James Neiss Takes Top Honors in
SNPA's 2012 Photo / Video Contest

Grand Prize Winner and
1st Place – Spot News

James Neiss, Niagara Gazette
Niagara Falls, N.Y.

James Neiss of the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y., has been awarded top honors in SNPA's 2012 Photo Contest. The Niagara Falls paper is published by Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., based in Montgomery, Ala.

Neiss was recognized with first-place honors in the spot news category, as well as the overall Grand Prize for a photo depicting the efforts of emergency responders who tried to rescue a man who fell through the icy waters of a lake. The man died trying to rescue one of his dogs. Judges commented on the tension shown in the expressions of the rescuers, as well as on the presence of the dead man's dog, which was holding the man's gloves in his mouth.

James Neiss
Grand Prize Winner

The SNPA Photo Contest recognizes and rewards excellence in newspaper photography. As the Grand Prize winner, Neiss receives a $1,000 prize and an engraved award.

Judges said of this photo: "The dramatic scene unfolding in its simplicity is poignant and draws the reader's attention to details that make this a great news photograph. The stretched out firefighter, the owner's glove in the mouth of a sad dog, even the body language of the rescue team itself, with water splashing in the foreground and police looking on, make this a very complicated and three-dimensional photo."

Another judge said: "The spot news photo is No. 1. Hands down! The glove in the one dog's mouth – that just broke my heart."

Runner-Up and
1st Place – Sports
Lauren Carroll
Winston-Salem Journal
Winston-Salem, N.C.

The first-place sports photo shot by Lauren Carroll of the Winston-Salem Journal was recognized with runner-up status. Judges were captured by the football player running over a bystander. They said it captures the height of a sports action photo, along with a very unusual scene as the player runs over a sideline bystander. The young girl clutching her stuffed animal as she is hit allows this dramatic photo to have even more impact. Judges also commented on the picture at another level – on the common practice of loading sidelines with non-essential personnel. They said this photo illustrates that this is a bad idea, in general.

Judges said there were many, many great images in the contest this year. One judge commented: "What made one stand out more than another was often due to a 'surprise' element, for example, the dog holding the glove, and in sports, the winning image was tight and sharp, but had the little girl holding her stuffed animal. I think it will be rare to have a winning image if it doesn't have that something extra. It needs the three Ss: Subject, Situation AND Surprise. This is especially true for sports. Improvements in cameras and lenses have leveled the field as far as getting a good, stop action sports moment."

At the end of this article are additional general comments made by judges.


The owner's faithful dogs look on as first responders pull him from the icy waters of the lake. The man fell through the thin ice and died trying to rescue one of his dogs.

James Neiss

1st Place – Spot News
James Neiss, Niagara Gazette, Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Judges' comments:

  • "Very nice image. The dog holding the glove and the expressions of the rescuers made this shot very strong."
  • "Terrific image! Has great impact. The photographer caught the visual feelings of those people trying to save a life. Somehow the pets made this image more dramatic."
  • "When you put together all of the tension shown in the expressions of the rescuers and the dead man's dog with his gloves in his mouth, this just about says it all."
  • "Tighter cropping from the left would have made this outstanding photo even more so."

Margaret Doyle, a pro-choice advocate, is ejected by Capitol police after a bill stating that human life begins at conception passed a Senate Committee in the Virginia General Assembly.
Bob Brown

2nd Place – Spot News
Bob Brown, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond, Va.

Judges' coments:

  • "Great expression. Sometimes content can outweigh technical problems, such as the motion blur."
  • "Well done. This is one of those images where subject motion in the picture enhanced the picture rather than degraded it. Good editing."



Construction workers gather to pray around the body of one of their co-workers after local fire departments extracted the man from a deadly construction accident.
Heidi Heilbrunn

3rd Place – Spot News
Heidi Heilbrunn, The Greenville News, Greenville, S.C.

Judges' comments:

  • "Liked seeing the construction workers in this shot. They visually help to explain the image. Great emotion."
  • "A sharp eye made what might have been a boring image very interesting. Nice job."

Family reacts as workers search for a boy who jumped into the river.

Honorable Mention – Spot News
Benjamin Krain, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Little Rock

Judges' comments:

  • "Nice emotion from the couple hugging on the bridge. Having the rescuers in the shot helps tell the story. Wish they were a little higher up in the frame to help the composition."
  • "The photographer caught a sensitive moment. I think the cropping would have helped (rank this photo higher). Or, make this a vertical. Nice image."

