Reviewing the submitted photographs for the South County Life 2019 contest is always a fun event. It’s great seeing so many people out and about capturing them. People are taking more pictures than ever thanks to ubiquitous smart phones everyone carries. Ironically, at the same time, the devices have all but eliminated traditional cameras.

It’s contests like this that bring hope to those of us favoring to hold onto the past — and onto our DSLRs. After closely scrutinizing the entries, it came down to choosing those that felt more like photographs. Anyone can step outside their door and take a picture. It often takes more than that to create a photograph: planning, anticipation, and execution come to mind. And then sometimes you just get lucky and are in the right place at the right time. While the rules were quite simple—shooting only in South County, that left the contest wide open. Once all the entries were compiled into one collection, the two strongest themes to emerge were activities and nature. I guess that’s why South County appeals to so many!

The question then becomes —which one is best and why? Let’s first review these five finalists from all that were submitted. There were a number of flowers, sunsets, lighthouse images and waves. Unless the wave is backlit with outrageous colors, it may not stand out among all the other entries. Similarly, a flower might be beautiful, but often it’s still just a flower. Now, if the photographer managed the shot with stunning lighting and at the right time to maybe include the setting sun, it might have a better chance of being a finalist. However, that wasn’t seen among this year’s entries.

The images interspersed here are those I felt are the five best of the 75 submitted, with one standing out as the overall winner.

What credentials do I bring to the table and why does it matter? It’s always a fair question, and while I’ve never professed to be an expert at anything, with nearly 50 years of shooting stills and almost 40 years of shooting professional video at the television networks in news and sports, that’s got to count for something! Plus given my additional time teaching film lighting classes at RISD, I’d likely do OK in a photographic shootout. Plus the pay they offered was good (I’m volunteering).

The word photograph come from two Greek words, “pho” for light, and “graphe” meaning to draw. Art photographers and professionals strive to create images bathed in the best light. There are several times during most days when shooting photographs is near perfect, and generally speaking that time is in the morning before sunrise until a couple of hours after dawn, and later in the day a couple of hours before sunset until twilight. The time before daybreak and before sunrise is known as “magic hour,” the time right after the sun has come up is called “golden hour.” It happens in the reverse in the late afternoon and early evening on clear days.

Why is this important? It is the best times of the day to shoot photographs. Golden hour offers long shadows and subtle warm hues; magic hour offers low contrast and almost no shadows. Of the five images considered finalists, all but the praying mantis are clearly from magic and golden hours. It offers a sense that the photographer made the extra effort to have camera in hand while anticipating what was about to happen. It indicates the photographer put thought into the image.

When I was 13 years old, I scraped together some money and purchased my first camera, sight unseen. It was a brand new, 35mm single lens reflex one, and I had no idea what to do with it. I also had no way of knowing that at the moment it arrived, it would chart my life’s course for the next 40 years—and counting. I had no way of knowing it would bring me around the world, at times near world events, politicians, sports stars, Olympics and world championships. Lately much has changed with camera technology, but the one aspect of photography will always remain: you can’t get the shot sitting at home on the couch. It’s wonderful to see photography is still being practiced, and I’m honored to have judged all these fine images.

This brings us to what I feel is the best image of the South County contest. This obviously is totally subjective on my part though I remain objective in that I know not the name of its creator. This feels South County to me.

What does that mean?

If you’ve ever been at Narragansett Town Beach at 7:30 on a warm August night, you can almost feel it through this image. The salt is still in your hair and on your skin; your damp bathing suit feels comfortably cool as you hope to continue avoiding the day’s heat still blowing out from the Pier; the no-see-ims are starting to nip at your skin as you make you way back to your dampening beach towel. Then you see this blond surfer taking a final look at the ocean. Maybe she’s just finished catching her last waves of the summer before heading off to school. Most people in Rhode Island take the beach for granted, and many who call South County home have never lived outside of the state. We have some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere in the country, and on a late summer night, this is exactly what it looks like. This image speaks South County.

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