Kilsong Cox; Elkins, West Virginia
A veteran of Cortland's annual photography contest, Kilsong Cox has submitted winning entries for three years. Using a Sony A7R ii, A7 iii cameras with various Sony lenses, the 4+ year hobby has become an obsession.
"Mountain vistas and waterfalls in West Virginia are my favorite subjects to photograph," explains Cox. One of Cox's winning entries this year, "Top View from Seneca Rocks," was taken on a beautiful Saturday hike with her son Brian.
"One time, I took a photograph of a deer while she was eating my flowers and another shot of an apple popping out of a deer's mouth." Sometimes, the best photographs are about being in the right place at the right time.
"My words of wisdom for anyone wanting to get into photography would be to follow your heart," remarks Cox. Nasim Mansurov wrote in Photography Life that anyone interested in taking better photographs should take their camera everywhere; you never know when a fantastic shot will present itself. Also, take lots of pictures of the same image; you'll have more options to find the perfect shot. Another tidbit of advice to consider is changing your perspective when taking photographs; shooting from ground level or from above to create more interest.
Thomas Dean; Cross Lanes, West Virginia
George Fletcher; Roundville, Virginia
For over forty years, Fletcher began shooting slide film in 1981 with his father's Leica Rangefinder. He transitioned to digital in 2001. Fletcher became serious about digital photography in 2006 and is currently using a Canon EOS R, Canon 17-40mm F4L, and Canon RF 24-105 F-4. He is a veteran of the Cortland Photography contest, having an image selected for display each year since the project started.
Like many of the other winning photographers this year, Fletcher loves landscapes and nature photographs. "I love to be outside in God's beautiful creation and to try and capture His artistry," explains Fletcher. "I find being out in nature is restoring to my soul. I might not always come back with great images, but I come back refreshed."
Getting a great image is part talent and part luck, especially when photographing outside. Getting the winning image, "Headwaters Sunset," was just another instance of talent and timing. "This was one of the last evenings I was in Canaan Valley before heading home," states Fletcher. "I decided to search out a new location for shooting the sunset. The evening started with lots of blue skies and bright sun, and I wasn't sure if there would be any sunset at all. However, as the sun dropped behind the mountains, the clouds lit up with one of the best sunsets I've seen in the area."
With everyone carrying around a smartphone with ever-increasing photo quality, capturing interesting images is just a fingertip away. Capturing quality images incorporating light, texture, contrast, and more takes practice. George Fletcher has a wonderful outlook on photography and words of wisdom for anyone interested in photography.
"Photography is my right brain escape for my left brain day job. My biggest advice is to slow down. I don't do this near enough as I often feel like I'm short on time. Explore locations and evaluate possible compositions from many different angles and perspectives before shooting. Other really simple things that can help include: try lots of different shutter speeds, especially with moving elements; try long exposure shots with landscapes with a good ND filter; a tripod and your camera self-timer can allow you to shoot at almost any shutter speed and finally, attend a workshop in the genre you're interested in pursuing. In-person instruction can be invaluable in advancing your skills in that area."
Anne M. Johnson; Summersville, West Virginia
"Although I have been taking photographs since I was a teenager, I have been a professional photographer for 11 years," explains Anne M. Johnson. Using a full-frame camera, the Nikon D810 and Nikkor 16-35mm lens, Johnson has had two previous entries selected to be displayed on the walls of Cortland Acres.
"My favorite subject is evening and nighttime photography," states Johnson. "During evening photography, I'm enchanted by the warm tones, and the unique light, color, and patterns. When I photograph at night, the cosmos floats millions of miles away, and I can bring it closer to home for myself and others to view and enjoy."
According to Johnson, in her winning entry, "Fiery Kiss of the Night," she found her composition thirty minutes before sunset. “After the sun inched below the horizon, I waited several minutes for the color to appear. During evening shoots, I view the sunset in front of me and check for color behind me. When I turned around, I saw that the entire sky was lit up in a fiery blaze. I turned around to recompose the rocks and flag the spruce in the foreground. Never before had I seen such color at Dolly Sods."
