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: Coming Home for the Holidays

Photographic craftsman Robert Howard has been taking pictures since he was 7 years old. The Lebanon, Pa., photographer grew up in a household where his dad avidly captured family moments on Super 8 film and his mom had a Polaroid, eventually transitioning to a Kodak camera. Even his grandfather taught him to use an old Kodak Brownie. For this Sunset Print Award-winning photographer, telling a story with pictures is in his DNA.

His first camera was a Polaroid, and at that time (during the 1970s), each image was about $.50 and there were only 10 images per pack of film. Howard says that his parents didn’t want him wasting money. “50 cents a sheet was expensive back then, so my parents taught me the value of knowing and preparing my shot, understanding the exposure,” he says. “Essentially, they taught me the value of getting the shot right the first time.”

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.