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.”
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."
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.
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."
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 t