The beach is basically New Jersey's open-air photography studio. If you ever go to the beach and you own a camera - or even a cell phone these days - there's every chance you've used that sandy splendor as a backdrop for family pictures.
Or maybe you go for some other favorite form of photography - sunrise pictures, sandcastle pictures, wildlife pictures, footprint pictures. People love taking them all, plus many, many more.
And if you're one of those beach-picture people, you have a chance right now to show off your talents to a much bigger audience. You can also win prizes for your pictures, and maybe even to do some good for your home area.
Because the people from the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium are having a beach-photography contest and looking for more pictures to pick from. The winners will have their photos published on a 2014 calendar that the sponsors plan to print at least 10,000 copies of; and when they sell the calendar, part of the proceeds will go to a relief fund for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
The theme of the contest is "Making More Shore Memories," but the people from the Sea Grant Consortium - the group that usually runs the state's Top 10 Beaches poll every winter - want photographers to think of the widest possible interpretation of that title.
"It's going to be a mix this time around," says Kim Kosko, the communications director for the Sea Grant, a nonprofit group of colleges, universities and other institutions dedicated to preserving and promoting the state's coastal environment. One of her creative suggestions to keep in mind is, "What's the essence of the shore?" Kosko adds.
The Sea Grant held another photography contest two years ago, and put the winning pictures on a calendar that the group gave away for the asking. But because of a limited printing and heavy demand, they ran out.
The winning pictures published on that 2012 calendar were mostly beachscape scenes, but the change in the contest's title this year is bringing in a different crop of shots, adds the Sea Grant's Marsha Samuel.
"We're getting a lot of nostalgia photos, but we're also getting a lot of nature-based photos," she says.
And if you think you have a prize-winning beach picture either in your collection or in your mind, you don't have much time to get it in. Friday is the deadline to enter the contest - that's March 22 on your 2013 calendar.
The contest organizers would be happy to get a lot more entries, so to draw interest, they're offering a "special prize package" for the 12 photo finalists. They're also making everyone who sends a picture in eligible for a raffle for more prizes. Plus there's a "Jersey Shore Memories" contest for writers, who can win something and see an excerpt from their 250-word (or shorter) pieces published on the beach calendar.
"We're still working out the prize details, but it will definitely be worth their while," Samuel promised.
All the rules, requirements and other specifics for entering both competitions are on the contest web site - njtoptenbeaches.org. The details of the prize packages will also go on that site April 1, when the sponsors plan to open a public vote on the pictures and memories. You can vote there for your favorite photos and/or words through April 28.
Donna Swiatek, an accountant from Clifton, Passaic County, who spends part of her year and makes all her best beach memories in Brigantine, was one of 12 winners of the 2012 calendar contest for her shot, "Cove at Sunset." Swiatek said she's trying her luck - and skill - again in the current contest with a picture she caught on a dune in her favorite beach town.
As a photographer, "I'm more of a landscape person. I always say that I don't do people - people are hard. I prefer the beach, or a landscape," she says.
But she does enough beach scenes well enough that she puts together and gives out her own beach-picture calendar as a holiday gift every year - and has a few dozen people who are happy to get them. As a winner of the last Sea Grant contest, Swiatek had access to a handful of the New Jersey beach calendars; she remembers that she and her fellow photography fans were impressed by the product.
"A lot of people I gave it to said they would buy that one - they did a really nice job on the layout," Swiatek remembers. "Some people said, 'Let me give you money,' or 'I'll donate money.' So I think it's great if they sell the new calendar and it can help some people who had trouble with the hurricane."
Kosko, from the Sea Grant, says the group currently plans to release between 10,000 and 20,000 copies of the calendar for next year. They recruited sponsors to pay for the publication - and the whole year sold out in less than two days, she added.
Mike Lipton, from the North Beach section of Long Beach Township, had another one of the winning pictures on that 2012 calendar - he was Mr. December, with a beautiful picture of sunlight reflecting in a tidal pool on his home beach. But Lipton said that when he saw this year's theme, he wasn't going to enter it because of that "Shore Memories" title.
His favorite living subject may be his black lab, Molly - "She's sort of my muse," says Lipton, a retired magazine writer and editor who sells some of his pictures through his web site, mikeliptongallery.com. "She loves her beach. She often just sits there and stares out at the ocean."
To anyone with dreams of winning a photography contest, "My most common advice is to always try to shoot in the morning or the late afternoon, when the light is the most dramatic," this former winner says. "Don't do it in the middle of the day."
And when Lipton heard the other day that his natural photography was more than welcome in the latest New Jersey beach-calendar contest, he seemed to be having a change of heart.
"If it's not too late," he said, "maybe I should enter."
No, it's not too late. But soon, it will be. So photographers, get to your favorite studio - that big one, down by the ocean.
Contact Martin DeAngelis:
Beach photo contest
To learn more about the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium's beach photo contest, visit njtoptenbeaches.org