2008 Reader's Photo Contest

Popular Photography's 15th Annual Readers' Photo Contest

LAUNCH SLIDESHOW Panasonic Lumix® Digital Cameras wishes to thank everyone who entered the Popular Photography 15th Annual Photo Contest and to congratulate the Grand Prize Winner and the category prize winners.

Grand Prize Winner

Alex Braverman, Fort Worth, TX

These days, you'd be hard-pressed to catch Alex Braverman without his camera. By his own estimate, he spends about 12 hours most days on photography, which leaves just a few hours for sleeping, eating, and taking care of all of the other business of being human. But this is a recent phenomenon. Just four years ago, Alex was an entrepreneur with a background in mathematics and computer science. And while he was very successful, a part of him never forgot how he had felt as an 8-year-old boy in Lithuania when he held his fi rst camera. "It was old and dirty, but I loved it," he says of the gift from his grandmother. He even made the bathroom into his darkroom. "I remembered the feeling of taking something out of real life and putting it into 'paper life,'" he adds. And, luckily, the path of our passions often runs circular. "I had the opportunity to pursue photography full-time," says Alex, who has since graduated from New York Institute of Photography and taken three Popular Photography Mentor Series workshops, "and now that's all I do, day and night. Photography is my life."

This is why he traveled from his home in Fort Worth, Texas to New York City last July to attend another photo workshop. Arriving a day early to get in what he likes to call "photo hunting," Alex was able to capture a couple hundred images as he walked the city's streets, including this one. "Shooting with a fi sh-eye makes it all so self-contained," he begins. "It says 'This is the world -- nothing else exists.'"

Nevertheless, Alex is not interested in portraying the real world in his photography. "I consider myself an artist, not a craftsman. It's not my job to convey life as it is but to create something beautiful that you can put on the wall and admire," he says. He believes that by allowing himself to be "totally fearless" in his art, he is best able to express himself. And he gives this advice to novice photographers, "Figure out what you want to say. Otherwise, it's just a snapshot." To view more of Alex's work, visit www.michelangelo-project.com.

Action/Sports

First Place Winner: Danny Podkowa

Pod (Danny Podkowa) has a singular passion: skateboarding. If he's not skateboarding, he's thinking about skateboarding. Perhaps the only thing that rivals this first love is photography. "I live and breathe skating," Pod says, who has been active in the sport since 1985, "and I shoot it as often as I can. I guess it comes easier to me than most folks, because I know when the climax of a trick is going to be."

Pod says that he always thought that skateboarding would be cool to shoot, but it wasn't until he was in college that he seriously picked up a camera. "I had to make a slide show for an art class, so I borrowed my dad's camera, a Minolta x-700 -- and kinda never gave it back," he recalls with a laugh. Since then he's found a way to juggle his full-time job as an offset printer, teach himself photography, and continue to board, even combining them all into a free zine called Sauce, which he publishes.

One day during a particularly brisk spring that, according to Pod, "we called Juneuary," a vanful of skaters, including Pod and rising star Chaz Pineda (pictured), made their way to a skate park in Donald, Oregon, a small town about 25 miles south of Portland. As Chaz skated, Pod shot. Using his Nikon D300, a fish-eye lens, as well as two Nikon sb800 flashes remotely triggered, and inching as close as possible to the tricks, Pod got this Phillips Air. He says, "The thing I love most about skateboarding is its expression of freedom and individuality." To view Pod's zine, check out www.sauceskateboardzine.com.

Architecture

First Place Winner: Estelle Dougier

What do you get when you give a lawyer a camera? It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke -- unless that lawyer was Estelle Dougier. Now a professional photographer, Estelle made her first foray into photography while pursuing her master's degree in international law at Columbia University in New York City (an ocean away from her native France) by taking classes at the International Center of Photography on the weekends."It became my passion," she says.

