VAIL – Professional photographer C. S. Owsley may have had a hard time selling an image of the mountains to a publication, but the judges of the Mountain Life Photography Competition thought it worthy of a winner.Owsley was on Highway 91, working on a piece about Leadville being a destination spot in hopes of a publication picking it up, when he saw the “money light” and stopped his car. “I was trying to set up this lake and mountains behind it, but then this cloud formation literally formed behind it,” said the 32-year-old Denver local about getting his image, “Hydrologic Cycle,” which won the landscape category. The clouds swiftly moved into the misty scene, almost touching the water.”Within 20 minutes, it went from nothing to this pinnacle of effect,” he said. The winners of the seven categories of the competition were announced at a reception at the Demott Gallery in Vail Village Thursday night. The image winning Best in Show, which carries a $1,500 prize, was chosen among the category winners and announced Saturday night at the Everest Awards. Many of the entries of finalists featured silhouettes of people set against awe-inspiring mountains.Only two of the winners were present and given their $500 checks on the spot. “That’s cool. We don’t have to give away the checks. You wanna go have a drink?” said Joel Heath to the crowd, jokingly. Heath is the president of Untraditional Marketing, which puts on the Teva Mountain Games.Steve MacAulay, from Seattle, won Best in Show and the ice/rock category with his image, “Bouldering with Care and Awareness,” taken at Cedar Mesa in Moab, Utah. MacAulay’s image shows a pictograph, created by the Anasazi Indians, in the foreground on the wall of a rock and MacAulay’s wife, Joy, climbing in the background. On first glance, not many people notice her tiny figure tackling the wall, MacAulay said. The pictograph looks like the figure of a man. MacAulay said he does not know what it means. “No one has really come up with a way of interpreting them,” said the professional photographer. MacAulay and his wife had come to explore the ruins, but being climbers at heart, they couldn’t resist, he said.”We see a wall that has all the holes on it – you’ve got to climb,” he said.Two anonymous judges deliberated for seven hours to decide the winners. This year, 58 amateur and professsional photographers entered 327 of their best pieces into the contest, compared with last year’s 185 entries. “The judges really examined all the entries very, very technically,” said Lee Hart, the organizer of the competition. “There were pictures that for me, as an amateur, would go, ‘Wow.'” Hart said the Untraditional Marketing staff encouraged her to aim for as many as 300 entries this year. “So I feel really good that I got 327,” she said. To accomplish her goal, Hart contacted the Travel and Outdoor Photographers Alliance to help her with the language in the photography competition rules. She wanted to ensure the photographers that all entries would be protected from abuse.
Since the entries are submitted digitally, Hart said some photographers might have been worried their images would end up in commercial hands and land on some Web site or in an ad. Hart also posted notices about the competition online and contacted professional photographers to ask them to participate. “Every year, our entries get more and more professional, and certainly reaching out to the people helped out as well,” she said. The farthest away an image was taken was in Scandinavia, Hart said. Another was taken in Canada. “Up until this year, it’s always been from the (United) States,” she said. Hart attributes the increase in entries partly to the contest’s use of PayPal, which allowed photographers to send the $10 entry fee through e-mail at the last minute and also convert foreign currency.Nic Corbett can be reached at email@example.com.Vail, Colorado