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Q&A: Photographer Valerie Millett Talks About Why She Entered the Arizona Highways Online Photo Contest

Photo by Valerie Millett

Photo by Valerie Millett

The 6th Annual Arizona Highways Online Photo Contest is coming to a close — and fast. Fortunately, there’s still time to enter. So far, we’ve received more than 3,700 entries and you have until December 15, 2013 (we’re shutting her down at 11:59 p.m.). With three spectacular prizes up for grabs, there’s no reason not to submit one (or more) of your Arizona-made photographs. Enter by clicking this link.

Still unsure about entering our photo contest? Check out what photographer Valerie Millett, a frequent Friday Fotos contributor, has to say about why she entered this year’s contest.

Why did you decide to enter the Arizona Highways Photo Contest this year?
Actually, I almost didn’t enter this year and not for any particular reason other than I’d had such a busy year that  I wasn’t sure I could devote the time I felt I needed to really sort through and pick images. Through the Arizona Highways Photo Contest in previous years, I’d had the pleasure of  viewing Dave Drost’s work and quickly became an admirer. So, this year, I searched on his name to see what he had entered and as usual was blown away with his images, which then inspired me to join in.

Tell me about the photos you entered. Why did you decide to enter those photos?
I believe I entered a total of 15 photos, most of which I entered in the last week or so, and most are fairly recent images. Of course, I’d like to think I’ve entered some of my best images technically, but there is no doubt that there in an emotional process here as well. I’ve picked images that are not only what I believe to be beautiful scenes from all over Arizona, but ones that have great memories and personal stories attached to them. I’m hoping that in the selection process, some of that emotion that will translate well to the viewer or judge. I’d like to think that by entering and allowing others to view the entries, those people will see a side of Arizona that may inspire them to come visit or explore or hike the same landscapes that I’m so enamored with.

You’re a frequent contributor to our Friday Fotos contest, as are a lot of photographers. Have you developed friendships with anyone?
I am a repeat offender of the Friday Fotos forum, yes. How can I possibly even start to tell the story of my evolution as a very new landscape photographer (only a couple of years ago) to where I am today, the friendships I’ve developed and the exciting community of photographers that I now feel very much a part of.  What a journey!

The Arizona Highways blog and the Friday Fotos arena have been a huge part of my emerging career as a landscape photographer. I remember, three years ago, when I timidly entered the contest with a “point and shoot” camera. When one of images would appeared on the blog or “Photo Of The Day” on the website, I would  become greatly encouraged.  Having been an avid hiker already, I had the Arizona Highways Hiking Guide, and I set out to do two things: 1. Hike all 52 hikes and chronicle each hike on my blog. 2. Get my photos to look like the images in the book. (I never finished all the 52 hikes because my quest to become a better photographer took over my life!)

I started studying the photography and noting the photographers’ names in the hiking guide.  I found many of them on Facebook or their personal websites, and I started picking their brains.  How did they get started?  What kind of gear did they use? How long had they been shooting? I read their articles and studied their personal philosophies on the landscapes and their photographic technique.  Through this process, I made friends with a few and developed a few mentoring relationships.  I’ve had the honor of being able to meet or shoot with Jack Dykinga, Kerrick James, Derek von Breisen, Paul Gill and Bruce Roscoe, to name a few, and  some of them have contributed greatly to my early development.

I’ve developed close friendships with many of the photographers I’ve come to know via social media, mostly Facebook, from all over the world. I shot with many of the names you see regularly on the Friday Fotos forum.

Where do you love to make photographs?
Anywhere I can. I’m up for exploring anything. Of course, I love the Arizona landscapes, but I had a chance this past year to see a bit of Utah and Colorado and had some amazing photographic adventures.  My favorite love in Arizona is the West Fork Trail in Sedona. I’ve been hiking and exploring West Fork for years, and I affectionately refer to it as the “Enchanted Forest.” Every time I shoot there, I see it differently and I never tire of it.