Whether she's shooting on an empty street or at the Moulin Rouge, most of Estelle's work uses darkness -- or the idea of night -- as a backdrop. This winning image, taken at the Charles de Gaulle airport before the world had had a chance to wipe the sleep from its eyes, is no exception. "I had to take a plane, so I went in really early, maybe 5 a.m., to photograph," Estelle says. "To me, this picture conveys a sense of loneliness." She stood outside, and the gates were opening and closing as she shot. She intentionally blurred the foreground to focus on her purpose. "A lot of my pictures are like that because my camera is not automatic," she says. "I like to control the art, not let the camera decide." To view more of her work, visit www.estelledougier.com.

Candid/Humor

First Place Winner: Faisal Almalki

Egypt is very photogenic -- think: the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the Valley of the Kings. However, that was not all that Faisal Almalki set out to capture on his visit: He had heard that some camels give their owners a kiss, and he wanted to see if he could get a photo of it. After he found this agreeable pair and took a few shots, "the guy looked so unnatural," Faisal says. "I asked him jokingly, 'Did you guys have a fight last night?' And then I got this, which was even better." He's titled the image Happy Together!

The photo has already received a good deal of attention: It was awarded Best in Category in National Geographic's World in Focus 2007 competition. "Most people smile when they see it," Faisal says, " but I once had someone ask me why I didn't Photoshop the picture to get rid of the guy's yellow teeth. I said, 'If he didn't spend time on his teeth, neither will I.'"

Always interested in the arts on some level, Faisal was unable to study the field, because, at that time, there were no schools in Saudi Arabia that offered this focus. Instead he pursued the closest thing he could: advertising. Four years ago, he took up photography as a hobby, but it quickly became a passion, "I probably have 20 years worth of photos," he says. In the beginning, he kept his work to himself, but once he joined online forums and received positive support, he began to enter competitions -- and win. In fact, he was recently nominated for a Lucie Award. "I'm extremely honored to be selected by Popular Photography in this year's competition for my image of the camel and its owner," he says. "Right now, I'm smiling as much as both of them." To view more of Faisal's work, visit www.exactish.com.

Nature

First Place Winner: Robin Harrison

The great egret is nature's haiku. There's a poetry in its plumage, which is white as a full moon and, in breeding season, sticks out here and there like a pillow that's been through one too many pillow fights. Robin Harrison framed this nesting pair in Florida with her Canon 5D. Hundreds of miles away from her native Maryland, she was in the state attending a photo festival last May and took a four-day workshop at the St. Augustine Alligator Zoological Farm.

About 65 American Alligators lurk in the wetlands at the farm, and every year herons, ibis, spoonbills -- and, of course, egrets -- migrate here to roost. The alligators provide the birds with a built-in security system, and the birds provide the alligators with an occasional snack. It's about as close as nature gets to the lion lying down with the lamb. From the boardwalk that takes visitors into the heart of the rookery, Robin spotted these egrets. "I got lucky with this image," she says. "It's unusual to get their heads together like this."

Robin discovered photography 15 years ago when she bought her first telephoto lens to take pictures of her kids playing sports. Since then, she's shot everything from her rabbits and deer in her backyard, to wild ponies that roam nearby Assateague Island, to canyons at an Arizona. "I learn just as much from other photographers as I do from the instructors," she says. And, although she claims to "not have an artistic bone my body," she's worked hard a developing her composition skills, which this image beautifully displays.

People

First Place Winner: Dina Goldstein

When the bell sounds and the thoroughbreds burst through the gate at Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver, British Columbia, you can bet that most eyes in the house are turned toward the track . . . but not photographer Dina Goldstein's. For four years, Dina worked on a project she calls Trackrecord, shooting portraits of all of the colorful characters that populate the place.

