Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What makes a winning photo December 8, 2015

IT’S ALWAYS A THRILL, as a photographer, to be recognized for one’s work. It validates what I create with my camera and fuels my passion to continue pursuing photography.

A few cars, some vintage, managed to sneak into the drive-in among all the tractors.

My winning photo: “A Dinner Date at the Lakeview Drive Inn”, Winona, Minnesota.

For the third time, a photo I entered in the National Mutual Benefit annual photo contest has placed. This year I earned honorable mention in the people category for my image, “A Dinner Date at the Lakeview Drive Inn.” I shot the scene in August 2014 at this iconic drive-in in the Mississippi River town of Winona, Minnesota. My husband and I were returning from a vacation to Iowa and Galena, Illinois, when we visited the Lakeview on a mid-week Farm Tractor Night.

Lighting—the golden hour of photography—was perfect. And the scene and setting were so iconic Americana that I was giddy about the photo possibilities. You just know as a photographer when photo ops abound.

I was familiar with the Lakeview, having dined there a few times while our eldest daughter attended nearby Winona State University. I’d also written and taken photos for a magazine feature story about this long-time eatery noted for its homemade root beer.

When I saw an elderly couple dining in their convertible, I framed the scene and clicked the shutter button. The result was a winning photo that captures a sweet moment in time and memories of yesteryear. Nostalgia.

Click here to see all of the winning photos in the 2015 National Mutual Benefit contest.

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo.

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo taken on July 4, 2013.

Last year I also entered a photo of an elderly couple to win first place in the people division of National Mutual’s photo contest for my “Fourth of July BINGO callers.” That scene was shot in 2013 at North Morristown. Again, I managed to recognize and snapshot a moment that is grassroots connective.

My first photo win, though, in a National Mutual contest came back in 2003 when I won first place in the scenery division for an image of a butterfly settled upon a daisy in my backyard. That was taken with my 35 mm film camera, before I owned my Canon DSLR. I’d show you that photo, too, except I have no idea where the print may be.

My new camera.

A mirrored self-portrait when I was trying out a different Canon earlier this year. I shoot with a Canon EOS 20D.

I love photography. Along with writing, it’s a creative outlet for me. But it’s also a source of income. Numerous people have found my work via this blog and purchased rights to use my images—on websites, in books, on annual reports, in magazines, as framed prints, in an educational app and more. I am pleased and thankful when others recognize and value my work. No, I do not give away my photos for credit and/or a link. Many people apparently think I do based on the numbers of inquiries offering that type of “payment.”

Email me at audrey at mnprairieroots.com if you are interested in purchasing digital rights to my images.

I use photography to tell a story in the most creative way I can. I am not a stand in the corner and shoot person. I squat and kneel and even lie on the ground if necessary to get the proper perspective. Sometimes I hold my camera above my head, aim the lens down and shoot. Other times I place the camera on the ground, tilt it up and click.

One of my favorite close-up VBS photos shows the VBS leader clutching crosses to be used in a craft project.

One of my favorite close-up VBS photos shows the VBS leader clutching crosses to be used in a craft project.

I shoot from afar and I shoot up close. During a stint of volunteering to photograph my church’s Vacation Bible School this summer, I took more than 1,000 photos in eight hours of work. And if anyone was expecting me to simply photograph obscure groups of kids, they were wrong. Sure, I snapped images of groups. But I also told the VBS story in detailed photos of hands and faces and other close-ups.

Many think taking good photos is all about the equipment. Yes, good equipment is nice. But it’s ultimately lighting, creativity, composition and observation skills (and sometimes luck) that lead to quality memorable images.

This quote by noted advertising and documentary photographer Elliott Erwitt summarizes well my thoughts on photography:

“Photography is an art of observation…I’ve found that it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

I’ve been shooting long enough, first as a photojournalist (a necessity back in my days working as a small town newspaper reporter), to feel confident in my work, in my style. Thank you for appreciating me and my photography.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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34 Responses to “What makes a winning photo”

  1. Marneymae Says:

    Well, I’m going to need at least two weeks for all the places I’d like to visit in Minnesota, thanks to your blog.
    Root beer is my favorite pop.
    This place is definitely going on the list!
    And I’m glad you are remunerated for your work.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    Congrats on another fine award and recognition.

  3. Trace Says:

    Congrats Audrey! Awesome photo

  4. treadlemusic Says:

    I think you got all the “ingredients” listed correctly. Lighting is the biggest challenge for me. Accomplishing the shot with shadows accentuating the stitching is ‘the’ goal, so morning/eve times are the best (angled lighting creating max shadows don’t work real well for ppl, though!!!) but my desire to “share the moment of finish” most times trumps the “ideal”!!! LOL!
    Your photography is gorgeous, with a story in each shot. Tom has an awesome SDLR (I think that’s the correct term) that the ‘kids’ gifted him but he hasn’t taken the time to play with it. I stick with my basic Canon ‘Power Shot’. It’s been a good one for me.

  5. BRILLIANT!
    You are so very talented and beautiful.
    That photo is FABULOUS! I really love it, darling. xxx

  6. Almost Iowa Says:

    Audrey, your photos always tell a story.

  7. I love the stories you tell with your photos and this winner is no exception. I also kind of want a buffalo burger for breakfast.

  8. Dan Traun Says:

    Congratulation of your photographic accomplishments. Well deserved.

  9. Miranda Says:

    Congrats on your photo, Mom!
    For those interested at looking at some good photography, I suggest checking out cnn.com. They just put up a slideshow of I believe over 300 photos that were iconic photos taken in 2015.

  10. Littlesundog Says:

    Congratulations Audrey!! You have a real knack for capturing candid, everyday “life” shots. I enjoy photography too, though outdoor photography is my real love. Almost always, it’s the perfect lighting or some animal or bird that lures me out to the woodlands. And, sometimes we’re just lucky to be at the right place at the right time. 🙂

  11. Don Says:

    My sincere congratulations to you for an award well deserved ! My observation is that a well composed photo can immediately transport us to another place, another time, or into another world altogether.

    I spent a few minutes this afternoon daydreaming about the Lakeview, some Drive In food, and of course the convertible!

    Keep taking those pictures!

  12. Jackie Says:

    Congrats on yet another contest “win”, your photography and writings are top notch! P.S. I love the “flip Screen” on my Sony, I can always see what I’m shooting with a tilt of the screen… love that option!

  13. Congratulations on your win! It’s a great photo. I’m surprised in this age of privacy that the license plate number did not have to be blurred out.

  14. Congratulations again Audrey. As I have said before, my daughter has the photographer’s eye too.. As for me I couldn’t TAKE a good picture if they were giving them away.


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