There is no shortage of inspiring quotes about what defines a good photograph, from musings about altering life by suspending time and freezing the frisson of a moment, to reflections about delving beneath the surface
of subjects and revealing the essence of life. Or perhaps it’s just as Ansel Adams famously said:
“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”
Adams also said that “twelve significant photos in any one year is a good crop.” To that point, we’re off to a great year with the five winning images of the 2019 AAA World Photo Contest.
In this, the 20th anniversary of the contest, AAA members raised the bar higher than ever by submitting more than 5,000 images captured all over the globe. From that crop, the AAA World staff was challenged to select only five finalists in each of the five categories: U.S. Travel, Nature, People, Amusement Parks and Pets. We then invited you, our members, to vote for your favorite in each category in our online photo gallery at AAA.com/world. More than 10,000 members voted, choosing five winning images. The judging was then tossed back to us to crown the grand prize and place the four runners-up.
On the following pages, we present the award-winning photographs and the stories behind them. A thousand—or rather, 5,000—thank-yous to all who entered the contest. We’re already looking forward to next year’s crop of photographs and wish you all the best in finding that perfect place to stand.
Photographer: Adam Feigelman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Prize: $1,000 AAA Visa Gift card
The small artisan community of Monhegan Island, tucked about 10 miles off the mid-coast of Maine, is a beloved vacation spot for Adam and his wife, Katie, who’ve visited the area for the past several summers, venturing by boat to the tiny island from the tourist town of Boothbay Harbor, Maine.
“It’s one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever been to in the U.S. It’s one of those end-of-the-world-feeling type of places,” says Adam, who planned to capture some night-sky photography timed with the new moon during his visit last July. The weather, however, had other plans one evening when Adam, Katie and their baby daughter, Ellie, were enjoying a quiet dinner at the historic Island Inn and a violent storm rolled in.
“It was only about 20 or 30 minutes before sunset, so I thought that I was going to get rained out for the night,” says Adam. But as quickly as the storm thundered in, it moved out to sea, leaving a picture-perfect canvas in its wake.
“Moments after the storm, I noticed this single strand of light poking through the clouds and a beautiful range of magenta-pink and orange and fog being cast over the old hotels along the water’s edge,” he says. “It was as if nature were serving all this up on a silver platter.”
Perched on a jetty, Adam spent the next eight minutes or so capturing several dozen images, including this dreamy composition that garnered the grand prize in this year’s contest as well as the top prize in the U.S. Travel
category. This is Adam’s first photo contest win and among the early achievements of his recently launched career as a professional photographer.
On the Road
Photographer: Larry Reese of Centreville, Maryland
Prize: $100 AAA Visa Gift card
Larry’s love of Africa runs deep, having visited the continent more than two dozen times and having led many photo safaris there. It was while guiding one such photo safari in Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa in May 2015 that Larry, his friend and wildlife expert Dolph, and their small travel group spotted a particularly interesting herd of elephants, which they slowly followed for miles.
“We were hoping the elephants would come to a drinking area we knew was fairly close by, hopefully offering some opportunities for some magnificent photos,” says Larry, adding that the elephants were close to the safari vehicle—within 100 feet—but that the safari group, as always, stayed at a safe distance to avoid disturbing the animals’ natural movements. “Then the herd decided to cross to the other side of the road. This mother stopped to wait for her baby to catch up, and when she did, she decided to nurse, and I captured the photo.”
The mother’s unexpected move came as a pleasant surprise to Larry—and posed an exceptional opportunity for a heartwarming composition. “This is a unique photo for a couple of reasons: one, normally the young are vulnerable to predators like lions, so the herd usually keeps the young in the center for protection, therefore making it hard to get a good unobstructed photo of a calf; and two, it is even more rare to get a good clear picture of a calf nursing because of the protective nature of the mother elephants.”
The resulting image took the highest honor in the Nature category. Larry has also earned a Nature’s Best Photography award in the prestigious Windland Smith Rice International Awards and has had his images published in magazines and exhibited in local businesses. He has also donated large prints to replace ceiling tiles in the Perry Point (Maryland) VA Medical Center’s X-ray department so that patients can look up and see soothing photos during medical procedures.
