Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Boosting my photography confidence December 9, 2010

WE ALL LIKE to win.

My husband once won a trip to the Bahamas.

A few years ago I won a bag of groceries.

I’ve also placed in several photo contests during the past decade—a few times at the local nature center and once in a nation-wide competition sponsored by a life insurance company. That first place national win earned me $100.

Every time one of my photos wins an honor, my confidence soars. While I feel quite confident as a writer, I’ve always had some insecurities about my photography skills. I’m a writer first and the photography simply evolved as a sideline necessity.

Today, after years of practice, I can unequivocally state that I enjoy photography. Yet, the doubt still lingers. Are my photos good enough and does anyone like them?

Apparently the folks at Thrivent Financial for Lutherans liked the photo I submitted for a 2011 wall calendar competition. My image of an old cross-topped fence surrounding the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery in rural Cannon Falls now graces the October page of the Thrivent “Connecting with the Cross” calendar.


My winning image of the church cemetery fence. The calendar photo has been slightly cropped and darkened.

“We looked for unique and inspiring images, and yours was one of them,” Tim Schwan, vice president of Church and Community Engagement wrote in a congratulatory form letter I received. “We received more than 300 submissions. Among many high-quality contenders, yours stood out.”

Now if those words aren’t validating, I don’t know what would be. While I may not be as technically savvy as some/many photographers, I do possess an eye for detail that allows me to find and compose good pictures.

Interestingly enough, I did not shoot my winning fence image specifically to enter this contest. In fact, I was unaware of the Thrivent photo calendar competition when I took the picture in late March while on a Sunday afternoon drive with my husband in the Sogn Valley area of southeastern Minnesota. We both love old country churches. So when we came upon Urland Lutheran, we stopped, walked the church grounds and I started clicking.


Urland Lutheran Church, rural Cannon Falls

Country churches offer so many photo ops along with lots of beauty and history.

Urland Lutheran Church dates back to 1871 and is named after Urland in the Sognefjord area of Norway, home to many of the families that formed the rural Cannon Falls congregation. Names like Ole and Ragna on church cemetery tombstones point to the strong Norwegian heritage.


Ole is a common name on markers in the Urland cemetery.

Another Ole tombstone at the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery points to the congregation's Norwegian heritage.

Behind every photo lies a story. And that’s the story behind my winning calendar image.


A close-up side view of Urland Lutheran. Unfortunately the church was locked when we were there.

I DON’T KNOW the stories behind the other 11 calendar page photos. But all portray a cross, as required by contest guidelines. Among the more unusual photos—crossed icicles, a cross-shaped thorn, and children holding quilts and standing in a cross formation inside a church sanctuary.

I’m hopeful that Thrivent will publish the winning images and information about each photo on the company’s website.

The other photo contest winners are Cindy Carlson of Northfield, MN; Jyll Malotky of Prior Lake, MN; Fred Von Ruden of Owatonna, MN; Roy Christell of Lake Saint Louis, MO; Martin Lohrmann of Philadelphia, PA; Walt Timm of Jefferson City, MO; Lynn Radtke of Blaine, MN; Chris Denning of Helena, MT; Carla Gauthier of Saginaw, MI; Susan Ryan of Chicago, IL; and Anitra Frazier of Dolton, IL.

Now, if you’re wondering how you can get one of these calendars, well, you must be a Thrivent member.


AS A SIDE NOTE, many years ago my daughter Miranda placed in a Thrivent Kids’ Club calendar contest. She drew a picture of alligators flying kites on the beach. I think she won for the very same reason I did. Her creation stood out as unique.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling