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.

Prints That Win: Sins Broken Chains

Last year, Kingsport, Tenn., photographer Brian Castle not only won a PPA Southeast District award for his portrait “Heaven’s Hands of Hope,” but he also took third place in the 2018 IPC awards, in which he saw stiff competition from all of the District PPA Sunset Print Award winners. Because he had such a personal connection to his 2018 award-winning image, Castle wasn’t sure if he could surpass it in 2019.

As it turns out, he not only exceeded his 2018 accomplishments, he blew them out of the water. He once again took home a Sunset Print Award for PPA Southeast District Portrait with “Sins Broken Chains” and, after the judging was finished at the 2019 IPC, it was revealed that Castle would take first place in this year’s competition.

“I was a handler at this year’s competition, so I put each of the competition images on the turntables for the judges,” he says. “It was a neat experience to see the live judging, especially since my image received a ‘Unanimous Loan’ from all five judges.”

Like his previous image, “Sins Broken Chains” came to him in a dream. “In the dream, I was in a dungeon with a family member who couldn’t get free of the shackles,” he says. “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.”

To recreate the dream for his photo shoot, he knew it was going to take the right setting, light, staging and props. The day of the shoot was a true family affair. “My whole family was helping: my wife, my mom and dad,” Castle says. “My dad taught me how to shoot on a film camera, so who better to have on-site than someone who has experience and who can set up the lights.”

Castle says the actual shoot took about nine hours from setting up to costuming and makeup, as well as additional action shots to get the chains breaking. “We rented the basement of an abandoned department store, originally built in the 1920s,” he says. “I borrowed the pants from a local theater group, I bought a brand-new white t-shirt, ripped it with a razor and dyed it with teabags. I took theater makeup and smudged it all over to give me a dirty look.”

As he was shackled for the shoot, Castle had an unexpected emotional reaction. “I had these big logging chains attached to me and I had this quarter-inch plate shackle around my wrist, all I could think was ‘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. “The chains were so heavy, and they wore my arms and shoulders out. I felt the pain a little bit.”

One thing Castle has learned over the years is that it’s important to get every angle, light setting or version of a shot while the scene is set. “For example, to capture the broken chain, my dad whipped the chains and I photographed it several different ways to make sure I had enough for the image,” Castle says. “Newer photographers don’t know to get those extra shots. Through competitions, I’ve learned to think about editing before I’m through shooting, that way if I missed something, I can get it then and won’t need to redo it, later.”

Castle has accomplished quite a few things in 2019. Not only did he receive the top prize in the Sunset Print Awards competition for the first time, but he also completed his first two photography degrees: Master of Photography and Photographic Craftsman. “Now I am going for the Master Artist degree,” he says.

Castle says he uses the Sunset Bright Velvet Rag on his Canon PRO-4000 because the paper came highly recommended by fellow Sunset winner Kimberly Smith. “Kim told me about it, and I want every piece to be printed on Velvet Rag; I love it. I will never go to another fine art paper,” he says. “I know LexJet sells other brands, but that Velvet Rag produces more accurate colors, and it’s not as expensive.”

He also travels around the country for speaking engagements where he shares his experiences and success stories. “I travel from Memphis to Atlanta and from Florida to Virginia and I always mention LexJet and the papers,” he says. “I tell them ‘when you buy from LexJet, you’re not just buying the printer and the paper, you’re buying their customer service, too.’”

With another Sunset Print Award-winning image and a first-place finish in 2019, it seems that Brian Castle’s work really is the stuff of dreams.

Black Friday Sale! Save 30% on LexJet & Sunset Media

There’s no need to wake up early and fight crowds for Black Friday deals from LexJet. Save 30% off MSRP on your favorite LexJet and Sunset branded media when you purchase online from Friday, Nov. 29 through Sunday, Dec. 1.

Now is the time to stock up on some of your favorites like:

Or try some of our new products like:

Products for latex, eco-solvent/solvent printers include display films and fabrics while LexJet branded aqueous media offers a variety of fine art, photo papers, and high-end canvas. If you are printing with dye-sub, choose from an assorted line of InFuze transfer papers.

Remember, LexJet will be closed on Thursday and Friday, so this promotion is only valid online – while supplies last – through Sunday, and orders will ship on the next available business day. Use coupon code FRIDAY30 at checkout to apply your 30% savings.