We’ve just finished the judging for Plane & Pilot’s first photo contest, and believe me when I say it was both a joy and a challenge.
The joy part of judging this contest is plain, and I’m confident that no words are needed to convince you of that. Just turn the pages.
On the other hand, the challenge was substantial. After we had committed to running a contest, the very next question was, what should the theme of it be? We could have gone one of two ways, super specific or really general, and by going with “Your Flying World,” you can tell which way we went. We got a lot of great images covering the gamut of aviation, from Cubs to Tomcats. Out of the contributions, nearly 900 in all, we had to winnow the field down in several steps until we got to a top 20, and in the process we had to move on from some really great images.
Coming up with the winners was perhaps the hardest step. We were looking for three images, each of which captured the joy, the passion, the intensity and the beauty of flying. The only problem was that there were a number of images that fit the bill. A couple of my favorites finished outside the money, but only because the competition was so stiff. The same, I’m sure, is true for my colleagues.
One thing we hadn’t counted on was how we should take into account photos that were taken from a remotely mounted camera. There were several such shots that made the final 50 and a couple that got into the top 20. Two things entered into our thinking on this. First, a lot of aviation photography these days is taken by remote cams. The photographer is intimately involved. They set up the cam, which isn’t an easy task, and they determine when to click the shutter (or which frame to grab from a hi-res video). In other fields, such as in the wilds, on the slopes or in the battlefield, remote photography has been recognized and applauded for decades. In aviation, the same now is true.
Another unanticipated difficulty was in figuring out how to judge such diverse images. How do you compare a shot of a paraglider approaching Rio’s “Christ The Redeemer” with a shot of a girl turning around from her seat in the front of a tandem plane to gaze back at the photographer with the wonder of flight in her eyes? Correct. It’s not possible to compare them.
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When it came down to it, we three judges agreed on a few of the images that we loved best.
A shot we loved, and our Honorable Mention photograph, is an incredible photo by Warwick Patterson of his 1961 fastback Cessna 172 with the rising sun behind it as it lights up the day in British Columbia. This is one of the several great shots entered in the contest that were taken by a remotely mounted camera. Could it have been captured any more perfectly? The wing acting as a frame along the top of the photo, the plane reflected back upon itself, the sun peeking up over the horizon, but just barely! And the lake perfectly framed to serve as a glass-smooth table for the whole thing. Again, who can see this shot and not want to go flying?
The Third Place photograph, by James Popovic, is entitled “Katama Airfield,” the airport where it was shot on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. The photograph, like Katama itself, with its grass strip and resort-style atmosphere, is one that evokes a bygone time. Many of the top images in our contest were done spur of the moment (a good reminder to have a camera ready); Popovic’s shot was carefully set up to capture a Norman Rockwell vibe, with Stearman and barn dog! Don’t fail to notice the biplane taking the skies behind the far hangar! It’s amazing everywhere you look. Judge Steve Zimmermann said that the image was, “Wonderfully evocative of an earlier age. The panoramic framing works well; muted light from the overcast sky renders the scene in subtle shades of gray; and we can only tip our hats to the photographer’s artful intent and execution…and their split-second timing.”
Kent Wein’s “Seeking Christo” took Second Place honors. Its construction of elements complement each other compositionally and thematically, with Christ The Redeemer, the 100-foot-tall soapstone masterpiece by designer/sculptor Paul Landowski, opening his arms to all. As it approaches the giant figure, the wing of the paraglider reflects that pose, its pilot doubtless experiencing the kind of sublime experience the artist had in mind. Guest judge Jim Koepnick was impressed by the scope of the photo (not an easy thing to do with aircraft) and the counterpoint of the statue.
Our Grand Prize winner was a unanimous pick to be among the top three, the only photograph in the contest so recognized. In it, Jon Hicks captured a Texas sunrise that not only dominates the sky but also lights up the top cowling of his Aviat Husky (as though the machine itself has become an integral part of the landscape, which pilots know is often closer to the truth than not). The shot defies some of the most frequent admonitions in photography to offset elements and use the Rule of Thirds. This sunset is in your face and dominating the scene. Just as it is in real life. (Okay, let’s go flying now, right?) Congratulations, Jon!
And congratulations to the winners and everyone who submitted a photo (or two or three) to our contest. And keep your eyes open for Plane & Pilot’s next photo contest!
Click through the gallery below to view the winning and finalists images from our contest!
J.W. Schrag's "Wow That's Beautiful"
J.W. Schrag got this shot of a friend's granddaughter while on a sightseeing flight for her in his J-3 Cub. After spotting deer and upon seeing the low-angle sunlight lighting up the thunder clouds ahead. Schrag's young passenger said, "Wow, that's beautiful!" The pilot was, he said, thinking the same thing, so he asked if he could get a photograph, grabbed his Samsung S8 phone and got this remarkable image.