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Opening this month’s Rangefinder Magazine put a huge smile on my face, I quickly ran through the pages to see the winners of the WPPI Annual Print Competition, and there was my name. WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International) holds one of the world’s biggest photography conferences that brings together over 13,000 photographers from all over the world. It also hosts the Awards of Excellence 16×20 Print Competition. This annual print competition brings in entries for all over the world and is known as one of the most prestigious photography competitions because it really celebrates mastery of the craft of photography.

This recent WPPI was huge for me. Not only did I get to speak 4 times (and 2 of those on Nikon’s stage), but I came home with an award, an award that I never thought I would receive. I have attended that award ceremony for 5 years, and never thought my name would be called.

I went to Ga Tech for Electrical Engineering, and I love being overwhelmed by technology. When I first saw Fundy software, the inner geek in me smiled. It was software that you could design albums in minutes. Drag images to a layout, toggle your design until it is perfect, then click send to printer. An album in minutes. With my love for shooting, hours of designing behind a computer, just took me away from that, so this software definitely had my interest.

Andrew Funderburg (founder of Fundy Designer) has become a close personal friend and last year he encouraged me to make an album for me… of my personal work. He is a big fan of the printed product. Let’s face it, a photograph isn’t complete until it is printed, before then, it is just digital data. Anyone who knows me, knows how passionate I am about my nature work. Fundy pushed me to put it together in an album. When running your own company, sometimes we don’t have the time to make work for ourselves. I got on his software and literally spent 10 minutes putting an album together, which was really all the time I had to do a project for myself.

The album was so much fun to design, I have never paired my nature pictures and watched them read off one another. I got the album in the mail (a huge brown leather bound book from Renaissance Albums) and got chills.

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When WPPI came around I decided to submit the album. At the award ceremony, it was my name that was called, I was so honored. I would have never had this moment, if it wasn’t for my friend Andrew and his amazing software.

Fundy Designer keeps taking steps forward, and just last week, they released an update. The geek in me was definitely excited when I got to test the new software…you can link images, pair them, select dominant pics… and then hit design, and done. So impressed. Congrats guys for this amazing product (and it’s upgrade), and thank you for letting me geek out, and for inspiring photographers all over this planet! A giant thank you to Fundy for encouraging me to make a book of my personal work (and for giving me the tools to do so). I love my book, which now sits next to it’s crystal trophy.

Here is a link to my first place album, so excited to share!

https://www.wppiawards.com/gallery/2016annualzzz/?0.5278096231409192#albumshow.2021500444.2

Make sure and check Fundy Designer out here.

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Yes, three years ago, I was a proud Canon shooter and had been for years. I loved my gear, and had traveled to six continents with it. I always figured a camera was a tool, and the brand didn’t make too much of a difference. I knew Canon well, and had a successful career with my Canon. So with the speaking for Nikon and now being a pure Nikon shooter… people seem to be curious… why the change? I first and foremost blame my friend and fellow DC shooter Mantas.

It was a warm Sunday, over 2 years ago, in which I was having brunch with two other local photographers in downtown DC. I was crazy tired from my long Saturday wedding, and sat outside in the sun, enjoying my favorite, an Eggs Benedict. My friend Elliot got a call from a frantic women, I could hear a stressed voice, and Elliot just laughed… “hang on” he told her. He turned to us “guys do you want to shoot a wedding”? She was a bridesmaid and their photographer didn’t show for a wedding that was supposed to start in an hour. Lucky for her, three photographers were having brunch, and just chilling in the city. Mantas and I replied “let’s do it”. We rushed to Maryland via Mantas place, the ceremony held off until we got there. There was absolutely no time for me to go and get my gear, so Mantas handed me a Nikon D4 and two lenses (no flash). I remember thinking… ok, I got this… a camera is a camera. I had never shot a Nikon before, I didn’t have any time to play, I was now going strait into a ceremony, with unfamiliar gear, that I hadn’t practiced on. It was pretty easy to pick up, the only problem I had was trying to twist the lens off the wrong way and I couldn’t find my histogram until I asked. I remember photographing the flower girl running into the sun, I clicked away and remember thinking… wow, this is focusing easily and fast…even directly into the sun. I also shot the reception, in a pretty dark room, without a flash at super high ISOs. Wow this camera can focus pretty well in the dark without a flash on….

The biggest difference was when I got home from the shoot. I started to go through the Saturday wedding that I had done with my own Canon gear (that I had been shooting with for years), then I went through the Sunday wedding with the Nikon gear. The Nikon files blew me away. On the Sunday when I was tired and using unfamiliar gear, I had a much higher percentage of sharp (really sharp) and perfectly exposed images (I do a lot of aperture priority shooting, so an auto exposure setting). I was hooked, and remember thinking… maybe the camera does make a difference.

I shot for the next 4 months or so with both, a Canon and a Nikon. My instincts started to show me what I needed to do, the bride is walking down the aisle with speckled sunlight… grab the Nikon… This happened over and over in my head. When I shot with the Canon I would always double click to make sure I had a sharp image, the Nikon… one click. I didn’t have spare batteries for the Nikon’s since I was just testing them, and I remember the day I decided to switch. I was too lazy to charge both the Canon and Nikon’s batteries for an after wedding shoot. I just took the Canon. I felt restricted, I kept thinking… If I only had the Nikon. That was the day I decided…the gear did make a difference and I wanted the best tools to be the best photographer I can be.

