’s learned the importance of impact through competition. “When I can give my clients an image that creates emotion and causes them to tear up, I know I’ve done my job,” he says. “I would never have learned that unless I started competing.”

Competitions are critical for photographers. Not just for merit, but for experience and guidance. The opportunity to improve comes with every competition and feedback provided by the judges. Castle takes the competitions seriously, not only to help him with his clients but also in hopes of reaching a personal goal: Rich Newell’s World Photographic Cup team. “When you represent Team USA, it’s like being in the Olympics of Photography. That’s the summit,” Castle says.

With continued support from his family and his faith in God, Castle feels that he will be able to climb any mountain that lies ahead of him. In the meantime, he wants to continue creating art for his clients: “I don’t want to give them just a photo for their wall. I want to give them an experience, a piece of art. I want them to feel emotion every time they look at the image.”

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.