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Ding Darling photo contest named after Theodore Cross brings in creative nature shots by high schoolers

By Staff | Dec 23, 2015

?The first place winner from last year’s Theodore Cross High School Photography Contest, which is run by the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, was 2015 senior Matthew Boutelle of Fort Myers High School. PHOTO PROVIDED

There is now good incentive for high school aged students to go out and appreciate the beauty and splendor the Florida natural landscape provides, in the form of the Ding Darling-Theodore Cross High School Photography Contest, which is entering its third year.

With the deadline soon approaching (Jan. 1), there is still time for high schoolers to make it outdoors and share their photography skills and their nature experiences, which possibly could lead to a nice prize through the photo contest.

“We accept any photo of nature or wildlife, anything outdoors from the state of Florida,” said Sarah Lathrop, who is the Associate Director of Community Outreach and Development at the Ding Darling Wildlife Society. “We just want the kids to be able to walk outside and realize the beauty the state of Florida has to offer.”

The submissions and guidelines are quite simple to follow, as well.

The contest is open to all high-school aged students (grades 9-12) from a five-county area, including Lee, Collier, Hendry, Glades and Charlotte. Photos do not have to be taken on the Ding Darling Refuge, but anywhere outside in Florida.

Second place in the photo contest was sophomore Emily Huffman of Dunbar High School. PHOTO PROVIDED

Only digital images are accepted and any camera or smartphone can be used, as well.

“We wanted to keep it open to as many students as possible, and many just have a smartphone as a camera,” Lathrop said. “We have gotten many different perspectives from all the entries, it’s been an interesting first two years of the contest.”

The contest is competitive, with over 400 entries coming in the first two years of the contest.

Judging the contest is professional photographer Arnie Svensen, who hails from New York and has a unique perspective on photography.

“Arnie takes strange and unique photos and he has a totally different perspective on judging the photos,” Lathrop said. “We will also have one person from the community judging and someone from the Refuge who knows their species, wildlife and behaviors.”

Third place in the Theodore Cross High School Photography Contest was taken by 2015 senior Savannah Crowe of Estero High School. PHOTO PROVIDED

Each participant can enter two photos, but is only eligible to win one prize. Panoramic shots are not acceptable and adding any elements not existing in the original photo is not allowed.

There are three main criteria the photo is judged on: technical excellence (sharpness, lighting, composition and exposure); creativity and explanation of the photograph, which will include a minimum of 100-word composition explaining the photo.

“The (word composition) is not incorporated directly in the judging, since some of the participants use English as their second language, but we use it to give it a little extra umpf,” Lathrop said. “Just to allow them to dig a little deeper in what they are taking pictures of.”

The contest started when Theodore Cross’ family approached Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge about having something in remembrance of the avid bird photographer. Cross marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and advised presidents on poverty issues and inked the book Black Capitalism.

“Theodore Cross loved the ‘Ding’ Darling Wildlife Refuge and took some amazing photos here,” Lathrop said. “After he passed away, his daughter approached us and the Family Foundation and wanted to do something in his honor. So we decided to focus on high school photographers, and just a way to maybe get them to come out to the refuge and enjoy it.”

The top prize is valued at more than $1,500, including a Cannon EOS Rebel T05, with two lenses; “Ding” Darling logo items; a Tarpon Bay Explorers excursion for winner and family; a chartered class trip to the Refuge with private tour; Refuge Nature Store gift certificate and a copy of Waterbirds, which is written by Cross with images from “Ding” Darling

Second prize includes all of the above, except for the camera and third a “Ding” Darling gift bag, Refuge Nature Store gift certificate and a copy of Cross’ “Waterbirds” book.

There also will be honorable mentioned, which will earn Refuge Nature Store gift certificates.

“All the winners’ photos will also be on display at the Educational Center at Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, which attracts over 250,000 guests a year,” Lathrop said. “It’s great exposure for their work.”

Last year’s winners included (in order, first to third) Matthew Boutelle, senior at Fort Myers High School; Emily Huffman, freshman at Dunbar High School and Savannah Crowe, senior at Estero High School.

All entries and personal information must be submitted by Jan. 1. An invitation will be sent to the top 25 finalists to attend an awards ceremony which will be in February.

Send entries to ddhsphotocontest@gmail.com and submit full name, high school, grade and original photographs. Include a title for the photograph and written description, no shorter than 100 words.

“It’s been a great contest and it gets the kids outside and discover nature,” Lathrop concluded.