Brownsville photographer Trevor Pottelberg delivered ‘under pressure’ in extreme weather conditions to capture a 2020 Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC) award-winning photograph.
The PPOC awards were recently announced during an online virtual ceremony using Zoom conferencing software and Facebook Live.
Four of Pottelberg’s images were selected for exhibition in a national ‘salon’ celebrating the best of Canadian professional photography, including ‘Pier Pressure,’ which won a prestigious Best in Class award (Press Category). Pier Pressure was also selected for inclusion in the Professional Photographers of Canada’s 2020 Loan Collection.
A panel of master photographers judged the best works (up to four) submitted by professional photographers across Canada and accepted a selection of outstanding images for exhibition in the 2020 National Image Salon of the Professional Photographers of Canada, which was revealed April 25 live on Facebook. Entries were judged in 22 different classes, including press, portrait, architectural and fashion.
“Photographers must show extraordinary talent to win an award among such illustrious company,” said Charles van den Ouden, Chair of the National Exhibition Committee, in a media release. “We were thrilled to see so many inspiring entries in the competition this year. The salon images clearly demonstrate the exceptional skill and quality that professionals bring to the medium of photography.”
“After the main competition is over with, a panel of judges looks at all of the images that range, I would say, from merit to excellence images,” said Pottelberg, noting entries had initially been graded ‘not accepted,’ ‘accepted,’ ‘merit,’ and ‘excellence.’
“They look at all of the top images in each of the classes and put them side by side. Then they figure out which one has the most impact. Does it have a storyline? Creativity, composition, all of that. And they judge which is the best one in that particular class.”
Pottelberg’s images scored three ‘merit’ awards and one ‘excellence’ award.
Pier Pressure, which had scored ‘merit,’ was judged against three other photos in the press category for ‘best in class.’
“It was up against some really strong images, so I wasn’t sure. This was kind of a surprise for me,” said Pottelberg, who had been notified a couple weeks earlier that he was a finalist.
“I was really excited just to become a finalist, especially in a national competition. When I was watching it live and I saw the other images coming up, I thought ‘wow, those are really good images.’ So it was really exciting when they had that little pause, then the screen showed who won. When my name popped up, I couldn’t believe it.”
Win or lose, the national awards ceremonies can provide inspiration to photographers, including Pottelberg. Not that they are looking to duplicate the images, but they get ideas and inspiration moving forward.
“I’ve taken that from past competitions, for sure. I kind of looked at what the judges take into consideration for images of excellence or merit, and just studying how they would have judged that image. Did it come down to the lighting or the composition? The subject matter? How it was presented? How you dress up a photo (with backgrounds) is sometimes also beneficial.
“Definitely, watching the competitions each year is inspiring. The level of creativity each year goes up too. I’ve noticed in the last number of years that more and more people are getting into what I do, the landscape, nature, fine art type of photos. So the competition is getting stiffer now. Nationally, you’re going up against some people who have been in the business a long, long time, and other people who have just come in, but they’ve already got the creative eye and some of them do well.
“It’s definitely getting harder to come up with some unique images, just because everybody is starting to get into this style of photography.”
As a nature and landscape photographer in southwestern Ontario, he does not have access to mountains. He can’t step outside to touch the ocean.
“It’s definitely something you have to work for around here, and I’ve found that since day one. It actually kind of gives me more inspiration – you’re looking more for it. It’s not just ‘there’ and waiting for the light. You have to actually have to find these locations and then try to figure out how to make it into something that is ‘out of the ordinary’ that is on the same level of somebody who lives on the east or west coast.”
‘Out of the ordinary’ is what Pottelberg accomplished with Pier Pressure, a photo of a Port Stanley pier.
“The lake (Lake Erie) is my favourite place to go… just to see the force of that lake. Especially with this photo that won. It can go from completely calm and looking just like a pond and then turn into something that looks like an ocean, and that can be in a matter of a couple hours when a storm comes through.
“I’m naturally drawn to the water, I always have been.”
It often means rushing to the lake when the weather is at its worst.
“When everyone’s going for cover, I’m getting on my gear and running down to the lake. You get down there and nobody in their right mind would be standing out in those gale force winds. Even just the sand – it’s pelting the equipment, it’s pelting the eyes, your face. It’s definitely not ‘fun’ to work in, but once you get back home and look at the results, then it’s rewarding.”
Pier Pressure was taken Dec. 30th, his last outing of 2019. Knowing the wind would be strong, he set up at his preferred location in Port Stanley and spent most of the day shooting waves.
“I kept watching out of the corner of my eye, and every once in a while I would see this huge wave hit the pier and just smash and go up over. I thought to myself when I’m done with the waves, why not just move along the shoreline and get into position so I can get the lighthouse in the background and some of the pier.”
It took about 20 minutes before Pottelberg eventually got the wave he was looking for.
“This thing was so massive, it towered over the gates. It went up over the light standards, and you can see it’s even over the height of the lighthouse in the background.
“I had framed it the way I wanted it, then waited for that perfect opportunity. I knew as soon as that one hit. I had probably got about four or five quick frames off and that (Pier Pressure) was the peak of it. It had just got as high as it would go and I thought, ‘this one’s pretty cool.'”
The peak action is what gave him the idea to enter the press category. He didn’t have to alter the photo – just for contrast and brightness.
PPOC made the decision to try an online awards format after cancelling the annual ceremony in Saskatchewan due to COVID-19.
“They quickly got everything together and they were able to pull it off,” said Pottelberg. “It went over quite smoothly, it was a pretty neat experience.”
Family and friends were able to watch the awards live on Facebook this year – another unique experience.
“Because it was kind of last minute, I was only able to get the word out to a couple friends. They saw my post on Facebook – I posted a link there – and they were able to watch it live. So that was pretty special.”
Pottelberg also won a PPOC best in class (pictorial floral / landscape nature) national award in 2015.
Because he did so well with his four images this year, Pottelberg was nominated for 2020 Photographic Artist of the Year.
“That’s the big one, for me at least. If you win that, that’s kind of the Holy Grail type of thing. I had been nominated for that once before, but this year was the best that I had done with my four images. So I was really excited. I wasn’t expecting to win it, but it was just nice being nominated up against all of this talent.”
For health reasons, leaving his Brownsville home has been “a little nerve-wracking” for Pottelberg during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I decided, for the most part, just to stay at home.”
It gave him time to look through his catalogue of photos and do some editing. It also gave him an opportunity to explore backyard photography.
“It’s been really neat to do that, and in particular songbirds, learning the different calls and just taking photos of birds that normally I might just walk by. Now I’m thinking once this all lifts and I get out and start shooting more, and I’m in the woods, now I will kind of know what it is. So that’s got me more interested in wildlife.”
He also purchased a new macro lens, which lends itself well to backyard photography.
“I figured I might as well go for something new… and this is the perfect chance to do it.”