Taking photographs can be transformative, an escape from the uncertainty from COVID, politics, you name it. When you find the perfect scene, everything else melts away, and the composition is your only focus. "One winter day, I slid down a snowy embankment to take a photo of a waterfall," remembers Johnson. "The water's spray froze my hair into long ice cycles. I crouched on an icy slab of rock to create a foreground. When I was finished, I stood up quickly, not noticing the large fallen tree directly above me. The top of my head crashed into the tree, and I immediately felt a painful knot forming. Later that spring, I photographed the same waterfall, hunkering down under a log. When I finished shooting, I jumped up and again hit my head on that same fallen tree. I had to laugh at my forgetfulness as another knot formed on the top of my head."
Words of wisdom from Johnson stress patience. "When taking photos, be patient enough to wait for what you want to capture. Be willing to go that extra mile and get up early or stay late. Push yourself, even though you don't like cold or damp weather. Take some healthy risks to get what you want."
David Johnston; Dry Fork, West Virginia
With decades of photography experience under his belt, Johnston is a veteran of Cortland's photography contest and a four-time winner. He uses a Canon camera and various lenses to capture landscapes, night scenes, and macro images.
"I enjoy taking pictures of broad landscapes while showing the details which define it," explains Johnston. "I especially like using a panoramic format, shooting a lot of waterfalls, but again enjoy showing the context with which they occur. Scenes including the night sky are another interest, especially how the Milky Way looms over the landscape. In the spring, I enjoy taking pictures of emerging flowers and insects."
For Johnston's winning entry, The Milky Way Ascends Over The Blackwater River Headwaters, the picture required balancing the foreground's brightness levels at dusk and the night sky. "In the summer, the Milky Way rises to the south over Bald Knob and Weiss Knob," states Johnston. "I think Mill Run and its associated wetlands in Canaan Valley Resort State Park are scenic in any season."
"My words of wisdom on photography are that nature photography provides an opportunity not only to record a scene, but convey unlimited interpretation and expression," explains Johnston. "A photo can evoke emotional responses and highlight the places, details, and nuances that most people don't have the opportunity to see or experience. It can focus attention on something that would otherwise escape notice, or it can project the immensity and grandeur of a commonplace scene in a way the prompts a new look. Perhaps most importantly, photography can promote an appreciation for our remaining spaces and motivate cooperation to preserve and protect them."
Dylan Jones; Davis, West Virginia
What began as a hobby taking pictures with his smartphone six years ago, Jones now uses a DSLR Sony a7R3 mirrorless body and a range of Sony lenses to capture his images.
"My favorite subject to photograph are the landscapes, flora, and fauna of West Virginia," explains Jones, "specifically within the bounds of the spectacular Monongahela National Forest. The portion of the Central Appalachians located within West Virginia's borders contain some of the most biodiverse and ecologically essential landscapes on the continent, not to mention some of the most aesthetically pleasing and viscerally appealing places to the human eye. From our tea-colored mountain rivers and dark red spruce forests of the Allegheny Front to the clear waters of the Potomac limestone cliffs of the Smoke Hole Canyon, there's never a dull moment when you're behind the lens in the Mon.”
To be able to venture into these still-wild places and photograph them throughout each of our unique seasons is a gift I vow to never take for granted. Doing it as part of my job and publishing these photos to help promote conservation and preservation in the Mountain State is an honor and a privilege.
Jones' winning entry, "The Tree," shows a magnificent yellow birch surrounded by a thriving stand of red spruce along Forest Road 75 in the Dolly Sods Scenic Area of the Monongahela National Forest. The shot's rare upward angle helps distort the gnarled trunk and root structure, creating an organic, creature-like interpretation of the roots. The textures of the recently fallen leaves and moss on the roots help create a unique mood.
