Peninsula Photo Contest winners capture awe-inspiring moments in a click

Adults, youth give exposure to the world around them

"Hitchcock's Fork" by Laurie Naiman, adult winner of the Abstract category in the 2019 Peninsula Photo Contest. Photo by Laurie Naiman.

View all winning images alongside artist remarks and judge's comments, in addition to honorable mentions, here.

More people than ever are capturing images of the world around them that may have never come to light if not for advances in smartphone cameras and other technology, which now provide photographers more opportunities to create quality images right from their pockets.

For the second consecutive year, the Palo Alto Weekly and Palo Alto Art Center have teamed up to bring exposure to a greater variety of works from more participants through the revamped Peninsula Photo Contest.

This year's competition includes entries from anyone who works, lives or attends school in or near the 650 area code, from Daly City to Sunnyvale.

The categories include: Abstract, Portraits, Moments, the Natural World and Travel, as well as the new Nocturnal category, which includes images taken between dusk and dawn that reflect a night theme.

The judges reviewed more than 850 images submitted by 187 adult and youth photographers. Each of this year's 12 winning images captures life and everyday objects from a unique perspective — from the shadow of a fork stretched across a napkin with a film-noir quality to a rain frog perched on a leaf in the Andes at night to the documentary-style image of two girls role-playing at a birthday party.

This year's contest included an unexpectedly high number of images taken on smartphones that were selected as finalists and honorable mentions, according to the judging panel, which was unaware throughout the process of which photos had been taken on professional, high-quality cameras versus the mobile devices. One of the biggest surprises, according to the judges, came at the end, when they learned that the contest's Best in Show winner was shot on an iPhone.

The winning photographs will be on display, along with 20 honorable-mention images selected for exhibition, at the Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road through June 23.

Read on to learn more about the photographers and the ideas and feelings they hoped to convey through their work.

— Linda Taaffe


Adult winner: Laurie Naiman

'Hitchcock's Fork'

"I captured this with my iPhone while waiting for dinner at an outdoor cafe in Mountain View. It was sundown, and I was attracted by the strong shadows cast by the fork on the napkin. The monochrome and 'noir' rendition was created in post-processing. This evoked the title."

— Laurie Naiman

Youth winner: Clara Montero Scheidt


"This photo was a bit of an experiment because it was simply a light on a wall — but something about the perspective of this photo is unique and makes it appear less like a light on a wall and rather a light in the middle of the sky."

— Clara Montero Scheidt

Judge's comments

One of the things I love about the abstract category is the immense amount of creativity that comes through from photographers as they interpret the world in unique ways. From applying techniques like multiple exposures and inverting negatives, or experimenting with how light and shadow fill a frame — abstract photography has a way of making us see the world a little differently.

It was a delight to see Laurie Naiman's approach of photographing a fork and napkin on a countertop interpreted into a noir-like image, which had me dwelling on it for quite some time. From the sharp angles of light hitting the counter to the slightly sinister shadow cast by the fork — the image conveys a sense of mystery and suspense.

Scheidt's image was also a unique capture of a regular object. At first glance, one does not quite know what they are looking at: Is it a mural of a perfectly sunlit sky filled with clouds or a window of some sort? Only after staring at it for some time, did I realize it was a light fixture perfectly framed from beneath looking above. I love how this image surprised me and how it invites us to pay more attention to everyday objects. — Veronica Weber


Adult winner: Dan Fenstermacher

'Waiting Patiently'

"A woman looks peacefully into the abyss of the ocean in a still and contemplative glance while bathed in early evening sunlight as people around her create movement in all directions in Asilah, Morocco."

— Dan Fenstermacher

Youth winner: Sahana Singh

'Amer Fort'

" 'Amer Fort' shows the strength of women in India. They are the backbone of Indian society."

— Sahana Singh

Judge's comments

What Dan Fenstermacher shows us in "Waiting Patiently" is his masterful skill in perfecting a perfect compelling, dynamic composition. He has put form above content. His images have his strong voice: One that displays the dynamism of the relationship between forms and figures, a balance of elements and a wonderful interplay of color. A touch of blue in the shirt of the central figure echoes the blue sky and little of bit of blue sea in the right corner. At the same time, there is a sense of place that is revealed subtly, in the air, in the sea and in the atmosphere of the photograph.

