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BY JIM LOW
I have been attending OWAA conferences since 1987, and I’ve seen a lot of valuable and entertaining sessions in that time. The one conference feature that never disappoints or fails to teach me something useful is the photo scavenger hunt contest.
For the first few years, the contest was a spectator sport for me. As a writer first and a photographer second, I was daunted by the very thought of pitting my photographic skills against those of legendary outdoor shooters like Tom Ulrich, Mike Furtman and Tim Christie. But I kept coming back to see how the contestants met the individual photo challenges and to enjoy the sometimes hilarious, always instructive, critiques. I also thrilled to see flashes of brilliance from talented amateurs and secondary photographers like me who won particular categories and occasionally even placed in the top three. I also noticed in those early years that even the top names sometimes had trouble creatively fulfilling each of the contest’s five assignments.
When I finally took the plunge and entered, my entries came in for their share of good-natured (and thankfully anonymous) ribbing from judges during the critique. But I also got the reward of some positive feedback. Finally, one year I even placed in the top three – a career highlight for a writer who once nursed dreams of shooting for National Geographic. If, on my best and luckiest day, I could beat out some of the nation’s best photo pros, maybe I could have been a contender after all.
The thrill of the chase is reason enough to take part in the photo scavenger hunt. The opportunity to get feedback on your work from skilled pros is another. And if you need more motivation, consider the possibility of cash or other prizes should you place among the judges’ top picks.
This year there is an easier and less intimidating way to get in on the action. We are adding a new All Comers Division to encourage participation by those who either lack the confidence to compete against the pros, or simply don’t want to invest the time needed to meet the requirements of the main event. Those who sign up for this division will be asked to complete one photo and one short video that capture the essence of the Knoxville OWAA conference. The winner will receive a cash prize.
I am still undecided which division I’ll enter, or if I’ll enter both. It’s tempting to go for the prestige of placing in the main event, but the more relaxed pace of the new contest has its own appeal. If you want to join the fun, watch for a note from headquarters about contest assignment topics and early registration online. This year’s contest is going to be twice as much fun as previous ones and is sure to be a conference highlight. And take it from me, it’s much more fun when you have skin in the game. ♦
– Jim Low’s career included work as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and public informatin officer for the Missouri Department of Conservation. His freelance credits include Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Game & Fish Publications, Arkansas Wildlife, Rifle and Shotgun, Popular Lures, Birder’s World, Australian Birding and The Daily Australian. He is also a lifetime OWAA member.