Dennis and Cheri Hammon: In Pursuit of the Perfect Print

Dennis and Cheri Hammon are a successful photography team based in Idaho. Not only are they award-winning photographers, but Dennis is a PPA affiliate juror and Cheri is a qualified juror for state competitions.

Dennis and Cheri Hammon“I have a degree in Geology, but ended up teaching Photography at a university,” Dennis says. “I started working for a ski resort and doing photography for the ski circuit, back in the 70s, and here I am, 45 years later.”

Cheri took a little more of a longer route to the world of photography. She initially worked as a hairdresser, but due to allergies, she decided on a career change. Thanks to a family friend, she started working for a prominent photographer in Augusta, Ga. “The studio needed a retouch artist and I had an art background,” she says. “I learned all the behind-the-scenes stuff like negative retouching, print retouching, airbrushing for copy restoration, some printing, and matting and framing. As time progressed, digital came along, then Photoshop and Corel Painter. That’s a Reader’s Digest version of how I got started.”

The Hammons have a long list of awards, but both agree that the Sunset Print Award is among the top award to win. “We’ve both won several, and it’s one of our favorite awards to win. We’ve each won two or three of them” says Dennis. “The only awards that we have on our desks are the LexJet awards and the Canon awards.”

Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-Series 4100

The Hammons are known for their printing abilities and print their own fine artwork. From capture to print, they have complete control of how the final piece will look. To ensure that it meets their standards, they use the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4100.

This is a smart printer and it recognizes all of my papers and canvases, it agitates its own inks, and if a head goes out, I pop it out and pop a new one in. It’s so easy, as opposed to the maintenance issues I had with other brands,” says Cheri. “I love my Canon.”

Dennis agrees, “The speed of it! The first image we printed with it, the print came off so fast, we thought something was wrong because of how long the other printer took to print the same size image. That was a big factor. And the inks, we’d barely replaced our first cartridges after a year.”

It takes more than a great capture and a reliable, easy-to-use printer to create an award-winning photograph. It also takes the right media. Cheri paints the canvas, so she relies on the consistency of Sunset Reserve Matte Canvas. After 35 years in the darkroom, Dennis loves the throwback look of Sunset Fibre Elite 285g paper.

“I’ve always had a darkroom, and the Fibre Elite mimics some of the papers I used way back when, that’s why I’m drawn to it,” he says. “The feel, the texture, the luster of it and how it holds the tooth of the image for me. We have other papers, but that’s the only thing I put my work on.”

Whether it’s talking through printer questions or looking to get their favorite Sunset media, Dennis and Cheri rely on the support of their LexJet specialist to be there, if needed. “I first heard of LexJet when I moved from Georgia to Florida,” says Cheri. “A friend, Don Emmerich, told us about LexJet and I’ve been with them ever since.”

So, what is it about LexJet that keeps the Hammons coming back? The service.

“The service is great and whenever I call, I always get somebody, and on the rare occasion that I don’t, they call me back pretty quickly,” says Cheri. “They have always taken care of issues, which I haven’t had many. The customer service is really good.”

For Dennis and Cheri, it’s not just about taking great pictures and sharing them digitally, it’s about creating a unique piece of art starting with a keen eye and finishing with a printed masterpiece. With her usual artistic flair,
Cheri sums up how important it is for photographers to take that final step and print an image.

“The ultimate realization of an exquisitely created image is to become a will-crafted print, where life is finally breathed into the artist’s creation.”

We are excited to have the Hammons back to serve as judges for the Sunset Image Awards in September. Submit your photo today for a chance to win. For more information on Canon, Sunset media, or LexJet, give us a call at 800-453-9538.

The Front Porch Sessions – Photographers Get Creative in the Wake of COVID-19

Photographers by nature, are “people” people, and when sheltering in place and social distancing guidelines went into effect in March, they were among the many who were temporarily out of business. It was no different for Elise Wicklund, and her husband Tracy, of Wicklund Photography in Parrish, Fla. “It virtually stopped our business,” Wicklund says. “In an instant, we had to clear our calendars.”

With so many cancellations – and they were cancellations and not reschedules – the Wicklunds had to get creative and come up with something different to capture this historic moment of the worldwide pandemic. “We considered education, but we know we aren’t teachers,” she says. “We are photographers, so our reaction was to come up with different types of sessions.”

That’s when Wicklund got the idea for the “Front Porch Sessions”. She reached out to neighbors and clients to see if they were interested in doing family portraits on their porches. The popularity of the sessions exploded, and they booked all the sessions they had available. “We decided to let families document this part of their lives, just like they would any other – birthday parties, graduations, pandemics – if we don’t take photographs of these times, we won’t have anything but memories, and memories fade with time,” Wicklund says. “That’s why we photograph, so we figured this is just another memory to photograph.”

The sessions proved to be a great outlet for many of the families and some of them proved it with their sessions. While some families took a serious approach, Wicklund says others had fun with it. “Everyone had been cooped up inside their homes,” she says. “The sessions were whatever the families needed – some took them very seriously; others had a ton of fun.  We didn’t care or direct that part.  We were there to document and serve our families.”

While they enjoyed chronicling the pandemic through these sessions, the Wicklunds did not charge their clients for these sittings. “We still weren’t officially allowed to operate, so in lieu of session fees, we took donations for the food bank,” she says. “Our brand is all about servicing our clients and we believe if we have a servant’s heart, our brand will succeed.” Photographers who are doing charitable work, like Elise and Tracy, may consider printing on LexJet 8 Mil Production Satin Photo Paper, an economic solution that offers a wide color gamut and gives photos a natural look with minimal glare.

As the state of Florida has slowly begun reopening, Wicklund says they are starting to see more interest in regular sessions. They’ve also reached out to past clients, especially wedding clients, about design services for albums or videos that were not purchased at the time of the event. “We’ve reached out to see if people want to pre-book their sessions once isolation orders are lifted,” she says.

Looking at the future, Wicklund says she’s not opposed to scheduling more porch sessions, even after things return to normal, but it comes down to helping their clients get the most out of the sessions. “If this hits again, we will probably offer them again,” she says. “There’s no real reason to only offer those sessions, but it might be fun to see how things have changed in a year.”

As with most “people” people, photographers will certainly be happy to get back to weddings, graduation, and newborn sessions, but in the meantime, they are looking to get creative like Elise and Tracy Wicklund. However, as we approach the second half of the year, Wicklund is cautious about what’s on the horizon. “Based on how 2020 has gone so far, there’s no telling what we will be photographing this time next year!”

Prints that Win: Stubborn Determination

Sacramento, Calif., photographer James Trapp decided to follow his heart and leave the safety of a corporate job to pursue something different about 20 years ago. “At some point, I said things have got to change, and I need to follow my heart rather than my head,” he says. “I found a small photography company that was looking for a studio manager, but at the time, I’d only ever had Photography 101.”

One day, the lead photographer was sick and no back-up photographers were available to shoot the customer sessions booked for the day. Trapp was surprised when he learned he would be the one behind the camera that day.

“The manager told me to pick up the camera and start taking pictures,” Trapp says. “I thought he’d lost his mind. I was so nervous, it felt like my stomach was going to leave my body, but I got through that day. About mid-way through, I realized I was having fun, so I relaxed and enjoyed the moment.”

Nowadays, Trapp is obviously more at ease behind the camera and recently won his first Sunset Print Award with “Stubborn Determination,” a piece that was captured when he was doing a Facebook Live lighting demonstration to promote the Georgia PPA State Conference. Working within a 10-foot square show booth, Trapp began taking pictures of the model and discussing the importance of lighting. Once he got home and looked through the images, one stood out. “There was something about it. I didn’t have a grab on it, but that’s what happens, sometimes,” he says. “I really liked it, but I didn’t know why. It [the image] just grabbed me and pulled me in.”

