Amateurs snap Laurel Highlands' treasures for 10th annual photo contest

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 11:45 a.m.

The work of amateur photographers in the Laurel Highlands shows familiarity and pride, said Autumn Stankay, who for the first time helped judge the 10th annual photo contest sponsored by the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

“There were areas I've never seen before,” said Stankay, who owns Skysight Photography in Greensburg. “It wasn't just the typical views you see of the Laurel Highlands, it was really integrated.”

Photos of Donegal Lake in Donegal Township and the Walter's Mill Covered Bridge in Somerset Township bested 860 digital entries to be named the top winners in the contest.

“The adage ‘A picture is worth a thousand words' couldn't be more true when I look at the photo contest entries,” said Julie Donovan, vice president of public relations for the bureau. “These photos are inspiring and beautifully represent the region's natural landscape and fun places to visit.”

Winners of the people and animals category are:

First place: Brenda Schwartz, Hidden Valley, photo of Donegal Lake in Donegal Township;

Second place: Brad Fisher, Jennerstown, photo of Fort Ligonier in Ligonier;

Third place: Josiah Brown, Ashland, Tenn., photo of Fisher Road, Jennerstown;

Honorable mentions: Brenda Schwartz, Hidden Valley, photo of Living Treasures Animal Park near Jones Mills; Jodi Brougher, Somerset, photo of children in Rockwood; Rusty Glessner, State College, photo of Farmers and Threshermans Jubilee in New Centerville.

Winners of the landscapes and attractions category are:

First place: Charlotte Pletcher, Somerset, photo of Walter's Mill Covered Bridge in Somerset Township;

Second place: Kurt Miller, Pittsburgh, photo of Fallingwater in Mill Run;

Third place: Clare Kaczmarek, Latrobe, photo of Rolling Rock Farms in Ligonier Township;

Honorable mentions: Jodie Cruse, Quarryville, photo of Flight 93 National Memorial in Stonycreek Township; Curt Beal, Connellsville, photo of Bluestone Quarry, Dunbar Township; Ron Bruner, Rockwood, photo of Somerset Historical Center in Lincoln Township.

Kaczmarek, of Unity, submitted her third-place winning photo depicting a snowy morning with blue skies framed by the Laurel mountains and a Rolling Rock Farms fence.

“I really liked the depth of field that I got in that image,” she said. “It was a pretty interesting morning.”

She originally took about 200 photos, including that image, for a Ligonier Chamber of Commerce calendar contest, but ended up not liking them until about a year later.

A member of the Westmoreland Photographers Society, Kaczmarek first took up photography 20 years ago, then rediscovered it just four years ago.

Her second year as an entrant, Kaczmarek said she was surprised to be chosen, but said the region lends itself to picturesque images.

“I think anybody who is into the outdoors would have to agree, this is just a beautiful place to live,” she said.

Judges for the contest were: Nikki Kruse of Ohiopyle Adventure Photography, Christie Black of Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Stankay and visitors bureau staff members.

Donovan said the photo contest was started in 2003 to increase the bureau's photo library and for marketing purposes.

“The contest has enabled the marketing team to use authentic Laurel Highlands places and landscapes in our consumer ads, annual destination guide and on ,” Donovan said. “For example, the cover of the 2013 Laurel Highlands Destination Guide was a 2012 photo contest entry.”

The photos are used on pieces distributed to partners and stakeholders, such as the group's annual report and membership benefits guide, and well as traditional advertising campaigns, including billboards and print ads.

They also will be used for digital marketing, including online banner ads and consumer e-newsletters, and throughout the visitors bureau website.

The photos are on exhibit through Sunday in the lobby at Seven Springs Mountain Resort and in the Gallery at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. All of the winning photos can be viewed online at

Staff editor Deborah A. Brehun contributed to this report. Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or

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