"Words of wisdom for photography enthusiasts – shoot early, shoot often," remarks Jones. "Shoot the same scene or subject until you're blue in the face, or your friends are begging you to move on down the trail. The more shots you take, the more likely you are to find a good one. Photography is a game of light, so change one setting at a time and see how that affects the results."
Kevin King; Tornado, West Virginia
A serious photographer for the past eight years, King is a three-time winner of Cortland's photography contest. Using a Nikon DSLR and assorted lenses, waterfalls are a favorite subject.
"I've enjoyed wading into streams and creeks since I was a child," explains King. "I also enjoy wandering in the woods in search of waterfalls, so photography allows me to enjoy both past times. Waterfalls can change from day to day and from season to season, so any given waterfall offers an abundance of opportunities".
According to King, his winning entry, "Moonset," was planned out months in advance. "I knew that on this date, the full moon would be positioned for a suitable composition from the Pendleton Point overlook at Blackwater Falls State Park. Fortunately, when the time came, the skies were clear, and the fall colors were nice, so all I had to do was take the picture."
Photography develops into a passion for many of the winning entrants. They seem to live and breathe composition and lighting. King tells the story of staying at the Blackwater Falls State Park lodge for a photography excursion. "I went down to the lobby to get a cup of coffee early my last morning and decided to step outside for some fresh air. At the beginning of twilight, I noticed the high clouds in a very intricate pattern. I knew there was a high probability of an epic sunrise, so I ran back to the room, grabbed my gear, and drove as quickly as I could over to the Pendleton overlook. I could get some excellent images of one of the most epic sunrises that I have seen. When I had finished and was getting ready to drive back to the lodge, I realized that I was still in my pajamas! Fortunately, I had no witnesses as I was the only one there that early in the morning.”
Sandra Miller; Buckhannon, West Virginia
Wendy Parks; Fairmont, West Virginia
After getting her first Kodak in junior high almost fifty years ago, Wendy Parks has been hooked on photography. She got her first 35mm camera, a Minolta, about thirty-five years ago. These days she used a NikonD750 with a variety of lens from Nikon and Sigma.
Landscape photography is her go-to subject, but she tends to mix other outdoor elements as well. “Landscape photography is my favorite,” explains Parks. “I look for waterfalls, trees and flowers to round out my compositions. Basically, I love nature and the outdoors, and try to catch wildlife in my photographs when I can.”
So often, the photographers we’ve highlighted in this series contribute some of their best pieces to sheer luck – being in the right place at the right time. When describing what it took to capture her winning entry, Parks makes it sound rather serendipitous. “It was a shot of Smoke Hole Road. My husband and I were just driving along looking for wildlife or a water shot and I just saw ‘it’ and snapped the photo.” The rest is, well, a winning photograph.
It’s no wonder that Parks refers to photography as her ‘happy place’, her place to create. Once you find it, you want to return again and again. Her love of nature and the great outdoors is evident in her photographs. When viewing her work, her photos quickly become our ‘happy place’ too.
Nate Peck; Flintstone, Maryland
Dr. David Proctor; Beverly, West Virginia
You may recognize this photographer from his name, but just as likely from his relationship to another photographer in this series, his wife June Proctor.
Another photography veteran, Dr. Proctor, has been taking photos for over thirty-five years. Using a Nikon D750 and current favorite lens, a Nikon 16-35 F/4G Nikkor, this is Proctor's first win in the annual Cortland photography contest. His landscape photos often become reminders of good times spent with family and the beauty and grace of West Virginia.
Taken on a casual stroll around the “4-H Pond” in Beverly, Proctor’s winning image underscores the need for photographers to keep their eyes wide open and a camera in hand. “In retrospect, I often laugh at some of the photographic opportunities I find in West Virginia,” explains Proctor. “Some ‘fun’ includes enjoying the controlled fall to the bottom of a ravine, then wondering if I will ever see civilization again as I begin to climb out.” Of course, one mans fun may be another mans folly. The life of a photographer, professional or hobbiest, is a life of adventure and beauty.