Photographer: Ira Robbins of Bethesda, Maryland
Prize: $100 AAA Visa Gift card
A trip to Jerusalem is a trip of a lifetime and one that Ira and his family had the opportunity to experience in the summer of 2013.
“Our aim for this trip was to visit many of the important sites in Jerusalem and Israel,” says Ira. “I took this photo at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The church has long been a pilgrimage center, as it is identified as the place both of the Crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.”
Despite the throngs of tourists during his visit to this sacred place, Ira was able to capture the piety of a priest in prayer. “I did not know the priest in the photo,” notes Ira. “He had a following with him and seemed unconcerned about having his photo taken, as this was on a crowded Sunday, and there were numerous people shooting their cameras in all directions of the church.
“I tried to get as close as I could without intruding on his space as he was saying a prayer,” he adds. “The challenge for me was to avoid getting other people in the shot.”
That patience resulted in a visually and emotionally stirring image. “My goal was to capture the reflection of the candles on the priest’s face,” Ira says. “I love the real and metaphorical juxtaposition of darkness and light, signifying the solemnity of the occasion.”
With this award-winning photo, which swept the People category, Ira has set a record for the most wins in the AAA World Photo Contest: this is his seventh prize in the past five years.
His photography also has been featured in several art exhibits.
Twilight at the Happiest Place on Earth
Photographer: Andrew Weiss of Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania
Prize: $100 AAA Visa Gift card
Anyone who’s ever visited Disneyland in Anaheim, California, knows that one of the best ways to compose a beautifully sweeping landscape image is to try to avoid the crowds. That’s easier said than done as Andrew, an avid photographer for the past dozen years, discovered on a family vacation last June.
“Disneyland is a difficult place to photograph considering the crowds and, more importantly, my commitments to my family,” says Andrew. “It was just before sunset, and there were these great colors in the sky. The park was extremely busy, so my wife, Helen, and daughter, Hayden, went to grab a spot to watch the fountain show, and I headed to our locker to grab my camera and tripod. I had scoped out a great location to photograph, but a woman had already staked out the space. So I asked her if I could stand there for just 30 seconds to take a photo, and she let me squeeze in.”
Andrew had time to take just one photo of the iconic Pixar Pier as the sun dipped and the rides lit up the dusky sky, with their illumination reflecting on the still waters. That single photo, titled Twilight at the Happiest Place on Earth, earned him the top prize in the Amusement Parks category.
This win marks Andrew’s third in the AAA World Photo Contest; he won the grand prize in the 2016 contest for his Hawaiian sunset composition and, in the 2017 contest, placed First Runner-Up for his image of Southern California’s Little Corona del Mar Beach. Over the past few years, inspired by his achievements in the AAA World contests, Andrew has entered several photography contests, placing in the top three or four spots in each one.
Photographer: Melissa Picone of Parkville, Maryland
Prize: $100 AAA Visa Gift card
Any good photograph of a pet invites a glimpse into the pet’s personality, as Melissa’s composition of this three-year-old beagle, Tiogo, does so candidly. Perhaps surprisingly, Tiogo isn’t Melissa’s dog; he is her nephew Ryan’s pet. Nevertheless, she and Tiogo have a bond and trust implicit in such close-up photography.
“Tiogo loves me. Whenever I’m visiting my family, he’ll come right over to welcome me. He likes to sit in front of me and nudge and lick my hand until I pet him,” says Melissa, adding that, although she loves animals, she doesn’t have any pets.
It was a hot summer day when Tiogo decided to chill out on the sofa and catch a breeze from an open window, says Melissa. “He was all by himself, away from the other dogs in the house, and I just noticed those ‘puppy-dog eyes,’ so I wanted to capture that,” she says. “What I like most about the photo is Tiogo’s natural presence of himself, his pretty coat and his eyes that reveal his personality. I like to capture things that are unexpected—things that you see but take for granted.”
Melissa has enjoyed photography ever since she first picked up a camera as a child. She has been pursuing the art in earnest for the past 10 years, since purchasing a digital camera. In recent years, she’s won several photography contests at the Maryland State Fair. This photo, titled Lazy Day, merited first place in the AAA World Photo Contest’s Pets category. After learning of the award, Melissa framed the photo and gave it to Ryan as a Christmas present.