At the time, many of the walls were painted a shade of blue, striking similar to the complexion of Papa Smurf. After Dina spotted a potential subject, she would ask to take their portrait against one of the walls, engaging them in conversion while she shot. "It was an interesting, unique, and sometimes dangerous group," she says with a laugh. Dina saw this woman walking with her husband, eating ice cream, and asked to take her picture. "I didn't notice until later that she had a little bit of ice cream on the corner of her mouth," she says. "I think people really connect with her even though she's older, because there's something fresh and childlike about her. She still has that twinkle in her eye -- and we all want that."

A veteran photographer of 15 years, Dina credits her success to working hard from day one. And regardless of what assignments she takes, she keeps busy with a personal project, like her most recent Fallen Princesses series. To view more of her work, visit www.dinagoldstein.com.

Travel/Places

First Place Winner: Gail Vitikacs

It's 1 a.m, and the world is quiet. Most people are dreaming, wrapped in the pitch-black comfort that the deep of night affords -- but not Gail Vitikacs. By day, Gail is a wife, mother, and IT employee. But nightfall often finds her in downtown D.C., Nikon in hand, among the shadows of monuments on The National Mall. Were it noon, the place would be thick with tourists and she'd have to vie for Lincoln's gaze. At her chosen hour, it's just her, a photographer friend, and sculpted marble, granite, and sandstone bathed in moonlight.

On the frigid January day that this photo was taken, the tilt of the earth brought dusk by 5:40 p.m. As the crowds dispersed to seek shelter and warmth, there was Gail, under the Ulysess S. Grant Memorial, waiting for her friend to finish up a shot at another location. "All of a sudden, I looked up and saw this perspective," she says. "I immediately set up my tripod." Through her lens, she captured the furious energy of the horses and a sense of pride. She calls the photo Freedom's Run.

Part of a military family (her dad was a Marine, her husband was in the Army, and her daughter is in the Air Force), Gail's passion is Americana. During the three years she's worked on her monument series, Gail has had her moments of comedy (she's fallen off the Lincoln Memorial and convinced a White House guard to let her climb the back fence for a better angle) and managed to capture humanity (an embrace in silhouette by the Rainbow Pool at the World War II Memorial; grief beside the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall). To view more of her work, visit www.zenfolio.com/gvphotos or www.betterphoto.com/?gail.

Grand Prize Winner

Alex Braverman, Fort Worth, TX

These days, you'd be hard-pressed to catch Alex Braverman without his camera. By his own estimate, he spends about 12 hours most days on photography, which leaves just a few hours for sleeping, eating, and taking care of all of the other business of being human. But this is a recent phenomenon. Just four years ago, Alex was an entrepreneur with a background in mathematics and computer science. And while he was very successful, a part of him never forgot how he had felt as an 8-year-old boy in Lithuania when he held his fi rst camera. "It was old and dirty, but I loved it," he says of the gift from his grandmother. He even made the bathroom into his darkroom. "I remembered the feeling of taking something out of real life and putting it into 'paper life,'" he adds. And, luckily, the path of our passions often runs circular. "I had the opportunity to pursue photography full-time," says Alex, who has since graduated from New York Institute of Photography and taken three Popular Photography Mentor Series workshops, "and now that's all I do, day and night. Photography is my life."

This is why he traveled from his home in Fort Worth, Texas to New York City last July to attend another photo workshop. Arriving a day early to get in what he likes to call "photo hunting," Alex was able to capture a couple hundred images as he walked the city's streets, including this one. "Shooting with a fi sh-eye makes it all so self-contained," he begins. "It says 'This is the world -- nothing else exists.'"

Nevertheless, Alex is not interested in portraying the real world in his photography. "I consider myself an artist, not a craftsman. It's not my job to convey life as it is but to create something beautiful that you can put on the wall and admire," he says. He believes that by allowing himself to be "totally fearless" in his art, he is best able to express himself. And he gives this advice to novice photographers, "Figure out what you want to say. Otherwise, it's just a snapshot." To view more of Alex's work, visit www.michelangelo-project.com.

