Preparing for the 2014 Save Mount Diablo Scholastic Photo Contest, 11-year-old Annie McClain said it best: "I believe we should save Mt. Diablo because Mt. Diablo is incredibly beautiful and has animals who depend on their home there."

The Lafayette resident and Stanley Middle School student continued, in an email, naming the wild plants and trees that "find their home" on the Contra Costa County landmark. "If we took that away, the whole eco-system would be impacted negatively," she warned.

The annual contest, open to all K-12 students in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, supports the nonprofit organization's efforts to preserve and restore open space for people and wildlife. With a $1,000 Apple store gift card as the grand prize, winning submissions on exhibit in Walnut Creek and published in Diablo Magazine, iPod nanos, gift certificates for field photography tip sessions, pizzas and more, Annie says she's trying to show the mountain's beauty once again.

Last year, her image of two geese soaring in silhouette against a gray, textured sky won the contest's wildlife category. Her mother, Wendy McClain, said participating in the contest was a catalyst: looking through a lens revealed the mountain's essence. Adventures on the mountain were gifts for the entire family, as they re-engaged with the park.


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Scott Hein, nature photographer, contest judge and Save Mt. Diablo's board president, said he was amazed at the quality of last year's entries. A minor amount of professional, respectful envy leaked out in his second comment: "There were many images that I would have been pleased to have captured myself."

Photography and a passion for protecting the natural world are intertwined for Hein, who said becoming a better nature photographer requires more than deft camera handling. Spending time outdoors, sharing environmental and conservation awareness with other nature enthusiasts, and discovering subjects of interest are the primary techniques for producing pivotal, provocative imagery, according to Hein.

Award-winning wildlife photographer Hank Perry, returning for his second year as one of the three-judge panel (Robert Picton of Jessamyn Photography is the third), appreciated the artistic and compositional talent of 2013's winning photographs. "Instead of just recording or depicting something, they wished to describe it somehow," he recalled. "I am inspired when photographers of all ages wish to tell me something with their photos."

An online photo gallery of the 2013 winning images at the Save Mt. Diablo website tells a compelling story. From brilliant sun rays spilling into a cavernous, rock-framed "window" (Chandler Dunn's "Sunset City") to the heart-stopping, gold-orange glow of a California poppy (Kristine Manalo, untitled) to McClain's flying duet ("Geese"), the mountain's vigorous endurance seems irrevocable. And the creative energy of young minds, engaged with nature, just as powerful.

But Perry said awareness and appreciation for Mount Diablo has to compete with "the bandwidth in well-intentioned peoples' lives." Taking pictures in nature helps him to remain aware of the environment, despite the manmade distractions we all encounter.

"This year, it's my wish that we create a stronger connection between the contest and the battle for open space which is our future," he said. "It all fits together for me -- great educational systems, stunning open spaces, and people who care about striking a balance between the constant need for growth and the need to preserve."

In the end, the mountain isn't owned by the contest's sponsors, judges, and young photographers -- or even Mount Diablo's many supporters. As last year's Morgan Fire proved, the forces of nature will determine a great deal about the East Bay landmark. But that doesn't mean mankind can't play a vital, supporting role in its future.

A voluntary donation on the photo entry form and an auction of the winning art work at SMD's 13th annual "Moonlight on the Mountain" in September--new additions this year--will continue the careful, committed work of preserving Mt. Diablo's beauty.

For complete contest rules, entry information and answers to FAQ's, visit http://www.savemountdiablocontest.com/

2014 Save Mount Diablo Scholastic Photo Contest
For complete contest rules, entry information and answers to FAQ s, visit http://www.savemountdiablocontest.com/