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


My winning Americana photo December 8, 2014

AS A PHOTOGRAPHER, you know when you’ve snapped a photo that tells a story, that freezes a moment, that captures an emotion. Light and composition and focus also factor into the equation of a memorable image.

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo.

The BINGO callers. My first place winning photo.

Such was my reaction to photographing John and Lavonne, BINGO callers at the 2013 July Fourth celebration in North Morristown. Many of my images from that day make me proud of my work as a photographer.

Through my photography, I strive to show the everyday and celebratory moments of life—the people, places and happenings that define my world in Southern Minnesota.

And North Morristown on the Fourth of July is about as rural and down-to-earth as you get in these parts. So when I saw this couple calling BINGO, I determined to photograph the scene. They appeared to not even notice me and my camera, so focused were they on their job.

That’s precisely how I like it, to go unnoticed, to click the shutter button and document.

Professional photographers John Hart and Amber Arnold from the Wisconsin State Journal saw, too, what I see in that “Fourth of July BINGO Callers” image. They selected it as the first place winner in the People category of the 2014 photo contest sponsored by National Mutual Benefit.

The judges commented:

This photo has a timeless quality and is a candid, natural moment. It’s a slice of Americana.

I couldn’t have said it better.

My trusty fifth eye, my Canon EOS 20D.

Me and my Canon EOS 20D. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

As a photographer, I am delighted to receive this professional validation of my work with a monetary prize and publication.

This is the second time I’ve won in the National Mutual Benefit Photo Contest. My last win came in 2003 when I photographed a butterfly on a daisy, garnering first place in the scenery division. That was back in the day when I was still shooting with film. I’ve only entered the competition a few times.

What do you think makes a winning or really good photo?

FYI: To view all of the winning photos and judges’ comments, click here. None of the contest images could be digitally altered.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling