The Virginia Outdoor Writers Association (VOWA) is very proud of our 2018-2019 Collegiate Photography Winners. Photography entries were particularly strong this year, amazing work! These outstanding students, who typify both scholarship and love of the outdoors, are the future communicators and stewards of our precious outdoors.
We thank  Lynda Richardson Art Director Virginia Wildlife Magazine and Robert Thomas Professional Photographer for their time, patience, and expertise in judging our contest. Enjoy reading about our photography winners and their stunning images!

VOWA/Kyle Boykin Photography Best Outdoor Photo First Place
Niall Goard, VT “Reflection Canyon”

Niall is a senior from Chesapeake, VA studying Marine Fisheries Conservation and Sustainable Natural Resources with a goal of working “as a fisheries biologist, mountaineering guide, wildland firefighter, or anywhere in the outdoor education field in Washington State. As long as I get a job outside I’ll be happy! Ultimately I hope that sharing my passion for the outdoors can help build a generation who will conserve and safeguard the shrinking natural environments of our planet.”

“Reflection Canyon” is a photo that Niall took during a backpacking trip to an isolated finger of Glen Canyon in Utah with a group of his friends. He tells us that “this remote area has few marked trails and hosts a maze of slot canyons  in which we spent countless hours getting lost. Eventually we found our goal just as the sun set and moon rose. My friend Grant [in the red jacket!] walked down to the lip of the canyon as I took this photo of him.” Breathtaking Niall!

Niall has been a previous winner in our Photography competitions; it has been a pleasure to watch him grow as a photographer. Also impressive is his encouraging his friends in the art of outdoor photography and to see him develop “a passion for teaching environmental ethics and skills” during activities such as being a backpacking guide at a Colorado youth summer camp…”I really enjoyed sharing the experiences with the youth of our future and seeing them be excited by nature just as much as I am.”  Niall, VOWA wishes you well, we know that you will do great things!

VOWA Best Outdoor Photo Second Place
Chase Vaillancourt, VT “Breakfast With A View”

Chase Vaillancourt, a senior studying Clinical Neuroscience,  will be enlisting in the Air Force upon graduation. “My goals for the future are simple…to help others and to never stop exploring – especially with friends.”

A returning student to our contest, Chase tells us that not only did eye surgery this year improve his literal vision, but that his personal views were also changed by the trips to magnificent outdoor destinations he was able to make with friends. This year he reports that he has added ice climbing to his already long list of hobbies that include rock climbing, surfing, backpacking, playing guitar and playing rugby.

Chase, also a very fine writer, is also one of our 2018-19 essay winners.  Be sure to read his Third Place winning essay in our Essay Winners Showcase.  Beautifully  written Chase describes an exciting mountain climbing experience with his friends.

“Breakfast With A View” was taken on a camping trip  to McAfee’s Knob near VT. After a long and frigid night, and with the first rays of the the sun illuminating the mountains his friend whipped up sunrise oatmeal and with his camera all primed and ready he captured this gorgeous moment.

Travel is very important to Chase, to illustrate he shares his favorite quote by Terry Pratchett: “Why do [we] go away? So that [we] can come back. So that [we] can see the place [we] came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the  people there see [us] differently, too. Coming back to where [we] started is not the same as leaving.” VOWA wishes you many enriching travels in your future! 

VOWA Best Outdoor Photo Third Place
Mellisa Butcher, LFCC “Bald Eagle”

Mellisa Butcher is a student at Lord Fairfax Community College completing  her final semester of Certification in Outdoor and Nature Photography. She tells us that she has had a passion for photography since childhood outings with her father and his Nikon camera.

“Two years ago, my boyfriend asked me ‘If money wasn’t an issue  what would you like to do?’ Without hesitation, I said I would like to go to school for photography.” That dream became a reality at LFCC with a Certificate Program in Outdoor and Nature Photography, first of its kind nationally, designed and taught by VOWA’s own Professors Rob and Ann Simpson!

Mellisa expresses that on her first day of class she was “mesmerized by the Simpson’s knowledge and expertise in photography. Before the end of the course she enrolled in Rob’s Ornithology class: “I never would have thought that I would be interested in studying birds. Seeing the professors’ passion and love for what they do, I knew right there that I wanted to learn all that I could to help me become a better photographer.”

