2023 Images of the Lowcountry Winners

Check out the top entries from our photography contest

In search of the best images from around the Lowcountry, LOCAL Life partnered with Billy Wood Appliance for the 2023 Images of the Lowcountry photography contest. Local photographers were asked to submit their very best images for a chance to win a $200 gift card from SERG Restaurant Group. Photos were judged by LOCAL Life photographer Lisa Staff, designer Charles Grace and art director Jeremy Swartz. There were also two winners via readers’ choice. Help us congratulate the four winners:

Judges’ Choice Professional Winner

Kendra Natter: Interpreting the Lowcountry’s subtle beauty

Photograph of a green frog on a plant by Kendra Natter

The Lowcountry, characterized by its sprawling wetlands, lush landscapes and rich biodiversity, has been the muse of countless artists. This year’s winner of the professional category of the  Images of the Lowcountry photography contest has managed to encapsulate its spirit in an image that is both minute in subject yet vast in appeal. The photograph, capturing a tree frog no larger than a pinky fingernail, sunning and napping amidst the bushes of Hilton Head Island, serves as a testament to the profound beauty of the region. The artist behind this serene and captivating shot is Kendra Natter. 

“I like how this miniature tree frog appears so peaceful and content, as if it just happened upon the perfect ray of sunlight to bask in and take a nap,” Natter said. 

Originally from Pennsylvania, Natter moved to South Carolina 15 years ago and now resides in Bluffton. The beauty of the Lowcountry compelled her to embark on a passionate journey of photography, beginning with her first DSLR camera a decade ago. 

“My photographic journey began with a simple desire to capture the beauty of everyday objects,” Natter said. “Living in such close proximity to Hilton Head Plantation, I quickly became enamored with the natural beauty surrounding me and moved on to macros, portraits, landscapes and, finally, a wildlife series.”

One of the standout features of Natter’s photography is the mindfulness she imbues into her process. Her work isn’t just about capturing a visual spectacle but, more importantly, the emotion and sentiment of the moment. 

“After photographing an image or scene, I reflect upon the image, comparing the shot captured by my camera to the feelings and emotions evoked in my heart during the stillness of the moment to see if they match,” Natter said. 

Natter’s technical expertise is self-evident, but she emphasizes that beginners should start with simpler equipment. She advocates for a hands-on learning experience, recommending novices immerse themselves in photography courses, seek mentorship and engage with the broader photography community.

But what equipment does Kendra prefer? “I use a Canon or Sony Mirrorless with a variety of lenses, shutter exposures and settings, depending on the surrounding light, my vantage point and where I’m standing. It’s always tricky to find the ideal balance of light before taking a shot.” 

Her favorite places to shoot include Fish Haul Beach Park, Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, Cypress Wetlands, Beaufort, Port Royal and just about anywhere on Hilton Head Island. From close-up macros of insects and birds to expansive natural landscapes, these locations offer her endless inspiration. As she continues to refine her art, Kendra has been venturing into pet portraits and exploring creative photographic effects for gallery exhibitions. Beyond her personal pursuits, she takes joy in guiding local photo enthusiasts on tours and capturing family portraits. See more of her work online at kendranatterphotography.com. 

“Photography is my deepest passion,” Natter said. “My lifelong goal is to take time each day to shoot photos and refine my art so that my photographs will continue to evolve.”

©Kathy Hickling

Judges’ Choice Amateur Winner

Mark Piantigini: Capturing the essence of Lowcountry

In the realm of photography, sometimes it’s the simplest moments that leave the deepest impressions. Such is the case with Mark Piantigini, the winner of this year’s amateur category of the Images of the Lowcountry photography contest. His winning photograph, an enchanting portrayal of boats overlooking the May River at sunset at Oyster Factory Park in Bluffton, captivated the judges with its stunning play of colors and ethereal atmosphere.

Piantigini, a Bluffton resident, has been capturing the beauty of his new home since he moved from New Hampshire in 2018. His journey into the world of photography was sparked by a deep appreciation for nature and a desire to immortalize the captivating moments he encountered while out exploring.

When asked about his winning photo, Mark explained, “What I love most about it is the color of the sky and the way the clouds line up in the sky.” It’s these small details that often make a photograph stand out and evoke a sense of wonder.

Mark’s approach to photography is both instinctual and thoughtful. He seeks out scenes that captivate him, aiming to capture them in their entirety. One of his signature techniques is to get as low to the ground as possible, allowing viewers to gaze up at the photo, enhancing the sense of immersion in the moment.

One aspect of Mark’s photography that resonates with many aspiring photographers is his advice on improving one’s skills. He believes that it’s not about the equipment you have but rather about getting out there and capturing moments that inspire you. Mark’s journey began with a smartphone camera, but he steadily progressed to a Canon T-6 and now uses a Canon R7. His settings remain simple; he prefers to shoot in raw format and enjoys the editing process later on.

Mark’s favorite photography spots include Cypress Wetlands, Oyster Factory Park and Wright Family Park, where he often witnesses breathtaking sunsets and encounters with wildlife. These locales offer him an abundance of natural beauty to capture and share with the world.

Looking to the future, Mark aspires to have his photography displayed in restaurants and businesses for others to enjoy. His dream project, one that he is eager to undertake, involves photographing wolves in their natural habitat. “I have always had a passion for wolves,” he says.

Readers’ Choice Professional Winner

Holly Pobis: Evoking Hilton Head’s magic 

The readers’ choice winner of the professional category of the Images of the Lowcountry photography contest is Holly Pobis, whose work “Close of Day” captures a breathtaking sunset on Hilton Head’s South Beach. This image, with the silhouette of Daufuskie Island nestled between twilight hues and their reflections, holds a special allure.

Having moved to Hilton Head five years ago, Holly’s deep connection to the locale shines through her work. She and her husband, Jay, not only made Hilton Head their home in Palmetto Hall but also established Marsh & Light, a gallery and store in Main Street Village. 

Influenced by her photographer father, Holly’s approach combines patience and spontaneity. While she waits for the perfect shot, she’s also unafraid to capture serendipitous moments. Her preference for the iPhone highlights the merger of convenience and modern technology in her art.

Beyond Hilton Head Holly’s canvas stretches to the Lowcountry of South Carolina and northern Georgia, capturing everything from teal ocean waters to historic streets in Savannah and Charleston. For Holly the presentation matters as much as the shot. She continually experiments with different print mediums and emphasizes the importance of framing.

Readers’ Choice Amateur Winner

Tina Senecal: Painting the Lowcountry with light 

In the amateur category of the Images of the Lowcountry photo contest, Tina Senecal emerged as the Readers’ Choice winner with her awe-inspiring photograph. This captivating image, taken from the 13th hole at Long Cove Club, offers a serene view of Broad Creek at sunset. The scene is a harmonious blend of nature’s tranquility and the imminent drama of gathering storm clouds.

Senecal’s journey to the Lowcountry began when she relocated from New England to Hilton Head in 2018, seeking respite from the harsh winters. Her lifelong passion for the arts, including drawing, music and painting, paved the way for her creative exploration through photography.

What sets Senecal apart is her unique perspective, influenced by her ADHD. She possesses a keen eye for unconventional angles, colors and patterns that others may overlook. Her technical skills in adjusting camera settings align with her artistic vision, allowing her to capture scenes in captivating ways.

Senecal’s favorite moments to photograph are during sunrise and sunset, when the world is bathed in ethereal light. Through her Instagram accounts (@fairydogmotherhhi, @harley_minibuns), she shares her journey, inviting followers to experience the beauty of Hilton Head and the Lowcountry through her lens.

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