2017-2018 Collegiate Photography Winners Showcase

The Virginia Outdoor Writers Association (VOWA) is very proud of our 2017-2018 Collegiate Photography Winners who typify both scholarship and love of the outdoors. Photography entries were particularly strong this year, amazing work! These outstanding students are the future communicators and stewards of our precious outdoors.  Enjoy reading about our winners and their fabulous photos!

VOWA-Focal Fix
Best Outdoor Photograph

Chase Vaillancourt
Virginia Tech
“Black & White Pony”

Chase is a VT junior from Chesapeake, VA majoring in clinical neuroscience. “My career choice is still up in the air. I am ultimately determined to help others.”

Photography, he states, “has allowed me to artistically show the beautiful world we live in….being in the outdoors is truly liberating.” Chase’s  fondest memories are in the “backcountry.” He feels that a camera allows him “to have more than recollections, I can capture the amazing moments exactly how they are.”

Chase gains inspiration from other outdoor photographers, and is moved by their educational messages regarding “climate change and about how our biomes are drastically in danger.” With photos “one cannot deny the negative effects that are taking place. Photography is a powerful tool that can positively change the world and I am  blessed to have the opportunities I have to try and do just that.” Chase writes beautifully as well!

“Black & White Pony” his winning photo was taken at Grayson Highlands State Park. Chase  and his photography friends camped in frigid December weather to be ready at first light to capture images of these “majestic ponies which were introduced decades ago to eat invasive plant species.”

Chase is a photographer who knows how to get low to his subject for a great shooting angle. He used a Sony Cyber Shot camera to capture this stunning image in color then adjusted it to black & white. Outstanding work Chase!

VOWA–Dominion Energy
Best Outdoor Photograph Runner-Up

Cole Thrift
Virginia Tech“Mid-Winter Thaw”

Cole is a 20-year old junior, geography major at VT with a minor in meteorology and geographic information systems. He hails form Williamsburg, VA. Cole first got into photography as a hobby in high school when he traveled with one of his best friends to the Democratic Republic of Congo to  film a documentary. He learned the basics of DSLR cameras and how to take good photos and videos. Cole continues his experimenting and learning with cameras and has taken introduction to photography and photography classes for naturalists at VT.

Cole tells us his main photographic interests are landscape, wildlife, and macro photography. He also enjoys hiking and traveling and has the “goal of living and working abroad as a missionary or for a humanitarian organization,” and of course he wants to include his photography skills.

His winning photo, “Mid-Winter Thaw” was taken mid-January while hiking the Cascades National Recreation Trail. Using a Canon EOS Rebel T5i Cole used a tripod and long exposure  to capture this serene, well composed, truly lovely photo.

Cole has been a student member of VOWA and also entered one of his published images in our Excellence-in-Craft contest. He won first place! Please check it out in our 2017-18 EIC Showcase. This is a photographer with a strong future ahead in outdoor photography. Congratulations Cole, very special work!

VOWA-Dominion Energy
Honorable Mention Winner

Trent Thorne
Virginia Commonwealth University
“The Fall”

Trent is from Chesapeake, VA and a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University majoring in geology. He loves travel and the outdoors, finding “the mix of science and the outdoors fascinating.”

Introduced to photography in 2015 by a friend, Trent fell in love with capturing images of places and people. Unsure of exactly what his career path will be, he is sure that it will involve his love of travel, outdoor adventuring, and of course photography!


Trent’s winning picture was taken on a mountain climbing, bouldering site in Bozoo, West Virginia. In awe watching his friend as he climbed up the boulder, Trent reports that he was too distracted to take photos!  More relaxed as his friend descended, Trent noticed the beautiful fall scenery and captured this outstanding image. Trent tells us “that the  cool fall air and colors seemed to match his friend’s relief and pride as he conquered the rock and made his way down.”

Great lines, perspective, composition, and color in this image captured with a Nikon D3300. Way to go Trent, keep up the good work. You will go far!





Future Outdoor Communicators 

VT photographers showed up in force to celebrate our winners. Niall Goard (2nd from right) our 1st place winner in 2016 & 2017 is now mentoring his photographer friends including our winners Chase & Trent. These young men are very worthy additions to our VOWA Membership. We are pleased and proud to have them with us.

Awards Ceremony & Acknowledgements

Prizes were presented to the winners and their guests during the 2018 Annual Meeting held March 24, 2018 at the DoubleTree Hotel, Charlottesville, VA. We thank Dominion Energy for a grant that not only supported our running of the VOWA Collegiate Contests, but also played a big part in enabling VOWA to offer a wonderful celebratory and informative Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon to our members and award winners from our Collegiate, High School, and Excellence-in-Craft Contests.

We also thank sponsors Cooperative Living Magazine and  Focal Fix for their generosity which enables us to honor outstanding young photographers in a very special way.

We thank Marie & Milan Majarov, Robert Thomas Professional Photographer, and Lynda Richardson Art Director Virginia Wildlife Magazine for their time, patience, and expertise in judging our contest.

This year’s Collegiate competitions were chaired by VOWA member Amanda Creasey with the help of VOWA’s Executive Director Matt Schwartz. We thank them both sincerely for all their efforts in putting together a wonderful competition.

All conference images courtesy of Robert Thomas, Robert Thomas Photography. Thank you Robert!