Sahana Singh's colorful image uses the relationships of figures to reinforce her message of three strong Indian women. The juxtaposition of the women, two making eye contact and one hidden behind her hand and head scarf, use form to reinforce their women power. How wonderful that they are even more striking because of the simple textured walls and arch that frame them. Form, again, becomes a forceful conveyor of message.

— Margo Davis


Adult winner: Terrance McLarnan


"This image was made from two separate ones to create this third image. I was deeply touched by the deep sadness in this child's eyes when we met; I used the second image to heighten how our culture turns its back on sadness and the bleak internal life it creates."

— Terrance McLarnan

Youth winner: Jacqueline Irvin

'Hidden Portrait'

"'Hidden Portrait" was created through a double exposure of a cobblestone road and a photo of my friend. It was inspired by a project to explore the relationship between nature and portraits of people's faces through double exposures."

— Jacqueline Irvin

Judge's comments

There are so many elements that go into making an unforgettable portrait: layers of meaning and mystery. Terrence McLarnan has sandwiched two separate images to conjure mystery. The tragic emotion on the face of the child is compelling and moving by itself. However, that emotion is reinforced by an undefined figure turning his/her back on this child. The added element strengthens the impact. Terrance McLarnan's message is strong, inescapable.

Jacqueline Irvin calls out to us through a double exposure. She has combined a portrait of a friend with a separate image of cobblestones. The mystery is evoked and the mood elevated in the mixture of elements through double exposure. Sometimes each image on its own is uninteresting and poorly composed: The combination has potential to create an extra special impact. There is much undefined in this image — a mysterious element — that adds another layer of power.

— Margo Davis


Adult winner: Deborah Lord


"'Waiting' is a documentary-style image made by observing, setting up and waiting for the right moment during a child's birthday party. I loved this moment because I think it is relatable to parents who have also waited and shows a sweet childhood moment of role-playing 'parent.'"

— Deborah Lord

Youth winner: Katie Chan Firtch

'In Passing'

"This shot was taken on an iPhone SE in San Francisco from inside a store. I managed to capture it before the scene elapsed mere seconds after. To me, 'In Passing' is but a single frame of the ever-turning roll of film called life. From the mundane to the supernatural, from the ordinary to extraordinary, it is the acknowledgement of the small moments in life that make our world go round."

— Katie Chan Firtch

Judge's comments

"Waiting" is a delightful moment; it captures, with great irony, the subtle game of two girls role-playing. I love the posture of the girl in high heels, made even more dramatic by her wings. Even if we don't see her face, we can imagine her expression. It's the kind of image that makes us love photography for helping us make an emotional connection and preserve a fleeting, timeless moment for life.

"In Passing" is a very different and interesting image, defined by movement and color. It has a very gritty, urban feel to it and I love the way the colors match and alternate: the yellow jacket and the moving blond hair, the greens of the skateboard the coat, the red/browns of the car and the building behind. All connected through movements and lines.

— Federica Armstrong


Adult winner: Geoffrey Brooks

'Pristimantis Rain Frog On Leaf'

"This beautiful rain frog was found on a late-night hike in the foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes. I used a heavily diffused off-camera flash with a reflector to try to highlight the rich color and texture of its skin."

— Geoffrey Brooks

Youth winner: William Sawrey

'Oh So Shiny and Bright'

" 'Oh So Shiny and Bright' was taken near the summit of Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii using a long exposure and light painting to illuminate the foreground as to enhance the contrast with the overarching core of the Milky Way."

— William Sawrey

Judge's comments

Geoffrey Brooks' "Pristimantis Rain Frog At Night" image is a beautifully lit capture of a rain frog sitting still against a pitch-black nighttime backdrop. The soft diffused light of flash envelopes the creature, highlighting its vibrant colors of rust orange, light green and earth brown and its delicate leopard-like pattern on its arms and belly. I especially loved the composition of this image which was taken at a slightly lower level so that the animal sits poised above the photographer, leaving the viewer to truly appreciate the creature's distinct features.

