WALNUT CREEK -- The first-ever Save Mount Diablo scholastic photography contest is calling all kids in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, grades K-12, to get out, shoot some wildlife and brag about it.

There's more at stake than that -- there's that $1,000 grand prize Apple gift card, too.

Young photographers reaching for their Canons, Nikons or cell phones might also take a cue from one of the competition's three judges.

"The deadline is April 30 (Tuesday), and right now, this is the best time to be out there," says Scott Hein, SMD Board President and part-time nature photographer. "It's prime wildlife flower time, migrant birds are returning -- there's lots of springtime activity now."

Joining Hein to judge the entries will be plein-air painter John Finger and wildlife photographer Hank Perry.

It was Perry's thought -- to share with kids the joyful feeling of recognition he experienced after winning an international contest for Nature's Best Photography -- that sparked the contest. Communication Manager Beryl Anderson jumped on the proposal and through the robust grassroots musculature developed during 42 years defending the area's natural lands, the idea became a reality.

Eligible entries must be taken within the park boundaries of Mt. Diablo State Park or within one of the 11 East Bay Regional district parks listed on the contest website (see breakout). A written "story behind the shot" is required, but Hein reassures entrants their digital images will be judged based on the relevance and composition of the photo.

"It's not a writing contest. Kids have different perspectives and we think there'll be images that are compelling," he says. "Getting people out into the beauty of our parks is one of the most important things we do."

And educating adults and youth alike, is the mission behind the expected, but not out-of-control mayhem of an inaugural photo contest. Hein can't list all the businesses contributing to the effort, but he doesn't lose sight of the purpose behind their efforts.

"When people look at Mt. Diablo, they presume the entire mountain is protected and preserved. That's not true, there are significant parts that are still private ranching land. People need to know they could be subdivided and developed," Hein worries.

The organization's supporters aren't necessarily opposed to home ownership, he suggests. Their dedication is to maintaining a viable place for wildlife to live and preserving precious natural resources as the area's population increases.

Included in the five categories for entry is "Outdoor adventure and enjoyment," with rule-sets about photo releases based on Perry's national-level photo contest expertise. The intention is clear: they want people to play in the parks, as much as capture them in their viewfinders.

"The number one thing is that the more you are on the trails, the more you will find," Hein says, eagerly offering more tips for budding landscape photographers. "There's that magic hour at the start and the end of the day -- and dramatic clouds are better than a pure blue sky ... and harsh light introduces shadows that can detract from a wildflower ... "

At press time, the five "category" and 15 "highly honored" prizes were yet to be determined. Plans for a selected "Photography Gallery" included exhibitions at sponsoring businesses and inclusion in a Diablo Magazine publication.

As previously stated, all entires must be submitted by April 30; finalists will be notified via email on May 16, with winners of all categories announced the week of June 3.

Save Mount Diablo scholastic photography contest
For complete rules and contest entry, visit http://smdphoto
contest.wordpress.com/