Once he converted the image to black and white, he entered it into a local Sacramento affiliate show. The image was well-received, so he submitted a printed version to the Professional Photographers of California competition. “I firmly believe in submitting images in a print format rather than a digital format, especially for competitions,” Trapp says. “If it is a digital file, anything can alter how it’s viewed on the other end. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way. I made the conscious decision to only submit prints because when it leaves my home, I absolutely know what the judges will view on the other end.”

The importance of print isn’t the only lesson that Trapp has learned from competing. He believes education is one of the most important reasons any photographer should enter a competition, even if it’s just a local camera club. “The things I’ve learned along this road and how I’ve improved compared to where I was during my first competition in 2013, I’m a totally different photographer,” he says. “I attribute that 100% to competitions.”

Trapp believes going under the microscope at a competition can only benefit a photographer when it comes to working with clients. “What you used to think was difficult is now done at the snap of your fingers,” he says. “You learn techniques to improve an image for competition, and then you start using for your clients’ images. It separates you from other photographers in your local area. That, to me, is the biggest benefit of competition.”

The friendships that Trapp has developed with other photographers is another reason he continues to enter competitions. “You have this little camaraderie, which helps with confidence to go to the next level. Next, you enter a state competition, then your pool of friends starts increasing a little bit,” he says. “Then you really get brave and enter a national competition and you realize your friendships are spreading from east coast to west.”

Having friends who understand the intricacies of photography is almost as important as taking classes. For Trapp, one of those friends is Reno, Nev., photographer Pete Rezac. He has influenced Trapp’s love of black and white photography as well as continued use of film. “I called him about five or six years ago to see what he was doing with film cameras,” he says. “I started in film before digital was a thing. It’s always held a special place in my heart. When you’re in a dark room and see that image appear out of nowhere, you realize that is something that you created.”

From the early days in film and watching an image appear before his very eyes to printing award-winning images on his Canon PRO-1000, Jim Trapp has come a long way from the nervous photographer he once was. One piece of advice he offers is photographers should never quit competing.

“I don’t need to keep putting images in [competitions], I already have my Master of Photography degree,” he says. “I do it because it still surprises me and I’m still growing.”

Imaging USA – 3 Days of Education, Awards & Fun in Nashville

Last month, the photography world gathered in Nashville to celebrate all things photo. From new technology to equipment insurance to the unveiling of Team USA who will compete in the World Photographic Cup, the sights and sounds from Imaging USA proved that the photography industry is more vibrant than ever!

The festivities opened with keynote speaker Jim Kwik, who provided some “kwik” tips on improving memory to enhance business. Whether using the tips to be more organized or to help remember clients’ names, the photographers were excited to kick off the event with Kwik and utilize some of his methods of remembering people they met at the show.

(l-r) Kimberly Smith, Brian Castle, Brooke Kasper

One of the most exciting events to take place during the conference was the Award and Degree Ceremony. Here, photographers – including top Sunset Award Winners Brian Castle, Kimberly Smith and Brooke Kasper – were on-hand to receive their hard-earned PPA degrees or award them to fellow photographers.

Speaking of the top three Sunset winners, they were awarded their 2019 International Print Competition trophies and cash prizes on the second day of the show.

All three winners are adamant about the artistic importance of printing their photos and the importance of being a Sunset Print Award winner when working with their clients.

Kasper feels that being part of an elite group of Sunset Print Award winners is an honor, especially because it celebrates the printed image, a practice she feels is disappearing all too quickly. “It’s such a wonderful honor to receive this award,” she says. “Especially for something that I believe in and that is becoming less [frequent], with more people doing digital. It has to be printed, it’s just not art until it is.”

Smith also considers it an honor to be recognized for printing her work. Her favorite media is Sunset Bright Velvet Rag, a fine art paper that helps her create a signature look. “I like to do color pencils over. I love the way it tears on the edges,” she says. “Winning the award is even better because this is the paper that I love. I think it [the win] is important because I print on it and I believe in it.”

Castle, who received his first two degrees – Master of Photography and Photographic Craftsman – at the ceremony, believes strongly in printing his photos. “Winning an award on a national level is a pretty big achievement,” he says. “It helps me market myself, too. It shows that I take care of my prints, and I make sure they look right. It’s not just a digital file that I’m giving you, it’s a piece of art.”

