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.”

Prints That Win: Prepare There’s Trouble

Award-winning master photographer Terry Blain was not always telling her story from behind the camera. She spent the past two decades traveling all over the country looking for interesting people to capture; however, in her early days as a model, she was the one who was captured on film. One day, after a particularly uninspired photo shoot, she realized that she would have set up the shots differently, had she been the one taking the pictures.

Utilizing her experiences on both sides of the camera, she has a self-awareness that helps her envision the best way to optimize the lighting, the setting and the model to strike the right tone and properly tell her story. “Putting the models at ease and making them comfortable is the best way for me to get the most flattering shot,” Blain says. “Often, I want to accentuate and flatter the highlights of the scene while downplaying the low-lights. I’m lucky enough to have experiences on both sides of the lens to help me clearly communicate this to my clients.”

Prints that Win: He Has Arrived

He Has Arrived by Julia Kelleher

Julia Kelleher, owner of Jewel Images in Bend, Ore., says she initially struggled with this composition, entitled He Has Arrived, but decided not to worry so much about the end result and plow ahead with her concept.

The result was a 100 score and a LexJet Sunset Award in the Master Artist category at the PPA Western District print competition held in late August.

“We get so stifled during the creative process because we’re scared the outcome won’t be what we want it to be. Instead, we should be going back to our childhood way of thinking and just have fun with it. Obviously I care what the final product it is, but I finally said to myself, ‘Let’s try it and see what happens,’ which allowed me to be more creative and produce the end result I was looking for,” says Kelleher. “For the longest time I was scared to enter that category because I didn’t think I was technically sound enough to do it. When the pieces started coming together, however, it was technically sound and it looks like everything belongs, rather than just Photoshopped together.”

The composition was created in Photoshop and finished in Corel Painter. Kelleher had to match the lighting from the studio capture of the mother and son featured in the image with the forest and woodland creature scene she created around them.

She used Corel Painter to paint additions to the forest and better blend all the elements into a seamless whole. The time-consuming part was matching the lighting from the original studio shot and adding the correct color tones for each element in the composition, she says.

“It was a matter of layering the animals in, using a lot of blending modes and layer masking to get it just right,” says Kelleher. “Where it really comes together is when you take it out of Photoshop and bring it into Corel Painter: you can make things more seamless and blended, so that really helps give the image its final touch.”