Optimists’ photography contest levels up

By Cheryl Allen
Posted 6/7/23

As anyone who plays sports knows, healthy competition has many benefits: it pushes us to grow and improve; it provides feedback regarding our strengths and weaknesses; it helps us deal with setbacks …

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Optimists’ photography contest levels up


As anyone who plays sports knows, healthy competition has many benefits: it pushes us to grow and improve; it provides feedback regarding our strengths and weaknesses; it helps us deal with setbacks and failures.  

But not everyone choses to be an athlete; some are more inclined to the arts.  For students in the Mid-Prairie School District, one opportunity to compete in the arts is the Kalona Optimist Club’s student photography contest.

“It’s nice to be able to open up the art side and offer that to the kids,” Roger Weber, Optimist Club board member, says.  “I think getting the pictures out, getting them some recognition. . . It’s a good thing to do that.”

The Optimist Club’s photography contest was open for entries until May 12.  Area students submitted their own entries to the Optimist Club online in one of two categories: grades 5-8 and grades 9-12.  The entries received were then narrowed down to six in each category; those entries will be matted, framed, and displayed during Kalona Days on June 17, where the public will vote and one winner in each category will receive a People’s Choice Award plaque and $100 gift certificate.

This is the photography contest’s second year, and the Optimist Club made several improvements to make it even better than the first.

“It was a learning experience,” Weber says.  

A team of six club members worked to notify Mid-Prairie, Mid-Prairie Homeschool Assistance, Hillcrest Academy, and Pathway Christian schools about the contest, and then make it possible for students to enter their digital photos through the Optimist Club’s website and Facebook page.  

Whereas last year only Mid-Prairie students participated and art teachers selected the top 12 entries, this year the Optimist Club sought the help of the Iowa City Camera Club (ICCC) to evaluate photos received.

“We’re a relatively small group of 33 members,” Mark Gromko, Vice President of the ICCC, says, explaining that it is a member club of the North Central Camera Clubs (N4C), which comprises clubs in Iowa and neighboring states. The N4C hosts monthly photography competitions in six digital and six print categories, and members of the Iowa City club take part both as participants and as judges.  

“The Iowa City club has a good deal of experience judging photos,” he says.  

The student photographers will benefit from the ICCC’s expertise; the judges will provide each entrant with a set of comments indicating what they did well and what might be helpful to work on in the future.  

“The comments were awesome,” Weber notes.  “They really accentuated the positive and reinforced with some things that can help you get better.”

Gromko explains that technique, composition, and interest are the qualities they look for when judging photos for the N4C, and they looked for those qualities in the students’ photos as well.

The photos students submitted varied greatly; there was a “wide range, a lot of creativity, a lot of very good ideas,” Gromko says.  “It was fun to see them all and look through them.”

That diversity made judging somewhat more challenging.

“It made it more difficult to pick among them,” Gromko says, “But what I tried to do is try to understand, first, what the student saw that interested them, why they took that picture, what was it that they thought was worth sharing in their photography.  That’s kind of the interest category.  Then it’s a matter of technique and composition to say how well you brought off that idea.  So I think that framework of technique, composition, and interest allowed us to be able to compare and evaluate even very different photographs or photographs that differed very much in their subject matter.” 

The art of photography is not as simple as it may seem.  While many of us think that all we need do is point and shoot, and we’ve captured “a true representation of what’s out there,” our cameras “interpret” what we see, and that interpretation can change depending on our camera’s settings and the software we use to edit it.  

“There’s a great deal of crafted interpretation, and creative implementation of the tools in a camera to create different kinds of pictures,” Gromko says.

To become a better photographer, Gromko suggests looking at as many photos as possible, trying to take photos like those you admire, sharing your work with others for feedback, and practicing as much as possible.

Ultimately, inviting students into the world of photography serves to “introduce them to [one of] the possibilities that they could explore in their lives,” Gromko says, whether as vocation or hobby, right now or in the future.  

Thanks to the Kalona Optimist Club, area students have received that invitation.

Look for the top 12 entries in the Kalona Optimist Club’s student photography contest on June 17 during Kalona Days, downtown Kalona.  Be sure to cast your vote and help determine the winner of the 2023 People’s Choice Award.