Winning photos of Bay State’s natural beauty have local touch

By Dan Adams
Globe Correspondent / November 20, 2011

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The photos came pouring in from around the state: majestic vistas, beautiful birds, a family of foxes, snowy woods - all quintessential Massachusetts scenes.

But in the end, it was a small, brown insect with wings that caught the eye of judges in the second annual “Picture This’’ photography contest organized by the Lincoln-based Massachusetts Audubon Society.

So what did Arlington resident Mary Dineen have to do to snap her grand-prize-winning shot of a painted skimmer dragonfly perched on a flower?

“Not much,’’ she admitted. “He just sat there. He was very cooperative, a lot more than most of them. He was there for about half an hour.’’

And where was “there,’’ exactly? “Oh, he was in my backyard, in the garden.’’

Yes, while other photographers were strapping on hiking boots and heading into the wilderness, she was snapping the winning frame just steps from her back door.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t work. Dineen, who is a professional photographer, said she took more than 100 shots of the obliging bug before it finally flew off. Only a few of the shots were worthy, she said, but the final image required almost no processing.

MassAudubon, one of the largest conservation organizations in New England, maintains an extensive network of wildlife sanctuaries across the state, runs educational programs and outdoor activities, and lobbies for environmental legislation.

This year’s contest, themed “Your Great Outdoors,’’ drew submissions from 700 people and nearly 2,700 images, more than double the number in last year’s inaugural contest.

The group chose four photos for its main prizes. There were two categories - best overall and best photo taken at a MassAudubon sanctuary - with winners in two age groups, under 18 and 18 and over. Another 20 photos were given honorable mention, split between the age categories. The four top winners will have their images used as the cover of a MassAudubon publication.

With Dineen snagging the 18-and-over honor, Brian Amici of Berlin took home the under-18 grand prize for his beautifully detailed close-up of a flowering black-eyed Susan.

Judging for the competition lasted two rounds, according to contest organizer Karen O’Neill, who is MassAudubon’s travel director. First, a team of nature photographers who work for the conservation group whittled down the pool of images to 250. Those photos then went to a second group of judges outside the organization, which included two students and professional photographers.

To help them sort through the overwhelming number of images, judges used a software system designed to ease the strain.

“We told the judges to take frequent breaks,’’ said O’Neill. “You could get just fried looking at so many pictures. We made the software so you could step back and look at what you were judging.’’

Dineen’s subjects for her commercial photography work tend to be families, pets, and products. But on her own time, Dineen said, she prefers to shoot bugs, birds, landscapes, and anything else that catches her eye on frequent walks around Arlington, Lexington, and Concord.

“They’re easier to do than people,’’ Dineen said, describing her affinity for bugs. “They don’t complain about wrinkles. They complain about nothing. I can do anything I want to them, and there’s no feedback.’’ She sells her nature photos at art shows around the region.

Dineen said she enjoys the “almost meditative’’ quality of doing nature photography.

“For me, there’s nothing like it. It slows me down, it makes me see, it makes me aware . . . You just walk around in the woods. You just look.’’

Dineen said when she was young, she was an avid photographer. But after losing track of her camera, she set aside her passion to work in a series of jobs in the natural foods industry, construction, and even trucking.

After a 20-year hiatus, Dineen picked up a camera again in 2006. The advent of digital photography meant the learning curve was steep at first.

“In the beginning, I overprocessed a lot and ruined a lot of pictures,’’ said Dineen.

Dineen has been a member of MassAudubon for years, she said, and she was happy not only to win, but to help bring attention to the group’s work.

“I go to a lot of sanctuaries to shoot. It’s definitely important to keep those spaces going.’’

Sometimes, Dineen has to remind herself that the sanctuaries aren’t for her exclusive use.

“I get really irritated when I go for a walk and see there’s people there. I have to remember, when people bring children, most kids don’t leave the house, and it’s good they bring them out. I have to remind myself to just relax and not think of them as being in my way.’’

O’Neill said that while many think of states like New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine as having more extensive opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, the contest showed the diversity and beauty of the natural resources within reach across Massachusetts.

“We have these amazing beaches and dune systems on the Cape, the rocky coast on North Shore, red maple swamps in Berkshires - we have so many habitats here, it’s wonderful.’’

All of the photos cited by the judges can be seen online at

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