Josiah Gonzales, 10, walks along the sidewalk with his sister Aliyona Gonzales, 8, while using a towel to keep off the rain. The pair walked several blocks this way before being assisted by a motorist.

Honorable Mention – Spot News
Bryan Kelsen, The Pueblo Chieftain, Pueblo, Colo.

Judges' comments:

  • "A nice found moment. Photographer has a keen eye to pick these kids out for a weather photo."
  • "You just gotta feel for those kids. The composition and exposure was right on."

Jacki Norrid sits with her dog Buster in the remains of her home that was destroyed by wild fires.


Honorable Mention – Spot News
Mike Simons, Tulsa World, Tulsa, Okla.

Judges' comments:

  • "Lots of similar shots to this in this category. This one stands out because of the debris in the background. A nice moment that takes the viewer to the scene."
  • "A well-handled photo. The viewer has to feel the helplessness of the subject as she is comforted by what she apparently has left."

TJ Goings, left, Keanon Dickey, center, and Brandon Andre all try their luck fishing in a heavy fog at City Park Lake. Goings said he had heard that the fish were biting in City Park Lake so the three gave it a try.

1st Place – Feature Photography
Arthur Lauck, The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

Judges' comments:

  • "Beautiful composition. Makes me want to be there. The starkness of the tree and the fog work together to make a striking image."
  • "What an eye! This photo says it all: composition, exposure and timing."
  • "It's a beautiful shot that conveys the peacefulness of an early morning fishing trip. I'm sure that later in the day, the image wouldn't have been the same. Kudos to the photographer for getting out early and showing us late sleepers what we've been missing!"
  • "Early morning fog surrounding a trio of fishermen brings together several elements that make a compelling lead image: a clean image, good use of graphically appealing elements like the 'rule of thirds' which grabs a reader's attention, the reflection of the tree, the simple black and white tones, and the body language of the three fishermen. Nicely done."

LeRoy Garcia and his dog Sinbad wait behind a closed door to get the Chihuahua his shots during a free vaccination clinic at the Pueblo Animal Services.
John Jaques

2nd Place – Feature Photography
John Jaques, The Pueblo Chieftain, Pueblo, Colo.

Judges' comments:

  • "You can't go wrong shooting a big guy with a tiny dog on his head! A great visual to get a reader into the story."
  • "The photographer took his time and captioned a magic moment. Well done."

The Gonzales Senior Center.
(Notice the cutout in the board that shows the face of one of the seniors.)
Adam Lau

3rd Place – Feature Photography
Adam Lau, the Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

Judges' comments:

  • "Another nice humorous moment. The expressions of the people sitting and the contradiction of the smiling face with the poster are excellent."
  • "Good timing and composition rewarded this photographer with a winner."

Alex Rader, 11, runs through a "Field of Flags" representing the 6,431 service members who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom after a Memorial Day service at Lakeland Funeral Home & Memorial Gardens.

Honorable Mention – Feature Photography
Ernst Peters, The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.

Judges' comments:

  • "A simple image that has a lot to say. Nice choice in the final composition to stay fairly wide."
  • "Good placement and timing made this a really nice picture."

Fourth of July Festivities: John Meeks, 16, Boys Ranch Town carries an American flag on horseback during the LibertyFest Fourth of July Parade.

Honorable Mention – Feature Photography
Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, Okla.

Judges' comments:

  • "A beautiful shot of Americana."
  • "A different feeling for the flag made this image stand out."

While waiting backstage, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich bows his head in prayer moments before addressing an audience at the Opera House.

Honorable Mention – Feature Photography
C. Aluka Berry, The State, Columbia, S.C.

Judges' comments:

  • "An interesting and private moment of a presidential contender."
  • "A neat moment and good composition made this image of Newt into a fine photo. The handling of the colors added to the impact."

A moment of solitude surounds Jessica Denaux and her husband, Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Denaux as they embrace for the first time since the birth of their one-month-old Cecelia Denaux at the Naval Station. Denaux arrived aboard the USS Bataan after a 10 1/2-month deployment, the longest ship deployment in 40 years for the U.S. Navy.

Honorable Mention – Feature Photography
Adrin Snider, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.