Proctor adds, “I appreciate the suspicious bulls in the field, as they snort and wonder what I am doing in their territory. And I laugh at the sight I must be after travelling to the creek and back, soaked to my knees, covered with burrs, dirt and the occasional tick. I have learned that beautiful or interesting photographs are often found where you make them. They are often just around the bend, down the creek a ways, or up the holler a bit. In West Virginia, we don’t have to travel far for great photographic opportunities.”
June Proctor; Beverly, West Virginia
Another photography veteran, June Proctor, has been taking photos for over twenty years. Using the Canon 6D camera with a Canon 16-35mm lens, Proctor's photos appear on the walls of Cortland Acres for the second consecutive year.
Proctor's two winning entries, "Warm Afternoon on Gandy Creek" and "Sweet Evening Light," showcase her love of landscapes. "I love capturing the beauty of God's world," explains Proctor.
Taking landscape photographs requires photographers to venture off the beaten path, especially when searching for something unique. And sometimes, "off the beaten path" means trespassing inadvertently.
The photo "Warm Afternoon on Gandy Creek" was taken in Randolph County in the secluded and privately owned area known as the Sinks of Gandy. Deciding on a unique perspective from inside the cave looking out, Proctor worried that they were trespassing. "I kept asking my husband and photography partner if he was sure we were allowed on the private property to take photographs," recalls Proctor.
There's no doubt that photography is an art, and the more you practice, the better you become. "Take a couple of minutes and look around before you start taking photos," recommends Proctor. "Look at the subject, the light, and how you want to capture it. Above all, have fun and enjoy your surroundings. It's ok to just 'look' for a few minutes."
Ed Rehbein; Beckley, West Virginia
This self-described "waterfall hunter" has had his work selected for Cortland's walls before and has been taking photographs for over twenty years. Using both a Nikon D90 and Sony A6000 with various wide-angle and telephoto lenses, waterfalls are his prey of choice. He co-authored an award-winning book of waterfall photographs with 2020 Cortland Photography judge and curator Randall Sanger, entitled "West Virginia Waterfalls: The New River Gorge," published by Headline Books.
"I enjoy being around waterfalls," explains Rehbein. "It's a paradox, really, but I find them both exhilarating and peaceful at the same time. I like to photograph them at slow shutter speeds to get that ‘cotton candy’ effect."
Ironically, Rehbein's winning entry this year did not include a waterfall but a glorious vista south of Bear Rocks in Dolly Sods. "My wife Phyllis and I enjoy exploring places off the beaten path”, explains Rehbein. "It took some off-trail bushwhacking and determination, but the difficulties were rewarded. We discovered some unique rock formation and timed our trek to perfection to hit the seasonal fall change of the blueberry bushes to scarlet red."
Rehbein recounts a funny story. "Sometimes the term ‘waterfall hunter’ is so appropriate. In my quest to photograph a particular waterfall, I felt, in my somewhat over-active imagination, that I was hunting ‘big game’. This behemoth was located on private property – The Confluence Resort. As reported in the resort's literature to be 70 feet high, I had to see these falls for myself. After getting permission and directions from the resort owner, I set on a safari for the falls. It was not easy. The path from the top was a typical rough and tumble New River Gorge descent through rhododendron thickets. Nevertheless, I found my prey and shot my target. And it was indeed Big Game.”
When asked what makes a good nature photograph, Rehbein responds, "through the window of the eyes, a good photograph evokes emotion, provokes thought, and invites the observer to enter into the moment of the image."
Travis 'TR' Shultz; Morgantown, West Virginia
Using a Fuji X-T2 with Fuji 10-24mm F-4 lens, Shultz has been an avid photographer for approximately six years and a freshman winner of Cortland's photography contest.
