If the economy had been better this year, Curtis Mix might not have won the grand prize in this year's Oregon Outdoors Wild Bird Photo Contest.
But the Medford construction worker — he's a steel erector — hasn't worked since he spent eight weeks this fall erecting the girders for the new Lithia headquarters being built downtown.
"It's been slow the last several years," says Mix, "so I've really been pouring myself into my photography."
Mix, 57, who lives in the Griffin Creek area of west Medford with his wife, Susan, says he's been setting up in his backyard "day after day" shooting hundreds of bird photos.
"I work hard at this," he says.
And judging from his results in this year's contest, which attracted 334 entries, his effort is paying off. Mix submitted three photos, and all three of them placed in the top 11.
His grand-prize winner, a yellow warbler singing happily in a tree, was shot at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in far Eastern Oregon.
An Anna's hummingbird he shot in his backyard placed sixth, while his photo of an evening grosbeak — also shot in his backyard — earned the 11th-highest vote total.
"I'm just really happy about that," says Mix, who won a pair of Pro Master Binoculars, EL 10 x 42, valued at $299, from Total Camera and Video, 1310 A Center Drive, Medford, for his grand-prize photo.
Four other local photographers also earned prizes in this year's contest.
Judy LaNier of Talent placed two photos in the Top 10. Her photo of a lilac-breasted roller, captured in Masai Mara National Park in Tanzania, earned first place and a pair of Eagle Optics Denali 8 x 42 Roof Prism Binoculars, valued at $229, from Wild Birds Unlimited, 712 Crater Lake Ave., Medford.
LaNier's extreme close-up of a golden eagle, shot in Josephine County, garnered 10th place.
Marilyn Patterson of Medford took second place — winning a $100 gift certificate from Grange Co-op — for her photo of a Laysan albatross chick shot on Sand Island in Midway Atoll.
Third place went to Jasman Mander of Grants Pass, who submitted a photo of a barn owl captured over Thanksgiving weekend in Bend. The photo earned Mander a pair of Bushnell 8 x 42 binoculars, valued at $79, from Black Bird Shopping Center, 1810 W. Main St., Medford.
Fourth place, which earned a Patriot bird feeder and 20-pound bag of bird seed, valued at $36, from Black Bird, went to Jesse Hodges of Ashland for his photo of a great egret at Ashland Pond.
Mix, who has been shooting photos since 1965, is what you might call a semi-professional with a camera. He's had photos published in several wildlife and outdoors publications and calendars, and he has a website (curtismixphotography.com) where he offers prints for sale.
"I sell a modest amount of work, but not a lot," says Mix, a father of four and a grandfather of three.
Like he does with most of his wildlife shots, Mix used a digital Nikon D-300 camera to shoot his award-winning photos this year. But he was an old-school film holdout until recently, and he still uses large-format film cameras for most of his landscape photography.
"I shot 35mm slides until 2008," he says. "I thought digital was going to go away."
He might still be shooting film exclusively, he says, but the publications he sells photos to on occasion started requiring digital files, "so I had to do it."
In addition to being an artist with a camera, Mix is a maestro with a fly rod. When he's not shooting birds, he's often either fishing or shooting pictures of his friends catching fish, as is apparent by the galleries of monster fish on his website.
"I've been into fishing longer than I've been into photography," he says, "and I've found a niche.
"I'm a still-water fly-fisher, and I target my efforts to lakes that have huge trout, so I've caught some massive fish," he says. "The real art is to tie patterns to match the prey for these fish, and retrieve them as if they're alive."
His favorite lakes for this particular specialty are Klamath Lake, Duck Lake in Montana and Pyramid Lake in Nevada.
Mix says hopes to be working again in January. But if it takes a little longer for his seat in the economic engine to open back up, he doesn't sound as if he'll retreat into a shell of depression.
"I saw this coming a few years ago, so we live on a shoestring," Mix says. If the job hunt drags on a little longer, "then darn, I'll have to go photograph some more stuff."
Reach Mail Tribune Features Editor David Smigelski at 541-776-8784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.