Judges' comments:

  • "There were many similar shots but this one had it all: emotion, composition and story."
  • "The combination of exposure, composure and timing made this a keeper."

Ballcarrier Sha'Quann Johnson is pushed out of bounds and collides with 9-year-old Jasper Duke, who was standing on the sidelines holding her stuffed animal during the first half of the East vs. West All-Star Game. Duke was not injured on the play.
Lauren Carroll

1st Place – Sports
Lauren Carroll, Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal

Judges' comments:

  • "How many times does this have to happen before people realize the sidelines are a dangerous place? This image really forces that question. It's a problem many people don't understand until they see a photo like this."
  • "A fine job by the photographer is catching this split moment impact."
  • "I've seen a lot of sports photographs and this is the very first time I've seen a moment quite like this. It is an amazing moment that leaves you in shock and wondering what in the world happened after that hit."
  • "This photo captures a great problem that needs to be addressed. As a photographer myself, I've seen this problem coming as more and more people are allowed on the field, and I'm glad someone was there to capture it when it did. I think the fact that the child is holding a stuffed animal further drives home the question of why is she in such a dangerous place when she has no reason to be there. Visually, the stuffed animal makes the photo stronger."

The University of Nebraska-Kearney's T.J. Hepburn celebrates his pin over Jarrrod Shaw of West Liberty after their 157-pound match of the NCAA Division II wrestling championships at Massari Arena. Cheering in the background are head coach Marc Bauer (left) and trainer Roy Stutz.
Chris McLean

2nd Place – Sports
Chris McLean, The Pueblo Chieftain, Pueblo, Colo.

Judges' comments:

  • "Great expressions but also a nice composition. Fists up in the background and down with the main subject. Visually interesting and storytelling, too."
  • "This photo has all the elements needed to tell the story of victory. The composition and timing of the exposure captured the whole thing."

Chaz Rains gets flipped under a bull while competing in the International Finals Youth Rodeo.
Nate Billings

3rd Place – Sports
Nate Billings, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, Okla.

Judges' comments:

  • "The tight crop of this picture emphasizes the drama in a man vs. animal moment. It's the kind of shot viewers will study for several moments."
  • "The photographer caught this action in what had to be a blur to the eye. Well done job in both shooting the picture as well as the composition."

South Carolina's LB Dantzler heads back to the dugout as confetti falls and Arizona celebrates after winning the 2012 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.

Honorable Mention – Sports
Gerry Melendez, The State, Columbia, S.C.

Judges' comments:

  • "A nice way of conveying the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."
  • "An unlikely scene for a loser, but it makes the image richer. Good editing."

For professional wakeboarder Dusty Snyder, 23, a thin line, a boat, his board and the water are the tools of the trade.

Honorable Mention – Sports
Jason Walker, Lake City Reporter, Lake City, Fla.

Judges' comments:

  • "Sharp, clean background, great stop action and expressions. A difficult shot to take if you're bouncing up and down on a boat."
  • "Superb photography."

ESI Ironman 70.3 half triathlon participants warm up on the dock before taking a practice swim in the Savannah River.

Honorable Mention – Sports
Michael Holahan, The Augusta Chronicle, Augusta, Ga.

Judges' comments:

  • "Visually interesting. The clouds and the reflections make this a nice composition. The rising pole in the background is a little distracting."
  • "A nice catch by the photographer. Well handled."


“Twin Killers”

Gary Cosby Jr.

1st Place – Videos
“Twin Killers” – view video
Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily, Decatur, Ala.

This video tells the story of a man who survived two EF5-level tornadoes that destroyed his home 37 years apart in Limestone County, Ala.

Judges' comments:

  • "What an incredible story, and incredible storytelling."
  • "The story was the most complete and compelling. A solid piece of journalism. The combination of all of the elements moved this video to the top."
  • "This first-person story stands out for the details Eddie describes. He captures our attention in a variety of locations. It's nice to see a shot inside the hole as Eddie talks about diving in there during the second tornado, but it could be steadier."
  • Judges also said they would have liked to have seen this video include more mood-setting music, nat sound and file images/footage of the destruction from both tornadoes.

