International recognition in the world of photography was bestowed recently on an employee of The University of Texas-Pan American when Ernesto Santos, grants budget specialist in the Office of Research/Sponsored Projects, placed first in the "Creative Digital" category of Nature's Best Photography magazine's annual contest.
Winning photos from the contest, considered one of the premier and most respected nature photography competitions in the world, are featured in the fall 2005 special collector's edition of Nature's Best Photography magazine. Also, in alliance with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., the award-winning images will be displayed in an exhibition there starting November 2005. The magazine is currently available at Barnes and Noble.
The winning picture Santos submitted, one of up to 20 allowed to be submitted in each of 12 categories, is titled "Rio Grande Resaca II." It is a panorama created by digitally combining a sequence of several standard size camera photos manually using Adobe Photoshop software into a seamless and continuous composition. The photos were taken at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission near the banks of the Rio Grande River and reflect a dazzlingly patterned South Texas sunset.
Santos, who specializes in landscapes and architectural photographs and has traveled extensively with his wife during vacations to take photos, said he had visualized his winning shot, taken in September 2004, months before he actually captured it.
"The water was very calm, the clouds were intermittent in the west, and the atmosphere was clear with no visible haze. It was a wonderful display indeed, especially seeing it in person. I was sure I had captured the image well but when I finally saw the results on my computer monitor I was elated," he said.
With only a college course on photography taken back in the 1970s, Santos, who now regards himself as a semi-professional, said he renewed his interest seriously only a few years ago after buying a new camera. He said it provides a satisfying creative outlet for him.
"I can't paint or draw. I used to play a musical instrument but I never felt I was good enough to continue with it and too shy to perform in public. I just took a natural attraction to photography. You can look at a landscape and from there if you analyze it and look at the different components, you can get so many interpretations of that one scene. I have been to several places over and over again and I come back with photographs that are totally different in mood, expression, and perspective," he said. "The challenge for me is to transfer what I am feeling from looking at a landscape to how a camera sees light."
Santos said he learned a lot of the technical aspects of photography through reading books and doing research on the Internet. Last year he became a volunteer administrator of an international Web site of photographers that specialize in using Nikon equipment (www.nikonians.org). The site now has 35,000 members and has official support from Nikon Canada. Santos also now sells his prints from his Web site www.esartprints.com
The annual awards, which honor the best amateur and professional photographers from around the world, are judged by their uniqueness, drama, and combinations of light, color and composition according to the magazine's Web site. More than $10,000 in cash prizes is awarded, including $2,500 for the grand prize-winning image, although Santos has yet to learn of his prize amount.
The contest's goals include the promotion of photography as a forum for creative inspiration and expression, natural history education and conservation motivation as well as to encourage interest in outdoor photography and the use of state-of the-art technology.
Santos said he thinks the judges were attracted to his image's play of light and extensive detail but also to its not often seen landscape location, the Rio Grande Valley, which because so much is in private hands provides limited access to landscape photographers.
"Not a lot is written or printed about this little known section of Texas. I feel very honored and excited to bring the beauty of this area to a wider audience," he said.