Action/Sports

First Place Winner: Danny Podkowa

Pod (Danny Podkowa) has a singular passion: skateboarding. If he's not skateboarding, he's thinking about skateboarding. Perhaps the only thing that rivals this first love is photography. "I live and breathe skating," Pod says, who has been active in the sport since 1985, "and I shoot it as often as I can. I guess it comes easier to me than most folks, because I know when the climax of a trick is going to be."

Pod says that he always thought that skateboarding would be cool to shoot, but it wasn't until he was in college that he seriously picked up a camera. "I had to make a slide show for an art class, so I borrowed my dad's camera, a Minolta x-700 -- and kinda never gave it back," he recalls with a laugh. Since then he's found a way to juggle his full-time job as an offset printer, teach himself photography, and continue to board, even combining them all into a free zine called Sauce, which he publishes.

One day during a particularly brisk spring that, according to Pod, "we called Juneuary," a vanful of skaters, including Pod and rising star Chaz Pineda (pictured), made their way to a skate park in Donald, Oregon, a small town about 25 miles south of Portland. As Chaz skated, Pod shot. Using his Nikon D300, a fish-eye lens, as well as two Nikon sb800 flashes remotely triggered, and inching as close as possible to the tricks, Pod got this Phillips Air. He says, "The thing I love most about skateboarding is its expression of freedom and individuality." To view Pod's zine, check out www.sauceskateboardzine.com.

Architecture

First Place Winner: Estelle Dougier

What do you get when you give a lawyer a camera? It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke -- unless that lawyer was Estelle Dougier. Now a professional photographer, Estelle made her first foray into photography while pursuing her master's degree in international law at Columbia University in New York City (an ocean away from her native France) by taking classes at the International Center of Photography on the weekends."It became my passion," she says.

Whether she's shooting on an empty street or at the Moulin Rouge, most of Estelle's work uses darkness -- or the idea of night -- as a backdrop. This winning image, taken at the Charles de Gaulle airport before the world had had a chance to wipe the sleep from its eyes, is no exception. "I had to take a plane, so I went in really early, maybe 5 a.m., to photograph," Estelle says. "To me, this picture conveys a sense of loneliness." She stood outside, and the gates were opening and closing as she shot. She intentionally blurred the foreground to focus on her purpose. "A lot of my pictures are like that because my camera is not automatic," she says. "I like to control the art, not let the camera decide." To view more of her work, visit www.estelledougier.com.

First Place Winner: Faisal Almalki

Egypt is very photogenic -- think: the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the Valley of the Kings. However, that was not all that Faisal Almalki set out to capture on his visit: He had heard that some camels give their owners a kiss, and he wanted to see if he could get a photo of it. After he found this agreeable pair and took a few shots, "the guy looked so unnatural," Faisal says. "I asked him jokingly, 'Did you guys have a fight last night?' And then I got this, which was even better." He's titled the image Happy Together!

The photo has already received a good deal of attention: It was awarded Best in Category in National Geographic's World in Focus 2007 competition. "Most people smile when they see it," Faisal says, " but I once had someone ask me why I didn't Photoshop the picture to get rid of the guy's yellow teeth. I said, 'If he didn't spend time on his teeth, neither will I.'"

Always interested in the arts on some level, Faisal was unable to study the field, because, at that time, there were no schools in Saudi Arabia that offered this focus. Instead he pursued the closest thing he could: advertising. Four years ago, he took up photography as a hobby, but it quickly became a passion, "I probably have 20 years worth of photos," he says. In the beginning, he kept his work to himself, but once he joined online forums and received positive support, he began to enter competitions -- and win. In fact, he was recently nominated for a Lucie Award. "I'm extremely honored to be selected by Popular Photography in this year's competition for my image of the camel and its owner," he says. "Right now, I'm smiling as much as both of them." To view more of Faisal's work, visit www.exactish.com.

