Prints That Win: Science

Ubly, Mich., photographer Vanessa Longuski fell in love with photography during her senior year of high school. Joining the high school yearbook team gave her the opportunity to explore the world of photography even more. Realizing a growing harmony with the art form, she decided to enroll at Central Michigan University where she first studied still photography, but then later switched to photojournalism.

Today she’s a professional running her own business, Moments Captured by Vanessa, where she primarily photographs weddings, but her passion really lies with the nonchalant nature of children. Her most recent win at PPA Northeast for her image “Science” is a testimony to her passion. This win in the Portrait category was printed using LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin Paper.

“My initial thought was to be more stylized instead of standard, and I really try to understand what the child likes so I can capture genuine facial expressions instead of a cheesy smile,” she says while breaking down her process. “I feel that’s what sets my prints apart from the rest.”

Besides the excitement and love from her customers, the most rewarding thing about photography for Longuski is the competitions. When competing, she gets the opportunity to learn and achieve her goals as well as push herself to work harder to improve her craft.

“Looking back from where I  started to where I am now, has truly grown because of competitions. They are so challenging and when you win, it’s an honor,” she says. “It reminds me that I’m doing something right.”

If Longuski could give one piece of advice, it would be: “Don’t give up. Keep trying, even if you don’t get to the point where you want as fast as you want, you’ll get there eventually.”


By Kyjahana Irizarry

Kyjahana, a Florida native, is currently studying Business of Art and Design at Ringling College of Art and Design. During the summer of 2019, she interned for the marketing department at LexJet, where she wrote employee profiles, social media and blog posts, helped produce podcasts and videos and acted as project manger for the annual internship video.

Prints That Win: Winter Pastel and Dressed to Impress

For Dorr, Mich. photographer – and recent double Sunset Print Award winner –  Kari Douma, photography has always been a part of her life. From darkroom classes in middle school and yearbook photographer in high school to recently completing the judging class to become an affiliated juror, photography is no longer just a part of her life, it’s intertwined in everything she does.

She initially started taking pictures to capture her children in special moments, but soon, family and friends were asking her to photograph them. “Eventually, I had to do a mental check. I wondered if I could really do this and make it a business, or continue as a hobby, where I might eventually have to turn people down,” Douma says of her decision to go pro. “I decided to go the business route and joined professional organizations so that I could learn more about the business.”

The first professional association Douma joined was Professional Photographers of West Michigan. It was the members of that local group who encouraged Douma to start competing. Before jumping straight in, she observed. “The first competition I attended, I just watched and hung on every word spoken. I had a notebook and wrote down everything the judges were saying. Every critique, every compliment. It’s all feedback.”

The notes and observing paid off. As a first-time competitor, she scored somewhere around 77-79, which is considered “above average.” As her experience and talent has grown, so have her scores. Competitions, by definition, are tough, but one of the biggest lessons that Douma has learned is that a score is simply the opinion of five judges on any given day. “It’s fun to create an image and match up to the Twelve Elements of Merit, but you can’t get caught up thinking about what five people are going to think about it.” She realizes the judges are there to help, “they are giving you feedback – good and bad – because they are there to help you grow as a photographer.” For Douma, the PPA – Northeast competition was successful, with wins in Landscape with “Winter Pastel” (pictured above) and Portrait with “Dressed to Impress” (pictured below).

In “Winter Pastel,” Douma was able to capture the beautiful pink sky, just as the sun was rising over an early-season Michigan snowfall. For the print competition, she used LexJet Premium Archival Matte with a torn edge and a traditional mat, which helped extend the texture of the clouds and snow beyond the edges of the image.

Douma’s second winning image, “Dressed to Impress,” was a photo that happened because of her husband’s morning trip to a local McDonald’s. While waiting in line, her husband spotted this gentleman saunter into the restaurant dressed to the nines: fire-engine red 3-piece suit, wing-tipped shoes, hat, pocket square, the works. She said, “he just walked right up to the man and said ‘my wife would love to photograph you.’ So, we set up a session, and the rest is history.”

When it was time to print “Dressed” for competition, Douma chose LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin Paper 300g to add an authentic photographic feel to the black and white image.

For Douma, what started off as a hobby to take beautiful images of her children has led to an opportunity to provide feedback and guidance, enabling photographers to grow. One day, there will be a photographer observing her first competition, and with notebook in hand, she will be hanging on every word Kari Douma says.

Prints that Win: It Was the Best of Times

Photographing and Printing Vintage Railroads

It’s a tried and true saying – do what you love and do it well – and Robert A. Howard, owner of Howard Studios in Lebanon, Pa., embodies it. He photographs it all – from portraiture to commercial advertising photography – and then some.

The “then some” is his lifelong hobby: railroads and capturing both modern and vintage railroads in striking ways. He’s part of a cadre of “rail fans,” aficionados of all things railroad past and present. About three years ago Howard created Rail Art, which takes the best of his collection and makes it available for sale to the general public.

“I was born and raised around a number of family members who worked for the railroad here in Lebanon: the Reading and Pennsylvania railroads. I somehow found time throughout my life to chase trains. Rail fans take a lot of photos of trains to share them with clubs, and now blogs and social media. It’s about finding rare rolling stock still on the rails and capturing it in various places,” explains Howard. “Presently, we have a catalog in print of just shy of 100 images for sale. Each is a carefully chosen railroad image that depicts both contemporary and vintage railroads.”

In the case of this LexJet Sunset Award-winning print entitled It Was the Best of Times, Howard and a group of photographers, videographers and painters gathered after Howard and Carl Franz of Western Maryland Railroad (WMRR) set up this shot of an old steam-driven Western Maryland locomotive hauling freight. Franz rented the railroad for the day, coordinated the volunteers who cleared some brush out of the foreground, and helped set up the shot.

“We choose areas that resemble the way they would look in that particular era. In this case, the locomotive is from the 1940s and 1950s. It was easy to set up in this case because we found a third-generation farmer who owns the land. We went out on an early morning just after a morning rain and it was captured with most of us underneath umbrellas,” says Howard. “The farmer’s barn burned down a number of years ago, so the rail fans got together with the local Amish and built him a new barn. This location is very historic. The Western Maryland Railroad was one of the oldest working railroads in the country that still used steam locomotives to carry freight. In addition to the tourist trade, it still hauls freight for the local community.”

Howard then brought the image into Photoshop, applying Topaz and Nik filters to get the sepia/watercolor look of a vintage 1940s postcard. The image was printed on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag by Jonathan Penney for its entry in the PPA of Pennsylvania and PPA Northeast regional competitions.

The image merited at the PPA Northeast regional and won a LexJet Sunset Award at the PPA of Pennsylvania for highest quality print and presentation.

“I’ve been trying to win the Sunset Award for awhile and was very honored to do so this year. It takes an incredibly high score at a state competition to win the award,” says Howard. “The Sunset Award is proudly sitting in our front window and will be featured in our local newspaper in a couple of days.”