Amateur shutterbug Randy Shipley of Medford can't seem to capture images that turn the judges' heads, but he sure knows how to win the crowd.
Shipley's pics haven't placed in the top five among judges in the Oregon Outdoors Wild Bird Photo Contest. But he's won the People's Choice award two years in a row, and not because he and his friends are stuffing the ballot box.
"I don't have a lot of artistic sensibility," says Shipley, a 53-year-old phys-ed and health teacher at Phoenix High School. "I don't know what judges are looking for. I don't even know more than a tenth of the things my camera will do.
"I like to take pictures of things I like to see, and maybe they connect with people as well," he says.
The 16th annual photo contest kicks off today, and Shipley says he will be putting his method to the test again. As in past years, Mail Tribune judges will pick their top five photos and online voters will choose the People's Choice winner.
The contest is open to anyone, as long as they are from Oregon or the photo was shot in Oregon. People can enter up to five photos, and online voters can vote once per day. The deadline for entries is Friday, Dec. 4, and winners will be published in Oregon Outdoors Friday, Dec. 11. Voting runs until 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7.
Last year's contest drew 275 submissions from 89 photographers.
First place went to Christine Pitto of Shady Cove, who captured an evening grosbeak feeding one of its young in her backyard.
Second place went to Jesse Hodges of Ashland for a photo of an Anna's hummingbird defending its territory.
Third place went to Thomas Ommen of Jacksonville for his photo of a cedar waxwing feeding on Possum Haw berries shot in Georgetown, Texas.
Shipley garnered last year's People's Choice vote for his photo that captured more than a bird. He harnessed irony when he photographed a bald eagle perched next to a "no hunting" sign on a dike at a Klamath wildlife refuge.
Shipley says he spied the eagle during a photo foray to the Klamath Basin wildlife refuges and liked what he saw.
"When it's not hunting season, I'm spending a lot of time over there photographing birds," says Shipley, an avid waterfowl and upland game-bird hunter. "I just look for opportunity. I think it's just a matter of spending time out there, and always having a camera with you really helps."
He won the People's Choice vote in 2013 for an image of a green heron eating a frog at Agate Lake.
"I took over 400 picture of that thing throughout the sequence to get the one I liked," Shipley says of the heron shot.
Shipley's shutter career began about a decade ago when his wife bought him a camera for Christmas, "and it kind of blossomed from there," he says.
He's graduated to a Nikon B-300 that he carries on hunts for birds — with and without a shotgun. Other than cropping the images, he said he doesn't bother with any computer enhancements of the shots.
"I want the picture to show what I saw," he says.
Shipley says he's "not much of a self-promoter" and rarely votes for his own shots in contests, but he keeps a healthy stock of photos on his website at http://wrshipley.zenfolio.com
Shipley also enjoys seeing his photographs turn up in local publications, including last year's eagle photo in Oregon Outdoors.
"That was really exciting when I saw that last year," he says.
He's been snapping away since last year's winners were published, and he plans to enter a picture of snow geese captured earlier this year at the Klamath refuges.
On Dec. 11, Oregon Outdoors readers will learn whether Shipley finally impresses the wild-bird photo contest judges or perhaps continues his reign as the people's pixelator.
"I never took an art class," Shipley says. "I'm self-taught. I don't know what judges are looking for. But I did get one that I really like a lot," he says.