“Living Interracial:
John & Carol Zippert”


2nd Place – Videos
“Living Interracial: John & Carol Zippert” – view video
Kevin McQuarn, The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

The Living Interracial Project examines what it means to be in an interracial relationship in south Louisiana. This video focuses on John and Carol Zippert who were the first interracial couple to be married in Louisiana. Their fight to get anti-miscegenation laws removed from Louisiana books opened the door for others to marry a person of another race.

Judges' comments:

  • "The couple's stark honesty highlights the reality of interracial marriage of both yesterday and today, and how there can be triumph over adversity."
  • "The historic nature of this couple's marriage shines through in this video. The graphic describing the Voting Rights Act and the newspaper clippings about the court hearing were a nice touch and professional-looking. There is a neat 'When Harry Met Sally' feel to the interview set up."
  • "The subject matter and the historical significance did it for me with this video. I was struck by their story and candid interview. I loved the idea. I wish the interview had been done on a different set. The couch was a bit distracting. I really liked both interracial pieces, but thought the Zippert’s story was more compelling."

“They Shall Take Up Serpents”

Shelley Mays

3rd Place – Videos
“They Shall Take Up Serpents” – view video
Shelley Mays, The Tennessean, Nashville, Tenn.

Scenes from inside an East Tennessee church.

Judges' comments:

  • "I wanted to run and hide while watching this. Adventurous."
  • "Great use of nat sound with the praising God circle, the music and the preaching. There is a great line in the middle of the package about holding death in your hands. Visuals are good – like the feet shot of people dancing, but consider varying the shots more: wide, medium, tight and super tight. I would have liked to see more closeups of the faces, hands and snakes."
  • "I was a fan of this video from the start. Great job on capturing a story that made me squirm. Just like the other winners, the story was compelling and the video was great on this one."

"Undying Love"


Honorable Mention – Videos
Undying Love – view video
Gerry Melendez, The State, Columbia, S.C.

Bob Nolan, a 79-year-old retired Army veteran, visited his wife Peggy at Fort Jackson National Military Cemetery every morning. Peggy is buried with his Purple Heart medal around her neck.

Judges' comments:

  • "What a compelling story of a man's lifelong love for his wife, which has endured after her death."
  • "Beautifully shot and well-told story with excellent use of nat sound and descriptive soundbites. Nice variety of shots and b-roll. Pacing is slow. Consider getting in the story quicker and tightening it up throughout."
  • "This was a very touching story and enjoyed watching it. I thought it went a little long and a tighter edit would have moved it up in the standings. Great stills and cinematography. The photojournalist really got up early to get the story."

"A Video Postcard from Okemah"


Honorable Mention – Videos
"A Video Postcard from Okemah" – view video
Christopher Smith, Tulsa World, Tulsa, Okla.

A postcard from Okemah, the home of Woody Guthrie.

Judges' comments:

  • "It's a nice portrait of Americana, focusing more on the town than the singer. I felt very Rockwellian watching the video."
  • "Loved the steady, moving shots in the opening sequence and how the producer comes back to those moving shots at the end. It provides a nice cohension to the story. Consider animating the photos throughout with a slow zoom to continue the movement of the story. The first-person storytelling aspect is compelling."
  • "A nice piece of storytelling. The idea and execution were fresh and different compared to the other entries. Great way to showcase the town and its residents. Well done."

First-place winners in each category will receive $500 and a plaque; second-place, $250 and a plaque. Plaques also will be presented to third-place winners. Certificates will be given to Honorable Mentions.


Contest judges said the overall quality of entries in this year's contest were excellent.

One judge said: "Several photos in this contest would have placed higher if they were cropped effectively. We saw many photos that were cropped loosely and the key parts of the images were lost on viewers. Perhaps it is a function of the horizontal digital world we live in. Nonetheless, photographers captured key elements of unfolding news, sports and feature events, and then diluted compelling images with needless extra real estate. Stronger eiting, including cropping for effect, should be considered in the future."

Among comments for participants in next year's contest, they said:

  • Be your own best judge; be critical. Is that image sharp? Does it read the way you wanted it to? Is the quality as good as you can get it?
  • Don't hesitate to crop your picture to bring out more impact. Make the composition stop you.
  • Would this image be stronger as a black-and-white when shooting your subject?
  • If you're doing a picture story, make the viewer want to see your next image.
  • Don't be afraid to try different angles.

Among comments for video entries for next year's contest, judges encouraged:

  • Make graphics within a given video consistent with a solid background behind the text.
  • Hide mic wires!