William Sawrey's "Oh So Shiny And Bright," photograph is another stunning image. A long exposure of the glittering Milky Way rises in the background above the gnarled trees and bushes in the foreground. I believe Sawrey must have shined a light along the vegetation in the foreground, which frames the trees against the stars perfectly and is a brilliant capture of the beauty of the wild places away from city lights.

— Veronica Weber

Natural World

Adult Winner | Best in Show: Debbie Cooper

'Seagull Side-Eye'

"I captured this bold crow with my Iphone 8Plus on live mode, enabling me to select the decisive moment when the seagull appears to be expressing annoyance at the crow's approach."

— Debbie Cooper

Youth winner: Sebastian Velasquez

"Preening Puffin"

Amid the chaos of birds swimming and fishing in the water and flying back and forth, I spotted this secluded puffin in a moment of stillness, preening its feathers. I felt like I was getting a glimpse into a private moment.

— Sebastian Velasquez

Judge's comments

Timing and perspective are two of the major components to creating a compelling image and Debbie Cooper captured both in her photograph "Seagull Side-Eye." It gave new meaning to the phrase, "a bird's eye view" and stood out from the rest of the entries with its moody film-noir feel.

"Preening Puffin" stood out not only with its striking contrast between light and dark but also with its wonderful glimpse into the simple moments of nature.

— John Todd

Peninsula Photo Contest judges

Federica Armstrong is an editorial and commercial photographer working with many nonprofit organizations in the Bay Area. Her skills include traditional documentary photography, environmental portraiture and event photography. She is the founder of the Palo Alto Photography Forum, a lecture series that features prominent photographers and promotes conversations on current issues through visual storytelling. Armstrong's latest project, "In Plain Site," which focuses on Silicon Valley Superfund Sites, was published in the New York Times Lens Blog in 2018.

Margo Davis is a fine art photographer with many published books and a long teaching career. She teaches intermittently for the Stanford Continuing Studies Program.Her work is represented in individual as well as major museum collections, including Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, San Francisco MOMA, Bibliotheque Nationale and Brooklyn Museum. You can see her work on her website:

John Freeman Todd has been a professional photographer for more than 25 years. Since 1996, he has been the team photographer for Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes. He also owns International Sports Images (, the official photography supplier to the U.S. Men and Women's soccer teams, Stanford Athletics and the former Maverick's Big Wave Surfing contest. You can see his work on his website:

Veronica Weber is a staff photographer and videographer at the Palo Alto Weekly where she has spent more than 10 years covering communities along the Midpeninsula. In her spare time, Veronica enjoys taking long hikes and photographing the Bay Area's abundant nature. Her work has been recognized by the California Newspaper Publisher's Association and the Peninsula Press Club.

Peninsula Photo Contest sponsors

The Palo Alto Weekly, Palo Alto Online, Palo Alto Art Center, The Six Fifty and Palo Alto Photo Forum sponsored this year's Peninsula Photo Contest. The Best In Show winner was awarded $500 and adult and youth winners were awarded $100 each. Adult winners also received vouchers to a lecture series by the Palo Alto Photo Forum. All winners received memberships to the Palo Alto Art Center.


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Like this comment
Posted by Kieran
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2019 at 8:22 am

Some outstanding photos. What a shame I had my computer stolen out of my room at the Opportunity Center that contained my only copy of what a number of people said was a “prize-winning photograph” of a wheelchair in the parking lot at Town & Country Village in blue light and rain that ended up destroying the electronics of my Panasonic camera (with Leica lens) just to get that shot...
and the PAPD did absolutely nothing to investigate the burglary, as they did absolutely nothing ever about the numerous complaints of victimization by people living there because they dismissed them all as nuts.
Ah well. I finally have a half-decent digital camera now, all I have to do is overcome the learning curve on it. Of course, since I was driven away from the Peninsula I grew up on, I guess I won’t be entering this contest, ever.

Like this comment
Posted by Amy
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 12, 2019 at 6:53 pm

Bravo, Sahana! A strong photograph by a wonderful and strong young woman!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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