Kennedy Center contestants reveal moments behind winning photos

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BYU’s International Study Program Photo Contest winners shared the process behind their winning shots that are now on display in the Kennedy Center.

Linda Hsiung, the official Kennedy Center photographer and contest organizer, said anyone can go to a beautiful place and take a beautiful photo, but what the judges look for is a unique viewpoint.

Hsiung said she receives 1,000-2,000 images that she looks through and narrows down to around 60 photographs. The images are then printed and passed around at a dinner where a panel of anonymous judges from BYU discuss and decide on the winning photos.  

The photos come from the past year of study abroad programs through BYU. Anyone who attended a study abroad and still attends the university can submit up to three photos to be considered for a cash prize according to Hsiung.

Tanzania study abroad participant, Kendra Billman, received runner-up last year in the contest and submitted photos again this year. Billman described sitting at the award ceremony saying, “My heart was beating so fast. I could swear the whole room could hear it.” This year, Billman’s photo was named best-in-show.

A hand is seen raising wheat into the air. Kendra Billman’s best-in-show photograph, “Fire by Friction”, was taken on the Killamanjaro study abroad in Tanzania. (Kendra Billman)

When talking about Billman’s photograph, Hsiung said, “Usually people like to focus on the face or the environment or a landscape, so we definitely thought that (Billman’s) perspective was very unique … we just thought compositionally, like, the colors and the way it was framed was very unique and beautiful.”

The other best-in-show artist, Benjamin Williams, took the photo on the Cuith Raing loop in Scotland during his study abroad. Behind the camera, however, Williams said he was jet-lagged, cold and underprepared. Williams said he wore the wrong shoes on the seven mile hike and was slipping in the mud as rain came down. 

An overcast sky hangs above a green and rocky landscape. This best-in-show photograph, “Cuith-Raing”, was captured on the Truth and Light study abroad in Scotland. (Benjamin Williams)

Just before the hardest ascent of the hike, Williams said he was separated from his hiking group, taking his time on the overcast trail. Suddenly, sunlight broke through and hit the landscape in front of him. Williams remembers frantically reaching for his camera and capturing what he said is probably his most favorite photograph he has ever taken. While wearing the wrong shoes seemed like a disappointment at first, Williams said he attributes his winning photo to his less-than-ideal circumstance.

While Billman and Williams both have experience in photography, runner-up photographer Jared Wilson said he got his first camera just last year. 

A black and white image shows a man with a tripod standing in front of a mountain range. Jared Wilson’s photo “Tre Cime di Lavaredo” was photographed on the Truth and Light study abroad in northeastern Italy. (Jared Wilson)

Wilson’s runner-up picture was captured on a hike to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, three towering mountains in the Dolomites of northeastern Italy. Wilson described the morning of his photo as a surreal experience. Wilson said the hike started at 4:30 a.m. and that it was a calm, cool morning. Wilson recalled staring up at the vast mountains wondering how he could capture their majesty. 

After talking to the man in his shot, Wilson captured his own photo. The idea of the photo was to capture the moment and show how small the man was compared to the large mountains, Wilson said.

Each of the photo contest winners said they recommend doing a study abroad. Williams recommended to anyone attending a study abroad or not, be constantly taking photos. “The best camera is the one that’s with you,” Williams said, “and that may be your phone.”

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