Schenectady and Amsterdam photographers talk about award-winning photos

"Bear Mountain Bridge Sunrise" from Wendy Blanchard, right; and "Sunset at the Ruins" from Courtney Bradt, left. Source: New York State Parks 

"Bear Mountain Bridge Sunrise" from Wendy Blanchard, right; and "Sunset at the Ruins" from Courtney Bradt, left. Source: New York State Parks 

ALBANY – Wendy Blanchard got her first camera about 20 years ago, a gift from her mother. It was a film camera, and with the help of a photography magazine from her uncle, she began taking portraits. When digital photography started becoming more popular and accessible, Blanchard moved away from portraits and into landscapes and, eventually, bird photography.

“I really wanted [a camera] for a long time,” said Blanchard, who is now 51 and lives with her husband and two sons in Schenectady. “Since I was a teenager.”

Courtney Bradt’s story was a little different. As a teenager, she took photos of herself and her friends without a second thought. It wasn’t until Hurricane Irene destroyed her family’s farm that she began to look at photography in a totally different light — as an art.

“I had picked up this cheap little digital camera and I just started taking pictures of all the destruction,” said Bradt, now a sixth-grade English teacher from Amsterdam. “As we were rebuilding, it just made me appreciate the beauty of everything around us and even after something tragic happens, there’s still so much beauty that surrounds us.”

Blanchard’s and Bradt’s photo beginnings were humble and both have taught themselves the ins and outs of photography through the years. And now, their work has been recognized by New York State in the New York State Parks and Department of Environmental Conservation 2022 Outdoor Photo Contest.

The online contest encouraged people to submit photos that “highlight the best of New York’s natural beauty and special destinations among New York’s state campgrounds and parklands,” according to the DEC’s announcement of the contest. There were six submission categories, including Camping Life, Hiking, and Action & Adventure.

From over 6,000 submissions, Blanchard won the contest’s grand prize with her photo, “Bear Mountain Bridge Sunrise,” which was taken at Bear Mountain State Park.

“It was awesome,” Blanchard said. “I was surprised when they told me grand prize — I didn’t expect that.”

She had always wanted to visit Bear Mountain State Park in the fall, and one Saturday drove up with her father to visit. The two arrived before sunrise and it was so cold that her father ended up returning to the car while she waited outside to get the perfect shot.

“It was taking a while for the sun to peak over the mountain,” Blanchard wrote in an interview to New York State Parks. “I’m a bit stubborn and I did wait for what seemed like hours (but it wasn’t) for the sun to come out.”

And it was worth it, resulting in a final breathtaking shot of the vibrant colors of the sunrise and fall leaves, glistening water, and an overlooking view of the park’s bridge.

She hopes that the sense of peace within the photo sticks with people, as it does for her.

Bradt’s photo, “Sunset at the Ruins” from Crown Point Campground, won the Views & Vistas category.

“I was pretty excited because I had forgotten I even entered the contest,” Bradt said. “When I entered the contest I was like, ‘this is cool, enter this, I’m never going to win this because there’s tons of photographers and people doing great stuff.’”

Fascinated by its crumbling 18th-century structure, Crown Point Campground had been on Bradt’s bucket list for some time.

“I like ruins and things that are falling down and I enjoy trying to capture the beauty of those kinds of places,” Bradt said.

It was a “in the right place at the right time” kind of moment as she and her husband were setting up camp in the area. The sun was setting as they strolled around the ruins, giving her the perfect opportunity to capture a photo.

“I had just been wandering around and just happened to be in that spot right then when that was happening,” said Bradt.

She decided to submit the photo to the contest not only for its beautiful shot of the ruins’ strong gray stones and peeking sun but also for its potential to encourage others to see the site.

“I felt like that park is a little bit, maybe, underloved. I feel like not a lot of people venture there,” Bradt said. “I was hoping at least someone would see [the photo] and say ‘oh I’d like to go there.’”

Now, with their wins in hand, both Blanchard and Bradt have goals for the next steps of their photography. Blanchard says that she wants to photograph more owls, and Bradt hopes to travel out west and photograph its scenic landscapes.

Categories: Art, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Schenectady

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