Throughout the week, the convention center was teeming with classes and learning opportunities for photographers of all backgrounds. The PRINT for Success Theatre was a 3-day session that of quick hit 30-minute workshops that showed photographers how they can make more money by selling and marketing printed images. Other longer seminars ranged from Adobe Lightroom techniques to how to establish your brand.

If you are a photographer looking to gain new skills, update your equipment or be inspired by other photographers, you won’t want to miss Imaging USA 2021 in Grapevine, Texas. If you are interested in the Sunset Print Awards and competing for the top prize, ask your chairperson to register for the 2020 Awards.

Visit Our Redesigned Sunset Print Awards Website

The next time you log on to the Sunset Print Awards website, you’ll notice some changes. The sleek new appearance makes it easier for photographers to learn about the prestigious Sunset Print Awards as well as local print competitions offering the award.

Other updates include:

  • Easier navigation
  • Better views of past winners
  • Easy access to the blog for all the latest Sunset news
  • Interviews with winners
  • Recommended Sunset branded media

What hasn’t changed are the benefits to district and local winners or the top three prizes awarded at the International Photographic Competition. Each winner receives a customized crystal trophy, a lapel pin, and a free pack or roll of Sunset Media, while the three IPC finalists receive engraved trophies and cash prizes.

If you are involved in a local PPA group, camera club or other photography organization that has a minimum of 150 printed entries and would like to include the Sunset Print Award in your competition, have your chairperson register today.

This year, we will be presenting awards to the 2019 IPC winners at Imaging USA in Nashville. If you are attending later this month, be sure to stop by the IPC Display and pick up some information about the 2020 Sunset Print Awards.

2019 International Photographic Competition Winners Recognized

Congratulations to the 2019 International Photographic Competition winners. Earlier this summer, the top images were selected from the PPA District Sunset Print Award recipients:

1st Place – Brian Castle “Sins Broken Chains

2nd Place – Kimberly Smith “Owl Always Kneed You

3rd Place – Brooke Kasper “Solitary Journey

Each year, the judges award the top three prints that best embody the 12 Elements of Merit. This year’s district winners included everything from a rocky rush of water in Kari Douma’s “Just Around the River Bend” to a burgeoning chemist in Vanessa Longuski’s “Science.” As always, the talent at the district level makes it difficult for the judges selecting the National IPC winners.

Castle, who took third place in last year’s event, was once again inspired by a dream. “I dropped to my knees and prayed, this light came from above and Archangel Michael came and loaned me his wings to rip the chains apart so we could ascend to Heaven,” he says. What he didn’t expect was to be so personally affected by the photo shoot. “What did people go through back in Biblical days when they were chained like this? I teared up, it was emotional, I couldn’t hold it back,” he says.

Smith, who consistently finishes with district and national wins, had a most unusual image serve as the inspiration for her 2019 entry. “I had to have a knee MRI and they sent me home with the disk,” she says. “As I’m going through them, I noticed one of them looked like an owl.” She combined an image of a tree from a previous photography session and the base image from the MRI into an artistic image of an owl and her owlet. She won the PPA Southwest District award, subsequently leading to her second-place national finish.

Kasper says her award-winning image is extremely personal. While she may be on her own “Solitary Journey,” she has a strong faith in God, so she knows she is never truly alone. “We all have our own personal stories, and this one represents how I’m charting my course,” she says. “We may feel abandoned and alone at times, but we are surrounded by so many wonderful memories of people and things that have given us strength, even in solitude.”

Along with an engraved crystal trophy, the winners also receive cash prizes: $2,000 for first place, $1,000 for second place and $500 for third place. The awards for the winning photographers will be presented at Imaging USA – Nashville in January.

We want to thank all the participants in the 2019 Sunset Print Awards. You can see these and other winners on our newly redesigned Sunset Print Awards site. If you are interested in the 2020 Sunset Print Awards, have your chairperson fill out the application. The Sunset Print Award is offered to those competitions judging a minimum of 150 printed entries.