First Place Winner: Robin Harrison

The great egret is nature's haiku. There's a poetry in its plumage, which is white as a full moon and, in breeding season, sticks out here and there like a pillow that's been through one too many pillow fights. Robin Harrison framed this nesting pair in Florida with her Canon 5D. Hundreds of miles away from her native Maryland, she was in the state attending a photo festival last May and took a four-day workshop at the St. Augustine Alligator Zoological Farm.

About 65 American Alligators lurk in the wetlands at the farm, and every year herons, ibis, spoonbills -- and, of course, egrets -- migrate here to roost. The alligators provide the birds with a built-in security system, and the birds provide the alligators with an occasional snack. It's about as close as nature gets to the lion lying down with the lamb. From the boardwalk that takes visitors into the heart of the rookery, Robin spotted these egrets. "I got lucky with this image," she says. "It's unusual to get their heads together like this."

Robin discovered photography 15 years ago when she bought her first telephoto lens to take pictures of her kids playing sports. Since then, she's shot everything from her rabbits and deer in her backyard, to wild ponies that roam nearby Assateague Island, to canyons at an Arizona. "I learn just as much from other photographers as I do from the instructors," she says. And, although she claims to "not have an artistic bone my body," she's worked hard a developing her composition skills, which this image beautifully displays.

First Place Winner: Dina Goldstein

When the bell sounds and the thoroughbreds burst through the gate at Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver, British Columbia, you can bet that most eyes in the house are turned toward the track . . . but not photographer Dina Goldstein's. For four years, Dina worked on a project she calls Trackrecord, shooting portraits of all of the colorful characters that populate the place.

At the time, many of the walls were painted a shade of blue, striking similar to the complexion of Papa Smurf. After Dina spotted a potential subject, she would ask to take their portrait against one of the walls, engaging them in conversion while she shot. "It was an interesting, unique, and sometimes dangerous group," she says with a laugh. Dina saw this woman walking with her husband, eating ice cream, and asked to take her picture. "I didn't notice until later that she had a little bit of ice cream on the corner of her mouth," she says. "I think people really connect with her even though she's older, because there's something fresh and childlike about her. She still has that twinkle in her eye -- and we all want that."

A veteran photographer of 15 years, Dina credits her success to working hard from day one. And regardless of what assignments she takes, she keeps busy with a personal project, like her most recent Fallen Princesses series. To view more of her work, visit www.dinagoldstein.com.

First Place Winner: Gail Vitikacs

It's 1 a.m, and the world is quiet. Most people are dreaming, wrapped in the pitch-black comfort that the deep of night affords -- but not Gail Vitikacs. By day, Gail is a wife, mother, and IT employee. But nightfall often finds her in downtown D.C., Nikon in hand, among the shadows of monuments on The National Mall. Were it noon, the place would be thick with tourists and she'd have to vie for Lincoln's gaze. At her chosen hour, it's just her, a photographer friend, and sculpted marble, granite, and sandstone bathed in moonlight.

On the frigid January day that this photo was taken, the tilt of the earth brought dusk by 5:40 p.m. As the crowds dispersed to seek shelter and warmth, there was Gail, under the Ulysess S. Grant Memorial, waiting for her friend to finish up a shot at another location. "All of a sudden, I looked up and saw this perspective," she says. "I immediately set up my tripod." Through her lens, she captured the furious energy of the horses and a sense of pride. She calls the photo Freedom's Run.

Part of a military family (her dad was a Marine, her husband was in the Army, and her daughter is in the Air Force), Gail's passion is Americana. During the three years she's worked on her monument series, Gail has had her moments of comedy (she's fallen off the Lincoln Memorial and convinced a White House guard to let her climb the back fence for a better angle) and managed to capture humanity (an embrace in silhouette by the Rainbow Pool at the World War II Memorial; grief beside the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall). To view more of her work, visit www.zenfolio.com/gvphotos or www.betterphoto.com/?gail.