Prints That Win: Spiderwort


When it comes to photography and print competitions, a lot of contestants go for unusual subject matter to try to catch the judges’ eyes. But Lakewood, NJ, photographer Steven Yahr takes a different approach.

“The subject matter in my competition prints is always very simple,” Yahr says. “When I do workshops, I tell photographers that the hardest things to photograph are the things we see every day. You become immune to them.”

So when he walked past the spiderwort plant with the vibrant, violet blooms on the side of his house, a floral he’d bypassed day after day, he knew he’d found his next subject. “I have quite a few of them in my yard,” he says. “So I blocked the light and used reflectors – the same as you would do for a portrait.”

With a little Photoshop help to add a bit of contrast, “Spiderwort” earned Yahr the Sunset Print Award during the PhotoNorthEast Image Competition, held in Woodcliff Lake, NJ, earlier this month.

Yahr works as a contract wedding photographer and has competed in print competitions since 2000, although he’s been a member of his state’s PPA affiliate since 1993.

“I held off competing for quite a few years,” he says. “I was just observing other people’s work and asking a lot of questions. I tell other photographers: Don’t get discouraged. Try to hear what judges have to say. The critique is more valuable than score itself.”

Although weddings are his bread-and-butter, Yahr says his competition pieces are inspired by the work of artists, rather than other photographers. However, when photographing his competition subjects, he uses his portrait know-how, and vice-versa.

“It’s the same principles – the lighting has to be correct, and you need an unobtrusive background,” he says. “The same things that make portraits work, are the things that make still lifes work, too.”

Yahr paired the vulnerability of the delicate violet petals and the gentle highlight on the yet-to-bloom buds, with a dramatic black backdrop and double violet stroke border, to create his striking, winning image.

Jim LaSala’s Surreal Portrait Wins Sunset Award for Best Electronic Imaging at PNE

Award winning Photoshop and printing work by Jim LaSalaJim LaSala’s forte is making the ordinary extraordinary. Much of his work brings Daliesque scenes into the digital realm using a blend of photos from everyday scenery.

One of his latest creations, Fantasy Island, recently received accolades at the PhotoNorthEast (PNE) competition held last month, winning the Best Electronic Imaging category. It was one of several awards LaSala won for his photography at the competition, and the win in the Best Electronic Imaging category also brought with it a LexJet Sunset Award for outstanding photography and printing.

LaSala brought two contrasting photographs together into a cohesive and surreal whole using original photography, Photoshop and plug-ins from Vertis, Topaz and Nik. The competition print shows the basic elements – a man and a woman sitting on a bench, the man by himself with the woman masked out and bench added to the space where she sat and a wall mural LaSala shot in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

“I always have my camera with me and look for interesting things to shoot that I then put in a photo bank, not knowing ahead of time exactly what I’ll do with them,” says LaSala. “I thought the couple on the bench was interesting, particularly the man bundled up in the coat. I was looking for something to juxtapose with that shot and found the mural I shot in Ft. Lauderdale.”

LaSala seamlessly brought the man on a bench into the wall mural, which needed a lot of work to get it just right before all the pieces were put together. LaSala had originally shot the mural with a wide-angle lens so he had to do a lot of perspective work to get rid of the distortion. He made other little tweaks to the mural, like adding texture to the walls, moving the parrot and adding drop shadows to match the direction of the light, among others.

“I was looking for something so opposite and silly that it would be difficult to believe that it could actually happen while creating the illusion that maybe it could. I wanted to take something from one extreme to the other, cold and stark to something warm and beautiful,” says LaSala. “When I work on a project like this I don’t write everything down, though people tell me I should. It’s very rare that I duplicate anything; I tend to wing it. Usually, I just stumble upon something and it works. I don’t necessarily have something specific in mind. It’s just a matter of trying to take something that interests me and then build it up from there.”

LaSala printed it on LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin Paper for the competition to take advantage of the additional tonal range the paper provides, LaSala says. “Some of the other papers I considered have more contrast when they’re printed and I was looking for a wider palette for this print,” he adds.

Award winning image, Forgotton, by Jim LaSala
LaSala also scored a perfect 100 for this image entitled Forgotten.

The print shows the basic progression and the elements that came together for the final piece. “I always do before and after images, because otherwise it’s difficult for the judges to really understand everything that went into making the image from start to finish.”

Coveted Sunset Award to be Presented at Eight Upcoming Photo Competitions

LexJet is proud to honor and promote excellence in professional photography with its Sunset Award for outstanding photography and inkjet print reproduction at eight annual print competitions held by affiliates of the Professional Photographers of America and other regional professional organizations.

Photography competition awardThis year all five PPA Districts will include the Sunset award in their competitions. The Sunset Award winning image category is selected by the presenting organization (see specific categories below), and the winner is selected by the respective print-competition judging panel.

In addition to the beautiful Sunset Award trophy, the winner will receive a $100 gift certificate that can be used to purchase any of the products included in LexJet’s Sunset portfolio of inkjet materials for professional photographic printing and fine art reproduction.

An additional $300 gift certificate will be presented if the winning photographer purchased materials from LexJet in 2010-11 or used LexJet Sunset media to create the award-winning print. The following print competitions held in conjunction with the hosting organization’s annual conference will be awarding the 2011 LexJet Sunset Award…

PPA District Photographic Competitions:

Other regional competitions:

  • Plymouth Center for the Arts, Fine Art of Photography Regional Juried Photography Exhibition: Exhibition is April 1-30 at the Plymouth Center for the Arts, Plymouth, Mass. The Sunset Award will be presented to the winner of the Best Quality Print & Presentation category.
  • PhotoNorthEast: March 26-29, Woodcliff Lake Hilton, Woodcliff Lake, N.J. The Sunset Award will be presented to the winner of the Best Electronic Imaging category.
  • PPA of PA: April 3-5, Days Inn Penn State, State College, Pa. The Sunset Award will be presented to the winner of the Best Quality Print and Presentation category.