What inspires you about Arizona?
What doesn’t inspire me? Arizona just has so much to offer. I find the desert landscapes beautiful and poetic. Those who think the desert is dry and boring have not spent enough time wandering around in it.  After a rain, the smell of sage and the intense color saturation are spectacular. In the winter, the snow dusting the low deserts or beautifully offsetting the red rocks of Sedona are scenes, as a photographer, I can never get enough of.  I anxiously await our short burst of autumn like a kid at Christmas. I think the changing colors of fall set against a Southwestern landscape is one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.  I’m inspired by the vastness of the landscapes of Arizona.

Why should folks participate in the Arizona Highways Photo Contest?
I think there is something for everyone. Do it to be a part of a great community that supports and appreciates our beautiful state.  I often read, especially after the contest opens that many feel like they aren’t technically advanced enough to participate or that only the professional photographers win. I’d never let those who are more advanced than myself be a source of discouragement. In fact, for me it’s just the opposite.  Those talented photographers (who win) inspire me to work harder at perfecting my craft. I love admiring their achievements and celebrating their success.  It just gets me excited about my own possibilities and helps me define the areas in which I need to grow. That’s how I look at it. Do it just for fun!

How long have you been shooting?
I’ve been shooting for about three years. I’ve been shooting seriously with a full-frame DSLR for less than two years. Before, photography, I painted watercolors professionally.  I think this is my third time I’ve entered the photo contest.

—Kathy Ritchie


Filed under Photography, Q&A

Meet Our 2012-2013 Online Photo Contest Winner… Adam Schallau

Screen Shot 2013-02-20 at 12.01.39 PMOur photo contest is over (but you knew this, right?) and our grand prize winner has been declared! Adam Schallau took home the top prize in our annual online photography contest. Schallau’s image of rain falling from a summer thunderstorm at the Grand Canyon wowed our judges, including Editor Robert Stieve, Photo Editor Jeff Kida, Creative Director Barbara Glynn Denney and Art Director Keith Whitney. Schallau is a full time professional photographer, living in Flagstaff; and though he’s spent time in other parts of the Southwest, Arizona is where his heart resides.

“I love this state for its stunning landscapes, the weather, which is beautiful one minute and dramatic the next; and the people are just amazing,” he says. “The earliest memories of Arizona that I have come from flipping through the pages of Arizona Highways and dreaming of living here one day. I love the magazine not just for the fantastic photography inside it, but for the stories they tell. Together, they provide a window with a view into the soul of Arizona.”

Below, Schallau talks about his big win, how he captured this spectacular photograph and why his win is a game-changer:

Congratulations. How does it feel to be the winner of our annual online photography contest?
Thank you! It’s an absolutely amazing feeling to be honored as the winner. I’ve admired the photos in the magazine and the photographers who created them for many years now. It is truly a privilege to be included among them!

You have a lot of images of the Grand Canyon on your website. Why did you submit this image? Did you know it would, or could, be a winning image?
I do have quite the collection of images of the Grand Canyon, it’s a place that means a lot to me and I think I’ll never tire of photographing it. I consider the Canyon to be my artistic home. I submitted this image because I felt I had captured a truly unique moment, one that represents the intensity of the monsoon season at the Grand Canyon. I think it’s the eerie mixture of moon light and lightning illuminating the Canyon, with the dramatic star-filled sky, that puts this photo over the top.

How did you go about capturing the shot? What challenges did you face and, ultimately, overcome to get this image?
The storm in the photograph was quickly moving toward me and continuing to strengthen,  which meant I was probably only going to have one shot at creating the image before I would need to take cover from the rain and lightning. With the only light sources being the moon, which was behind me, and lightning in the storm, I was going to need a long shutter speed combined with a high ISO setting and a fast aperture to give the camera’s imaging sensor an opportunity to absorb enough light. As I was shooting with a 14 mm lens, I knew that I could leave the shutter open up to 30 seconds with no apparent movement in the stars. Near the last 10 seconds of the 30-second exposure the gust front, which was pushing out in front of the storm, struck with high winds. If the winds get any stronger I’m going to give up a lot of sharpness in the image as the wind knocks the camera and tripod around. Just before the exposure came to an end, lightning erupted within the storm and illuminated the rain falling into the depths of the Canyon. Had it not been for that single lightning strike behind the rain, the photo would not have had the same impact.

