"I'm as amateur a photographer as there is," said Troy Mattes, whose alligator profile near Jiggs Landing in Bradenton won Manatee County’s Photography Challenge. Another photo solved a feathery local riddle. “We were so impressed by the quality,” Melissa Nell said.
The event was a first for the Department of Parks and Natural Resources, said Nell, manager for programming, education, and volunteers. More than 200 visited Valentine House in Robinson Preserve Saturday for a gallery show honoring 24 winners. Judging was in landscapes, people, and flora and fauna. “The judging was a lot of fun but just really hard," Nell said.
The competition attracted roughly 700 photos by 100 amateur shot-makers.
"The evening I shot that photo, I was out walking around with my young daughters and saw a 4-foot gator that didn't seem too worried about a guy with a camera walking close to him on the bank," said Mattes, a former major league pitcher who received best-in-show. "There was no wind and he seemed just about as curious yet cautious about me as I was with him. It was just before sunset and not a cloud in the sky giving me pretty good lighting."
Mattes, a Riverview High (Sarasota) grad and Lakewood Ranch resident, was drafted by the Expos in 1994 and was a coach in the Orioles organization. He is on the coaching staff at Inspiration Academy in Bradenton.
During an 11-year pro career, Mattes said nature photography provided an outlet "both during the season and offseason to get away from the craziness of life." He borrowed a camera and several lenses from his wife, who has a photography business.
"I've always had an eye for nature photography and truly enjoy it, but haven't spent as much time as I would like in the field taking shots," Mattes said. "I love shooting nature. The natural beauty in our area provides unlimited contrasts of color and makes it easy to find year round."Patty McIntosh won Best Featured Wildlife, framing the shy mangrove cuckoo at Robinson Preserve. The shot settled a debate among local birders, Nell said.
“The fact it was photographed at Robinson Preserve confirms that we have that species here,” Nell said. “It’s really exciting because for years we’ve had people say, ‘I’ve heard this bird,’ or someone would say they saw it. Some of our birders argued back and forth. The fact we have a photograph of it now from Robinson Preserve is huge.”
The Audubon says the mangrove cuckoo, known for a throaty call, is associated in Florida mostly with the Keys but may be running out of room because of development. Birders who seek the elusive cuckoo contend with long hours in dense tangles of mangroves.
The winning photos will be on exhibit at Valentine House through August, Nell said. “What you see out here is just a very small sampling of the beautiful photos we received. The county has asked us to forward all the photos we received to possibly use in the 2016 county calendar.”
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