BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
— TRAVERSE CITY — Caitlin Scroggins was searching online for a local camera club when she happened upon an announcement for a National Geographic student photo contest.
“The deadline was in three days,” said Scroggins, 15, of the second annual “Student Expeditions” competition that asks students to submit photographs that convey what exploration or adventure means to them. “I thought, ‘No better time than the present.’”
The Elk Rapids High School sophomore entered five of her favorite photos and then forgot about the contest, whose grand prize is a photography workshop in London. That is, until she checked her email earlier this month and learned she’d placed in the top 24 with her image, “Colorful Flowers.”
“I opened the email and I’m like, ‘This isn’t right. Something must have gotten mixed up,’” recalled Scroggins, of Williamsburg, who has since gotten several requests for reprints of the photo. “I’m just honored to be chosen. I don’t care if it’s first place or 90th place.”
The image of towering zinnias against a pale blue sky was selected as a finalist from 2,500 entries nationwide. The photos were judged by top National Geographic photographers and photo editors.
Deb Harris, director of National Geographic Student Travel, called this year’s contest a “wonderful success.”
“The students were so thoughtful and creative with their images and captions,” Harris said in a National Geographic press release. “Our judges had a tough job, but the winning and finalist images tell a rich story of exploration in the lives of high school students across the country.”
The top 24 photos were shot all over the world, from the U.S., Iceland, New Zealand, Thailand and Tanzania, to Ecuador, Belize, Costa Rica and Peru. Scroggins’ image was taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T3 in her grandmother’s Williamsburg garden.
“I snapped a few shots of the top of the flowers, but they didn’t stand out,” Scroggins said in her accompanying description of how the “moment” captured reflects a sense of exploration or adventure. “Then I laid down on the ground and shot them at this vantage point, giving the stems a towering effect and capturing the sky.”
Scroggins, who describes herself as a nature photographer, became interested in photography when she was about 12. She received her first camera as a Christmas gift and this year upgraded to a more expensive model with macro and telephoto lenses.
“I like mostly macro photography,” she said. “It’s like opening a new view into the world because it’s small things, like a bug’s eyes. I can show people that there’s really endless possibilities to see in the world.”
An animal lover who hopes to become a veterinarian, Scroggins said her family’s pets — horses, cats, a dog and a pot-bellied pig — often served as her early models. She also rescues and re-homes rats, one of whose offspring was featured in her black-and-white contest entry of a week-old rat nestled in a hand.
While photography is still just a hobby, Scroggins said placing in the National Geographic contest has given her the confidence to pursue it more competitively.
“I don’t care about making money, but I definitely will enter more contests and will put money toward investing in lenses so I can take better photos,” she said. “My goal is to allow people to see nature that don’t usually see any of it.”
The winning and finalist images can be seen at http://ngstudentexpeditions.com/student-photo-contest/2013-winners/