By Josette Keelor -- firstname.lastname@example.org
The photograph that Conicville resident Bernice Brillman entered in Farmers & Merchants Bank's photo contest was one of the first she took with her new camera. So she was surprised when it earned her a spot on the bank's 2012 calendar.
Jeremiah Estep of Edinburg, too, was pretty new to photography.
Only 12 years old, the seventh-grader at Valley Baptist Christian School gave the contest a try after a photo he took of his great-great-aunt's barn on Edinburg Gap Road won him a prize in a regional competition through his school.
"He's a typical 12-year-old," said his mother, Wendy "Becky" Estep. "To him it was just a picture."
But it wasn't just a picture, in the end. The photo, which appears on the calendar's February page, also placed second in a competition through the Valley Educational Center for the Creative Arts, Estep said.
Though devoted to basketball and soccer, Jeremiah said he was excited to win a spot in the calendar and, as a result, intends to compete in the contest again next year.
"Yes, I definitely will," he said.
Works of art like these abound around the valley, but many of them never earn much attention because they are not the work of professionals.
Now in its eighth year, the photography contest through Farmers & Merchants Bank has allowed the photos of Jeremiah and 12 other amateur photographers the distinction of starring in its 2012 calendar. Eight runners up will see their photos on the calendar's back cover.
Submissions are restricted to photos of scenes in Shenandoah, Page and Rappahannock counties, but anyone can participate, provided contestants have never been paid for photographs, said Sue Olson, the bank's vice president of marketing.
"We've had entries from people who live in Hawaii," she said of past years. "This year we really didn't have many from out of state."
That doesn't mean choosing only 13 winners and eight runners up was an easy task, Olson said. A panel of anonymous area residents with backgrounds in art whittled down the winning photos from more than 300 entries.
Grand prize winner Nancy Runion of Timberville won $100 and a spot on the calendar's front cover with her photo of Barb's School near Orkney Springs. Monthly page winners received $50 each, and runners up, including Brillman, received a tote bag and inclusion on the calendar's back cover.
The winners received six calendars each at a reception on Nov. 17, Olson said.
"We just hated to cut it off at just 13 people," she said. "We have quite a few people who enter every year, and we have quite a few who are repeat winners too."
"I've entered in the past and I've won in the past," Runion said, but this was her first grand prize win.
"I just was out riding the back roads," she said. When she noticed Barb's School in passing, she turned around and drove back to shoot the photo.
"There's lots of unique shots out there if you just look for it," she said.
Already having secured six other wins, she intends to shoot for another win next year.
"I love spending the day with my camera," she said.
Diane Morris, who earned an honorable mention for her photo of a pine branch encased in ice, said she brings her camera with her everywhere she goes.
"My favorite things to do are sceneries or very close-up," she said.
She's won a calendar page twice in the past, and she has participated almost every year of the contest.
"It makes you feel good," said the Front Royal resident who travels to Luray to take pictures for the contests.
Last year her photo of a road enshrouded in fog appeared on May's page.
"It was like a very heavy fog," she said. "The fog made it look like a tunnel."
The calendars are available free to customers of Farmers & Merchants Bank, which had 7,000 calendars printed through Colorsolutions in Harrisonburg for its nine bank locations.
To get a calendar, "They can walk into one of our banks after Dec. 1," Olson said.
Those interested in entering next year can find contest information online at www.farmersandmerchants.biz, Olson said.
"We open the contest each spring and we cut off entries Aug. 1 each year," she said.
This year's winning photos also will be available to view online beginning in mid-January, Olson said.
"This is my first year entering," Brillman said. "Really, my first camera."
Since she enjoys photographing her animals, she entered an image of her dog Rosco playing in the snow on Pepper Road after a winter storm.
"I can't even use the camera," Brillman said, remarking on its various settings. "It was so funny that I won."
Mike Clanahan of New Market also was surprised when he learned his photo of the Meems Bottom covered bridge near Mt. Jackson appears on next year's November page.
"It was actually one of the first pictures I'd taken with this camera," he said.
"I've been taking pictures of the covered bridge for years," he said. Until now he captured the images on film, though.
"Finally decided to upgrade," he said. He considered trying to sell some of his photography once he retires, but for now he plans only to enter contests for a while.
"I was kind of surprised," he said, "because it was my first attempt."