His favorite subject is nature and landscape photography. "A scene can change dramatically depending on the weather and light, combining in striking ways that evoke powerful emotions," describes Shultz. "The moments are fleeting, but when it materializes, it's always memorable. I love the challenge – both the effort it takes to be there at just the right time to experience those moments and understanding the camera well enough to capture the image as I see it."
A well-known feature of the Dolly Sods Wilderness area, Shultz chose to photograph in black and white to emphasize the contrast. "Despite having photographed this feature a few times before, I had not found a satisfying composition. On this particular early November morning, it was extremely cold, having snowed the night before. The wind-driven snow coated the west-facing side of the trees, creating an attractive contrast. I admitted the scene for perhaps 30 minutes, walking around and framing composition, frustrated as I had been in my previous visits. Looking through the viewfinder, moving back and forth, side to side, in an instant, the image I saw evoked an emotional connection. This is what I hoped to capture an image that represented the feelings of that special place."
Shultz clarifies that he doesn't have any funny photography stories that don't involve him falling on slippery rocks since some of his most memorable experiences and photographs involve cold or stormy weather. "One time, walking through a snow-covered wetland, I saw what looked like a snow- and fur-covered beachball - - it was an enormous and well-fed beaver! Little surprises like that are great."
"Landscape photography to me is a great way to connect and immerse ourselves in the natural world," explains Shultz. "To escape from mundane obligations and To-Do lists to just "be." Almost meditative. Whether or not I get a great image, I never fail to enjoy the time well-spent."
Van Slider; Paden City, West Virginia
A forty year veteran of photography, Van Slider has won distinction in Cortland’s Photography Contest in 2017, 2019 and again this year. Wielding a Canon 6D camera and Canon 16-35mm, Canon 70-22mm and Tamron 28-75mm lenses, Slider enjoys shooting streams and waterfalls.
“Many of my shots of streams and waterfalls require hiking to the location where I’m often the only person there,” explains Slider. “I enjoy walking through a forest while listening to the sound of running water and birds singing. It can be a time of solitude.”
“Reflection in Otter Creek”, is just one of three winning entries for Slider this year. “My wife Barbara and I were hiking along Otter Creek in the Monongahela National Forest on a beautiful, but windy, October afternoon,” reflects Slider. “Wind generally makes landscape photography difficult, but was beneficial for this particular shot. By setting my exposure to 1/60 of a second, I was able to club the reflection slightly and produce a painterly look to the image. Without the wind, the water would have been calm and the reflection sharp.”
The phrase, “can’t see the forest for the trees” comes to mind. It’s sometimes easy to become numb to the natural beauty in West Virginia. As part of the official state slogan, ‘almost heaven’ sets West Virginia above all others. Slider tells a story that highlights that very distinction. “Years ago I stopped at the US 33 overlook to photograph Germany Valley on a beautiful autumn afternoon. As I was shooting, a couple pulled over in an RV with Iowa plates. A man got out and set up near me to photograph the wonderful scene before us. We talked shop, as photographers do, and he explained that he and his wife had planned to travel the Skyline Drive in Virginia, but changed their minds and randomly headed west on US 33. What sticks with me the most is his comment as he prepared to leave…’we don’t have anything like this in Iowa.’ As it turns out, one of the photographs I shot that day was used as the dust cover on a coffee table book produced by the West Virginia Department of Culture and History.”
“Photography has increased my appreciation of God’s Creation,” states Slider. “I would never have stood on mountaintops an hour before sunrise or hiked miles along a rushing stream to a waterfall if I hadn’t developed an interest in photography. In pursuit of memorable images, I’ve probably traveled nearly every country road in West Virginia, and loved every mile.”
