Caught in the Wild

Photographer's shot puts him in demand, sets his future path
Lance Coenen of Grants Pass would have won third place for this shot of a wood duck in last year's Oregon Outdoors Wild Bird Photo Contest, but he won the grand prize with a different shot, and entrants are eligible to win only one prize. It was the third straight year the contest winner finished with two shots in the money.

Just after landscape photographer Lance Coenen broke into the wildlife photography world by winning the 2010 Oregon Outdoors Wild Bird Photo Contest, new doors began to open.

"A guy from a bluegrass band came up to me," Coenen says. "He said, 'Hey, I saw you won a contest. I have a job for you.'

"He wanted me to shoot a video, but I won the contest for photography," Coenen laughs.

Nevertheless, Coenen shot the video, and its crispness helped the bluegrass band land a spot in a coveted Georgia festival, he says.

And the phone keeps on ringing.

The Grants Pass X-ray technician has devoted more of his spare time to his hobby-turned-moonlighting-job of photography since seeing his name and winning shot of a hummingbird grace the cover of the Mail Tribune's Oregon Outdoors section last year.

He is now doubling up with a showing of landscape prints hanging at his day job at Three Rivers Community Hospital in Grants Pass, and is filling his portfolio with more outdoor shots for sale since last year's contest.

"It sure did make a difference," Coenen says.

This year could make a difference for another Oregon shutterbug should they place in the 12th annual Wild Bird Photo Contest, which kicks off today.

The contest rewards the best jpeg moments local photographers find with wild birds. One change to this year's contest is that either the photographer or the bird must be from Oregon. In recent years, with the reach of the Internet, photographers from states such as Florida and Michigan have submitted photos of backyard birds after learning about the contest online. Out-of-state photographers are welcome to enter, but they must have made a trip to Oregon for their shot. And, as in past years, entries will be accepted from local shooters who venture abroad on birding trips.

Deadline for submissions is Dec. 9, after which an American Idol-like voting format begins.

For one week, the public will have a chance to vote for their favorites online, and their picks will account for 25 percent of the voting. The remaining 75 percent of the score comes from the Mail Tribune's panel of five expert judges.

The grand prize this year is a set of Pro Master binoculars from Total Camera and Video valued at $299, with four other prizes available from Wild Birds Unlimited, Grange Co-op and Black Bird Shopping Center.

Photographers can enter up to three images, but any individual can claim just one prize. Call it the Coenen-Harden-Pogue Rule.

Coenen's image of a hummingbird siphoning nectar from a zinnia in his wife's backyard garden won last year's grand prize. Coenen, a 57-year-old Oklahoma native, would have taken third place as well for a photo of a wood duck he shot at a private pond in Grants Pass, but he had to settle for one prize.

It marked the third consecutive year that the overall winner had to settle for one award after finishing with two shots in the money. In 2010, Deb Harder of Medford won the grand prize with her shot of a crane skittering across the water at the Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. If the rules had allowed it, she would have taken first place as well for a shot of a golden sparrow. Her two photographs were running neck and neck in online voting until the final day, when the crane nipped the sparrow.

In 2009, Jerry Pogue of Ashland won the grand prize with a photo of two sandhill cranes dancing on the snow near Howard Prairie Lake. He also entered a shot of two Western Grebes taken at Moore Park in Klamath Falls that received enough votes from readers to take home a prize.

As for Coenen, he hadn't entered any photo contests until last year, and he only entered the hummingbird and wood duck pics at the behest of co-workers. His hospital had an in-house photography contest that resulted in several of his landscape images being hung around the facility.

Then, shortly afterward, he won the Mail Tribune contest, and suddenly the self-taught photographer with little interest in avian fauna had a nose for wildlife shots.

"After that contest, I was definitely thinking about building up my portfolio with birds," Coenen says.

But free-time became scarce, and suddenly he was wanted more for images shot away from work than the x-rays done during his day-job.

No longer relegated to the occasional soccer shots or dog shows, Coenen has been paid to double his Three Rivers Community Hospital exhibit. He spent last weekend at Silver Falls State Park shooting close to 3,000 images.

He's turned down some freelance work, he says, to focus his limited free time on landscapes or "anything but portraits and weddings."

Inching close to retirement, Coenen says he hopes to expand his shooting once regular work gets out of the way.

"I'm doing photography," he says. "I love it and I'll always do it."

But one thing he won't do is try to win back-to-back Mail Tribune titles.

Never one to shoot much wildlife, Coenen has barely aimed a lens at any of Oregon's feathered friends this year, so he won't be entering this year's contest.

"To be honest with you, I don't have anything to enter," Coenen says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.



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