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: 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: Samson

poltorzycki_04_29_15 samsonPlymouth, Mass., photographer Stephen Poltorzycki may have only gotten serious about digital photography over the past few years, but his knack for it has certainly come into focus, as he recently won the Sunset Print Award in the “The Fine Art of Photography” show, organized by the Plymouth Center for the Arts. His winning image, “Samson,” is pictured at left.

“I took photography somewhat seriously in college, but life took over and I didn’t pursue it,” says Poltorzycki, a self-employed management consultant. “When the digital age dawned I decided it would be fun to get back into.”

He joined a local camera club and started studying photography technology and judging criteria. Once he stared entering competitions, he saw the best success with still-life images like “Samson.” The image was part of the club’s challenge to capture images that showed symmetry.

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.