Foliage is at its peak right now and Ohio couldn’t be any more autumnal. The rich red of the oak trees next to a warm orange and yellow makes Athens’ nature stand out during fall. But nature in Ohio is worth observing all year.
To shed light on the beauty and exceptionalism of wildlife, Kristina Rezek, a senior studying wildlife and conservation biology, initiated the OHIO Wildlife and Nature Photography Scholarship Contest and serves as its program coordinator. Her motivation was to incorporate environmental awareness while also celebrating nature.
“A picture is worth 1000 words, for sure,” Rezek said. “But why is it also not worth $1,000? So, to give back to the students that are at college, I wanted to start this competition to reward them for being passionate about the environment and celebrate it, but then also to still give that financial reason behind it too.”
Rezek emphasizes that the contest is open to everyone.
“If you’re just a beginner, if you don’t even have a camera but you have a phone,” Rezek said. “That’s great. Just go out there.”
Rezek freelances as a nature photographer but is not majoring in it. To put the contest together, she got help from her academic advisor, Viorel Popescu, who is a conservation biology and biological sciences professor at OU, and OU photographer Ben Siegel. Together they lined out the guidelines for the scholarship. However, Popescu points out that his advisee did most of the work and he only facilitated.
“Everything else she did by herself, you know, coming up with the rules and the prizes and everything,” he said. “She’s pretty amazing.”
Popescu said initiating the contest was a no-brainer, as he was sure many students would be interested in competing.
“I thought it was a great idea because there’s a lot of students that are really interested in nature photography and that would be a good outlet to look for those students and also to get engaged with nature and ethics,” said Popescu.
Participants can submit photographs in five categories: wildlife, landscapes, outdoor recreation and adventure, macrophotography and conservation. One submission per category can be handed in up until Dec. 2 at noon.
After the deadline is over, a jury that is still anonymous will judge the pictures. Rezek said a good picture is “based off of composition and how the photo is laid out, the aesthetics and everything, but then keeping true to the theme of nature and it’s realistic.”
In line with the realistic imagery, participants are encouraged not to use excessive photoshop or editing. She also wants participants to respect nature and wildlife while taking pictures and raises awareness on treating animals with respect.
“There’s a reason why it is wildlife, so try to keep your distance as much as possible,” she said. “The great thing about cameras is that they’re able to zoom. If the subject that you’re taking doesn’t notice you, that means that you're a great photographer.”
Rezek said there are some entry categories where not interacting would be impossible, but no matter the category she hopes people respect the environment they are in.
“But then of course the other categories, like there’s outdoor rec category,” Rezek said. “If you are having fun kayaking, definitely like that’s the stuff that we love to see because that’s you celebrating the great outdoors, you getting energized and you showing how beautiful nature is.”
Cassidy Brauner Jarrahi, area chair and professor of photography and integrated media at OU, has her own criteria when judging photographs.
“I’m always looking at technique but that doesn’t have to be the leading factor in what makes a ‘good image,’” said Brauner Jarrahi. “I think I want to know someone’s take on an idea. Just because there’s a pretty photograph doesn’t mean that it's necessarily a good image.”
She also emphasizes the amazing indigenous species one can find in Ohio, like different plants and animals, and what it means to Athens to be part of the Appalachian region. All of this could make good subjects for photographs about Ohio’s wildlife.
“I want to know more about what that subject is like what that plant is, what it does, how, how it was used, how it is used, things like that as well,” Brauner Jarrahi said. “I believe we live in a really image-saturated world and there's enough photos that already exist. So if you're going to take a photo, I want to have a voice behind it too.”