Bob Stough; Derry, Pennsylvania
A photographer for over twenty-five years and a backcountry explorer for almost forty years help Bob Stough capture amazing Appalachian landscapes. "My favorite subject to photograph is the wild landscapes of the central Appalachians," explains Stough. "I want to share the beauty of these places with other people in the hope that they will come to love and cherish them as I have and be motivated to protect them from future developments."
Using a Canon 6D and several Canon lenses, Stough is a first-time entrant to Cortland's photography competition. "My winning entry, "Autumn Light on North Fork Mountain", required climbing up onto the cliffs of North Fork Mountain, then making sure I captured all the light from that moment in time and processing it to be as accurate to the scene as I could."
For anyone wanting to take up photography or improve their compositions, Stough's words of wisdom are especially revealing. "I never forget that what I am photographing is not any particular scene or object, but the light reflecting or radiating from it, and I always try to be true to the light."
Bobby Swan; Meadowbrook, West Virginia
Jesse Thornton; Huntington, West Virginia
Alan Tucker; Buckhannon, West Virginia
"I have been a casual photographer for forty years and a serious photographer for ten," explains Tucker. Tucker had two entries selected this year using a Canon 5D Mark IV and a Canon 16-35mm or 24-205mm L lens.
"I love grand landscapes, and I enjoy looking for and capturing the beauty of God's creations," states Tucker. "West Virginia is blessed with majestic vistas of sweeping mountains and broad valleys that have a unique beauty in every season. I love searching out those grand landscape shots that best define our beautiful state."
Unique grand landscape photography requires four things, according to Tucker. "First, you must understand the concept of composition. Knowing the rules of the composition should be second nature to you. Second, grand landscapes usually require a wide-angle lens. Third, it is all about light. Great composition with poor light is not worth shooting. Finally, take great landscapes, take fewer pictures by studying the scene, and look for that unique composition with the right light. Find something compelling that others may not have seen and capture that unique stunning photo. Oh…and patience. You might not get the shot you want, but you know at another time or season, there might be a unique shot waiting for you."
To underscore the need for patience, Tucker tells the story of traveling several hours, year after year, to capture a stunning maple tree only to be thwarted by fading fall colors, dull light, or winds that had already robbed the tree of its leaves. "One year, everything was perfect – color, lighting, no wind," explains Tucker. "I knew the shots I wanted, so with trusty tripod and camera in hand, I finally captured the photo I had wanted for so many years."
John Willson; Charleston, West Virginia
"Landscapes are my favorite subject because they get me out in nature and gives me a great appreciation for the beauty of God's creation."
Using a NikonD800 camera and Nikon 16-35mm F-4 zoom lens, Willson has been photographing the great outdoors for six years. He submitted images to the contest previously and had two entries selected for this year's gallery.
"My' friends' blame me for any poor conditions we have when we go out to shoot," explains Willson. "If there are no clouds, or if it's raining, we know the cause. They have even offered to take up a collection if I leave so that the conditions will improve. It's a great tradition and lots of fun too."
"The Bear Rocks Sunrise" photo is an example of being in the right place at the right time. "The Blackwater Falls photo was the most challenging image to capture," remembers Willson. "After hiking down to the river level, I started hiking toward the falls and encountered a big rock that I couldn't get over or around. I set my camera up on top of the rock, not seeing through the viewfinder. Using live view and a little trial and error, I was able to get the composition I wanted."
As far as words of wisdom for photography go, Willson recommends you be patient. "When you get to the scene, take it all in, and see what is 'speaking' to you. Then think about how to take the photo to highlight what captured your attention. You can't see the best compositions if you're not patient."
COVID may have changed how Cortland presents their 2020 photography winners; the prints continue to be spectacular. As with previous years, both large- and small-scale prints from 2019 are available for purchase. The prints previewed in this article will be available for purchase in the fall of 2021. Please visit the Cortland Acres website at https://www.cortlandacres.org/2019-prints-for-sale or contact Dan Bucher at (304) 463-4181 for more information.