Photo Maui Awards Ceremony

Lowell Thomas of Lahaina Arts Association (at left) the benefit charity and Stephen Levine (Photo Maui Chair), greet photographers at the 7th Annual Photo Maui awards ceremony.

Looking at the walls before me, my eyes flit from one image to another, trying to take in the bounty of Maui County’s amateur and professional photographers. I was down in Lahaina Art’s Society’s Old Jail Gallery, about to judge the 7th Annual Photo Maui competition. Open to Maui County photographers, entries included images from some that were just starting their photographic journey, through seasoned pros. Along with underwater photographer, Douglas Hoffman, we had our work cut out for ourselves: over 100 images in three categories and two divisions had to be scrutinized and decisions made on which was the best of the best.

Sometimes, judging a photo competition can be an interesting proposition, especially if the other judges don’t see eye-to-eye. I’ve been privy to jury a couple competitions, where judges have butted heads on miniscule nuances and the “intent” of the artist. Douglas and I were on the same wave length, adjudicating on composition, technical merit, contrast ratio and the photographer’s understanding and use of light. There were three occasions where we disagreed, but after thoughtful explanation of our feelings towards a piece, final decisions were rendered. Our only disappointment was the lack of Honorable Mention awards, as there were many images that were award or note-worthy, and in some cases we literally had to split hairs to decide on first, second and third place – the competition was incredibly fierce!

Last night was the opening and awards ceremony, and it was great to see the photographic community out in force, checking out everyone’s work and waiting to see who would take home medals and prizes. Oh yeah, the prizes were pretty cool: an Epson printer, Nik software collection, Hahemühle FineArt paper, a Western Digital portable hard drive, whale watch photo trips, Photoshop plugins from Topaz labs and a lot more.

Photo Maui chairperson and judges

Photo Maui’s Big Cheezes for 2013: From left, Stephen Levine, event Chair and judges, Scott Mead and Douglas Hoffman. Photo by David Schoonover.

One of the things I like about adjudicating a photography exhibition is interacting with others who are passionate about capturing light, and talking story about the merits of the images presented. Long-time Maui resident and shooter, Randy Sherman, took third place in Professional Monochrome with an incredible image of a myriad of tropical leaves and flowers, reminiscent of Eliot Porter’s “Order from Chaos” series. Randy’s image depicted an incredible range of tonal contrasts, which lead the viewer’s eye on a continual path that was mesmerizing.

By far, the Professional Digitally Enhanced category drew the most entrants, and the creative use of technology, to take mind-bending imagery to the next level. In a few images, HDR and creative masking stretched the viewable light to more than 15-stops, and panorama stitching was taken to the extreme by Fernando Arbarello – a massive 20-image cityscape panorama shot at night – who proved an incredible image can be created with patience and persistence.

At night’s end, it was great to see so many smiling faces, and medals hung around the necks of the winners, friends were made and techniques shared. And to see a community of photographers come together and support a good cause (all the entry fees went to Lahaina Arts Association, who provides free art classes to kids on Maui and Molokai), is a great thing.