Photo Fun Contest 2015

Aspiring Photographers Learn From Professional To Prepare For Statewide Contest

July 23, 2015
Jennifer Hersey Cleveland
Staff Writer, Orleans County Record

NEWPORT CITY — Children from all corners of the state converged at the Emory Hebard State Office Building Tuesday for a daylong seminar on photography. The kids were hopeful that they’d learn skills that would set them apart from other young photographers, skills that might eventually help them take home one of three cash prizes in their age group in the fourth annual Photo Fun contest, conducted by the Wooden Horse Arts Guild (WHAG).

This year’s theme is “This Is My Vermont,” and to help them figure out how to zero in on that which makes Vermont special was Casco, Maine, photographer Robin Leavitt, daughter of one of the guild’s founding members, Camilla Mead.

The contest is open to any Vermont child in grades five through 12, but Mead noticed after the first couple years that although some of the kids had an eye for a good photograph, inexperience was holding them back.

“Some of these kids really don’t even know how to use their cameras,” Mead said.

Leavitt’s experiences take her to sporting events and weddings, and she photographs just about every subject matter, which made her a good choice to teach the class, Mead said.

Last year, 23 kids entered, submitting 72 photographs. They were all very good, Mead said, but one could tell the difference between the photos taken by kids who had taken Leavitt’s class and those who had not. “The pictures that they sent in were unbelievable for that age group,” Mead said.

A portion of the class time is spent learning elements of photography like lighting, shutter speed, depth of field and composition before they were sent out into the world to photograph the same scenes, while seeking to make their photos stand out.

Rob Boskind, a teacher and new member of the WHAG, agreed to help out with the seminar. Leavitt noticed several photos from different students of the same tree.

Boskind said he asked his group to photograph that particular tree in as many different ways as possible. “It was interesting. Everybody had a different approach,” Boskind said. “Some people were inside the tree, some people were under the tree.”

Whether or not an image is pleasing to the eye is a highly subjective matter, but what became clear was that the students were framing their subjects thoughtfully and intentionally, using light to their advantage.

After coming back to the classroom, the kids were asked to choose their three favorite images to share with the group for critique. “Only three?” asked 9-year-old Uma Chirkova, who lives in Newbury, Vermont, and Boston, Massachusetts.

While Uma is 9 years old, she clarified that she is not like other 9-year-olds. “But I go in fifth grade,” she said.

Leavitt showed the students how to show motion in their photographs by slowing down their shutter speed and to make an otherwise mundane shot sing by simply shifting focus or refusing to break the cardinal rule of composition - do not center the subject under any circumstances.

Using free software found online, Leavitt showed the children how to manipulate their images to create different effects, sometimes by just cropping out dead space or unappealing things that sneak into the frame, like dead buds next to a gleaming lily blossom.

Jacob Newman, a 13-year-old from Alburgh is already very talented. He shared many images of his favorite subject – wild birds. When asked how he had such amazing access to birds, Jacob said, “We have a wildlife refuge 15 minutes from our house.”

Jacob particularly liked one shot of a squirrel. “I like it because you can see the saliva on its mouth.”

A macro shot of a dragonfly got everyone’s attention – it was so close one could see the delicate structures of the insect’s wings.

Last year, Linden Griffiths, 12, of Johnson, had a dragonfly land on her chest and she carefully photographed it, somehow getting the shot in focus, Leavitt and Mead recalled.

Haley Trottier, 14, of Williamstown, got a shot of fellow classmate Keye Hash, 14, of Lyndonville, and everyone complimented her on allowing the light to shine from Keye’s already luminescent eyes.

“Nice composition,” said Victoria Blais, a WHAG student member who prefers to go by Victoria Rose.

With every photo, Leavitt pushed the students to come up with ideas of how to make very good photos rise to a different level.

Evan Hash, 9, of Lyndonville, shot directly upward toward the courthouse, catching the flags moving in the wind. But Leavitt cautioned him against shooting too close to the sun lest he wash out his photos. Then again, she said, sunspots are very popular in photography these days.

Evan used the slats of a park bench to frame a shot of sailboats and the gazebo on the waterfront, an image that elicited oohs and aahs of approval from the class.

Everyone responded favorably to Victoria Rose’s “circle cat” image. It shows her cat curled up in a perfect circle, contrasting dark against light, and the texture of the cat’s fur against the fuzz of the white blanket underneath.

“She’s pregnant if you want a kid,” the young artist announced.

Wednesday is the day kids can begin shooting for their contest entries, which have to be submitted by Sept. 30. To enter, visit the WHAG website at

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