Now I know that the Nikon D4s is more like the Canon 1Dx. I have shot with the Canon 1Dx, but chose to have Canon 5D mark 3s for my company. Every camera is different and comparing two side by side will always have some ups and some downs. I have shot with the Canon 1Dx, all the 5D line, and now the Nikon D4, D4s, D810, and D750. The whole dark side reference is because Nikon has black lenses, while canon has whitish. Canon is an amazing system, that I was proud to shoot for years. But for sharpness, focus, consistency… I am so proud to have the best tools to be the best photographer I can be, which is why, I now shoot a Nikon.

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Photo by Mantas

So, it’s the last night in Vegas, the awards ceremony has started and Isil and I have 10:15pm flight to Dulles…it was going to be tight to make it. Jerry Ghionis is on stage in front of hundreds of industry peers and photographers dressed all fancy like and engrossed in his every word. He says let’s get to it and on the screen is the first category… informal albums. We start to make our way out and Isil turns to me and says “maybe we should wait”.. Jerry announces third place… then second… Roberto Falck… Roberto is a master of that category and his work is just beyond… but based on the scores given, if he is being called second means that I might be getting first. Jerry says “the winner for first place… this was a gorgeous album…Kristi Odom…” I stopped in my tracks and walked on to that stage in front of so many people I admire that I feel light headed.

WPPI brings in thousands of photographers from around the world, and I’ve been a grateful attendee for the last 5 years. This year they gave me my first opportunity to be a speaker. For years I have been inspired by talented photographers on their roster that teach, tell their stories, and win big awards. This year, I got to join them, and things happened fast for me. I went from being on the sidelines to being a speaker and giving 4 presentations, 2 of them on the Nikon Theater stage! What a whirlwind.

I am in the process of applying to live in Australia, and I had entered WPPI’s album competition with the hope of getting a few points to give me a master’s accreditation to add to my visa application. Never did I think I would be getting an award for my personal work. Before I arrived one of the judges told me that “my album wouldn’t do well, because it lacked story”. Thanks to my friend Andrew Funderburg from Fundy Software Inc who encouraged me to do an album of my nature work, I had taken a risk, and thanks to his amazing software I had designed my album in mind blowing time. While the print judging was going on my friend Katya messaged me and asked if I wanted to hear the score, I said sure. 90… what? Then she said, it had been just challenged by Bambi Cantrell, and it moved to a 95…now I am in disbelief. I was with Isil at the time and we looked at each other and laughed… seriously…. I was so excited I couldn’t do anything else but head over to the print judging room, we had just arrived at the MGM. We made it to the room right when the judging let out. I saw some familiar faces and got a few smiles from people. Then, someone I know well, got very vocal about the fact that they thought my score was bull and cursed loudly outside the judging rooms. I turned to Isil, “let’s go”… and we left. Later that day I started to hear stories of chatter about people posting on forums… “Nikon only has established speakers, what in the world are they thinking having her”…and other put downs about my success. My first night at WPPI, I was so sad I cried. It was hard because part of me worried that these guys are right, maybe I didn’t deserve that print score, why did Nikon call me? I guess we all have that self doubt every once in a while, and it all hit me that night.

While day one was hard being full of the critics, day two definitely wasn’t. I met the Nikon team and they immediately greeted with open arms and smiles. Their speakers are so beyond amazing, not just as photographers, but as people. These stars in the industry… and I was on stage with them..was I dreaming….When I got off the stage at Nikon, I got the comment… “hold on, things are just getting started for you”.

Back to the awards night…when I walked up to the stage, with my work on the screen, to get my first place trophy I knew that so many people were right, I worked hard and earned my way to be there…even as I passed people who had been vocal about me not deserving it (no applauds from them, but that is ok). Although their comments have hurt me they have also helped to make me be better. If they only knew how much their voices fuel my fire to succeed…I thrived after my divorce, thrived in my work, thrived in living a crazy life of adventure, and in my health (I am down 10 sizes and 40 pounds). It’s is funny, you can have so many amazing and supportive people in your life, but the second someone tells you an insult… the second someone tells you that you are undeserving, or that you shouldn’t be a speaker it hurts, and it also inspires.

At the airport I gave Isil one last hug, “was that just a week?” I asked her. I was holding so many emotions after that rollercoaster… but in that moment, I just felt overwhelmed with gratefulness. Grateful to Isil who taught me how to put others first and show love and support to those around. Grateful for WPPI and what they do for our community by giving us opportunities to shine and learn. Grateful to Jason Groupp and Jacqueline Tobin for all of their brilliant hard work. Grateful to Jerry Ghionis and Melissa Ghionis, who made the print competition unbelievable. Grateful to my mentors, Arthur Levi Rainville, David Anthony Williams, and David Beckstead for helping me believe in myself. Grateful to my amazing business coach, Blair DeLaubenfels who has steadily guided my to new and better opportunities. Grateful to my parents for dropping everything when I needed them most. Grateful for Andrew Funderburg and his amazing team. Thank you for your encouragement, support and awesome products. Grateful to Huy Nguyen from Fearless who gave me my first big industry speaking gig. Last but not least, I am grateful to Nikon (Chad, Mike Corrado, JC Carey, Mark Suban and the rest of the team). Feeling like part of your family, and being on your stage is something I will remember and love forever. You guys have given me the tools to live this crazy amazing life and travel to all corners of the world. I love being part of your community, and this ever growing community of people who help me to be the best that I can be (haters included).

If you have goals that you want to reach, surround yourself with people who believe in you, and stay thankful to the detractors who light your fire.

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Photo by Mantas

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Photo by Jeff Cooke

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Photo by Jeff Cooke