Her winning image, of a “Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” is magnificent.  Of the bald eagle, at one time on the endangered species list for over 40 years, Mellisa says that it was an honor to make and submit this image as “the dedication and commitment that was and continues to be put into [bringing back] this species is apparent because I can go out into my own community and other areas to capture the stealth and beauty these wonderful creatures have to offer.”

“Signing up for Professor Simpson’s class in 2017 was the best decision I made and my love and desire to learn about nature and photography grows every day.” Congratulations Mellisa, we at VOWA are proud to now have you as a member and to be a part of your continuing photographic journey!

VOWA Best Outdoor Photo Honorable Mention
Naja Kelly, LFCC “Lone Wolf”

Naja Kelly hails form Winchester Virginia. A second year student at Lord Fairfax Community College she is a student of  VOWA’s own Ann Simpson! She tells us that this year she was excited to choose nursing as her major; her academic goals are to complete the nursing program, graduate and become a registered nurse. “My interests include hiking with my husky, spending time with friends and family, traveling, and spending time outdoors.

Her gorgeous winning photo, “The Lone Wolf” was taken at the Virginia State Arboretum part of  UVA’s Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce on a snowy winter day “with no one,  except us, in sight. Photographed while hiking on my birthday in mid-January the  image shows my Siberian husky listening for something along a lovely path through a wooded area within the arboretum.”

Beautifully composed and dramatic image! Best wishes in your nursing career, and continue your photography, you are talented! We look forward to seeing more of your work in our contests.

VOWA Best Outdoor Photo Honorable Mention
Rebecca Lake, Marymount University “Yellow Tulip”

Rebecca Lake is a junior at Marymount University in Arlington Virginia. Rebecca tells us that throughout  her childhood she had a passion for writing and consuming narratives. She also wanted to be an artist but doubted her skills….until  “I discovered photography and the Adobe Creative Cloud. I choose the major Graphic Design to unite my technical skills with my childhood dream of be coming an artist.”

Marymount, Rebecca tells us, has provided her with “plenty of opportunities to explore art while continuing my creative writing. I have realized a talent for charcoal drawings, found joy in photographing detailed shots of flowers and wildlife. I have had both art and writing published in my school’s literary magazine.”

Your wining photo, “Yellow Tulip” typifies your hard work and talent, just beautiful! Rebecca made this photo int he soft light of a rainy afternoon finding just the right angle to frame the tulip on  the blue background of a close-by sign making for a powerful image. Combining your wonderful talents will take you far! We hope to see you again enter our contest.

VOWA Best Outdoor Photo Honorable Mention
Ricki Bennett, LFCC “Sunken Concrete Ships Kiptopeke, SP”

Ricki Bennett has taken biology classes and completed a Career Certificate in Outdoor and Nature Photography at Lord Fairfax Community College and recently “buckled down” to begin pursuing an Associate in Arts and Science degree. A freshman, her goal is a bachelors degree in wildlife biology.

“Although I have lived the better part of the last 16 years in the Shenandoah Valley, I am a Buckeye form the North coast, the international city called Lorain, Ohio. Born and raised on Lake Erie, a descendant of Italian fisherman, I love being in, on, and near the water and, of course, nature! I also have a passion for photography, traveling, and learning new things.”

Stunning light and strong composition  make “Sunken Concrete Ships Kiptopeke State Park” a winning photograph! During a “week-long camping extravaganza” with a her best friend, this image was taken from the old ferry docks at KSP. Ricki says “although the reflection of the light makes for a beautiful photo, I love the history of the sunken concrete ships from WWII and the fact that they now provide protection  to the beach and habitat of shorebirds and wildlife.” Yes indeed, fascinating! VOWA wishes you well as you purse your studies and photography.  We look forward to more of your images in future contests.

Awards Ceremony & Acknowledgments

Prizes were presented to the winners and their guests during the 2019 Annual Meeting held March 16, 2019 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 role 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 sponsor  Kyle Boykin Photography  for their generosity to help us to honor outstanding young photographers in a very special way.
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.