By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMarch 30, 2017
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The winners of the 2016 Army Digital Photography Contest were announced recently, and of the 4,059 entries, three Fort Rucker residents were recognized for their artistry.
Those recognized in the Army-wide contest were: 1st Lt. Shawn Cooper, who took third place with his photo "Lens Flare," in the still life category; Sgt. Jessica Arechiga, who received an honorable mention for her photo "A Journey Not Yet Traveled," in the natures and landscapes category; and Tori Evans, military spouse, who also received an honorable mention for her photo "8-oclock," in the still life category.
"This was the first contest I entered with a cash reward, so placing at all was a big surprise to me," said Cooper, who's been taking photos since he was in middle school. "Looking at the other winners, it's humbling to be included in such a talented group."
For Evans, who volunteered as a photographer on Fort Rucker, the honorable mention was a mix of shock and excitement.
"I was shopping at the [post exchange] when I receive an email that notified me that my photo had won an honorable mention for the 2016 contest," she said. "I was in shock … and I contacted everyone who had helped me along the way with my photography to share the news. I wasn't even going to enter this year, but my gut said to try anyway."
Cooper, who's never had any formal training in photography, said he was able to work up the courage to submit his photo for the contest after taking part in weekly challenges set up by some of his friends on social media.
Each week, his group would vote on a winner and display their photo for the following week, and it was these challenges that encouraged him to enter contests with more competition.
Coopers' photo "Lens Flare," was a series of reflections he was able to capture in the anti-reflective coating of his wide-angle lens, and is one of only a few still life photos he's taken.
"I set up the shot on my dinner table using a black T-shirt as a background and our chandelier as a source of light," he said. "This is a relatively new style for me, so it was an easy choice to pick for the contest."
For Evans' photo, "8-oclock," it was part of a series of photos for a 30-day photo challenge she was taking part in.
"'8-o'clock' was the topic for that day," she said. "That morning I went into my bedroom and on the bed were a pair of black pants with my husband's sunglasses and his watch, and at that moment the time read 8, so I ran and grabbed my camera and took a shot of the items on the bed.
"I liked the photo and how it turned out, so when the deadline for the photo contest came I looked through my photos and decided to give it a shot," she said. "I had nothing to lose by submitting something, so I went for it."
It's photos like Evans' that prove that inspiration can be drawn from anywhere, which is why she chooses to carry her camera with her everywhere she goes.
"I always have my camera with me and shoot anything that catches my eye," she said. "It's those photos I look back at that tell a story, giving me ideas to capture my next shot."
For Cooper, it's the ability to capture authentic moments that gives him inspiration.
"I typically try to keep my photos as natural looking and close to reality as possible because I believe that's where the true power of photography lies," he said. "Even when shooting portraits, I hesitate to edit out blemishes because those are part of who we are."