The competition was intense in ARMY magazine’s 2016 SFC Dennis Steele Photo Contest. We received more than 70 entries that captured everything from soldiers and families to training and ceremonies. Army photographers took the top two spots, while an Army spouse placed third.
The first-place winner, Capt. Brian Harris, a public affairs officer with the 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., wanted “to tell the Army story,” so he entered the contest after finding out about it through the I Corps public affairs team. He jumped at the chance because “finding new places to share the amazing work of our 16th Combat Aviation Brigade soldiers” is always on his mind.
His photo, “Sunset Over Puget Sound,” was “one of those ones that happens out of the blue,” he said. He and his team were flying to meet an infantry unit for air assault training when he realized the perfect scene was unfolding before his eyes.
As the aircraft approached Joint Base Lewis-McChord at 8:30 p.m. on June 26, Harris snapped a few photos of the crew chief in silhouette. He used a Canon EOS 7D to take the photo with a Sigma 18–35mm f/1.8 lens.
The photo “is significant to me because it really feels like it brings emotion out of people. The combination of the beautiful scenery and the rugged military gear is a really great pairing,” Harris said.
Emotional response is the reason why he decided to submit the photo in the first place. “Sunsets are one of those things that almost everyone gravitates toward, and it’s paired with an amazing U.S. Army soldier training hard in one of our great aircraft,” he said.
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Army leaders have stressed that the total force cannot be truly strong without tough training. Michael Curtis of Waynesville, Mo., an Army photographer, set out to capture strength and resilience in his second-place photo, “Hold On!”
Each year, he has the opportunity to photograph the Best Sapper Competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. The grueling three-day competition for combat engineers is designed to measure technical proficiency, stamina and performance under stressful conditions.
Curtis was positioned at the finish line when he saw the perfect moment to snap the shutter as two soldiers consoled each other.
“It is a hard competition, and I believe this image shows just how hard it can be. I just turned around and there it was; right place at the right time, with the right lens and settings,” he said. He used a Nikon D4s with 24–70mm f/6.7 lens.
Curtis hopes this photo resonates with readers and shows how rigorously the Army trains its soldiers.
“I’ve entered the contest the last few years,” he said, to see “where my images stack up against my peers’. Each year, the images just seem to get better and better.”
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Deborah Spratt didn’t have much of a plan in mind when she snapped her third-place photo, “Growing Up.” She just knew she wanted to catch her husband, Staff Sgt. Terry Spratt, kissing their daughter Glory goodbye shortly before seeing her off for her first day of first grade. The photo was taken at Pierce Terrace Elementary School in Columbia, S.C.
“As an amateur photographer, when I capture [images], I never realize what the end result will be, or even if they will turn out,” she said.
“My daughter required a kiss in private and made it clear no classmates could see her be kissed,” Spratt said. Her two younger sisters round out the picture.
“This wasn’t just a photo of a loving father, but a photo of a drill sergeant doing everything opposite of how they are portrayed,” she said. Spratt took her photo with an iPhone 6s and later found out about the contest through a Google search.
Spratt said it seemed natural to take a photo at such an important moment in her daughter’s life, but she also realized something else unique about the photo: her husband.
He was “a drill sergeant frozen in time, not as a scary person as many perceive but instead as a loving, tender person,” she said.
Photo contest entries were judged primarily on subject matter and photographic quality.
—Thomas B. Spincic