What about the Southwest captivates or inspires you?
It’s the variety of landscapes, cultures, weather, and light here in the Southwest that continues to inspire me. I love laying down in a ponderosa forest, surrounded by their sweet aroma, listening to the wind through the treetops as they gently sway back and forth. It’s watching a distant storm move across the desert, listening to the rumble of thunder as the smell of rain permeates the air. It’s sitting on the edge of a remote canyon far from the sounds of modern man, staring down onto an ancient cliff dwelling wondering about the people that came before us as the silence is broken by the sound of air rushing over a raven’s wings as he soars past me.

Where do you love to shoot in Arizona?
I love to photograph the Grand Canyon. Once you get away from the handrails and start exploring you begin to discover the lesser known locations, places that aren’t often seen in photos. With its ever changing palette of color, light, shadow, and texture, it offers unique challenges and generous rewards for the photographer who keeps his eyes and heart open to the moment.

Do you think this win is a game-changer for you career-wise?
I believe that any opportunity to have your work seen by a larger audience, one which shares the same love that you do for such a special place, has the potential to have a tremendous impact on one’s career. So yes, I’m hopeful that winning the Arizona Highways photo contest is a game-changer for my photography career!

What advice or tips would you give to aspiring photographers?

  • One piece of advice I received early on was that it’s OK to create bad photos, but it’s important to evaluate why they didn’t work. Continue to learn from your mistakes and apply what you’ve learned toward the next image.
  • Get close to your subject. Attempt to know it on an intimate level. This will aid you in the process of learning to anticipate how light will play across the landscape and how it changes from season to season. This way you can be better prepared to take advantage of interesting light and weather as it happens.
  • Keep your camera with you all the time. You never know when a photographic opportunity might present itself. If you see something that catches your eye, shoot it now because it may not be there tomorrow.
  • Above all else…shoot what you’re passionate about!

What kind of camera did you use?
To create this image I used a Nikon D800e body along with the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G lens.

For more information about Adam and his work, visit http://www.adamschallau.com

—Kathy Ritchie


Filed under Contests, Photography, Q&A

Enter the Arizona Highways Online Photography Contest

 "Red Sands" by Bev Pettit

“Red Sands” by Bev Pettit

Only one week remains in the Arizona Highways Online Photography Contest. Enter your Arizona-made images today for a chance to win a photography workshop valued at $2,500, as well as a variety of other prizes.

Images must fall into one of the following categories: landscape, wildlife or macro. For complete contest details and rules and to enter, visit www.arizonahighways.com/photography.asp.


Filed under Contests

Thursday (Friday) Fotos… Green With Envy

Photo by Valerie Millett

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! The theme this week was green (in honor of my three of my colleagues who all wore green yesterday to the office) and we received some beautiful images! Thanks for sharing and don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook and subscribe to the blog for stories, contests, interviews and more.

Oh! One more thing: if you really love the images in this post (or any other post for that matter) don’t forget to share with your friends and family!

That would be mighty kind of you.


P.S., don’t forget to tell us where you took your image or we can’t include in our gallery.


Filed under Contests, Friday Fotos, Photography

Where in the World is Arizona Highways?

Going on vacation this summer? Well, don’t forget to take your latest issue of Arizona Highways with you. We’re offering you a chance to win a collection of Arizona Highways books (and trust us, we have a lot)—all you have to do is take your picture with the magazine at an interesting location, post it to Facebook and you could be our BIG winner!

Have fun!

So where are you going this summer?

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Filed under Contests, In YOUR Words, Photography