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Montgomery County teen wins annual photo contest

October 12, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

An autumn day in New England - maybe Maine. An ambling, relaxing, peaceful kind of day.

That might be a reasonable conclusion after seeing Jason Leach's "Float Away," which won Best in Show in this year's Herald-Mail/FirstLook Photo digital photography contest.

Wrong.

Wrong place, wrong time, wrong everything.

The backdrop was a pool at Leach's house in Dickerson, Md., in Montgomery County. It was the middle of February. Jason, 16, said his brother, Blake, 12, had just emerged from a swim.

Yes, a winter swim.

Jason noticed that a toy rowboat about 8 inches long, which Blake left behind, was drifting through the water. He thought it might make a nice photograph - if only a breeze would help the boat along.

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As he wished, a wispy puff of wind came along. Jason aimed his camera and made a picture.

Jason, a junior at Poolesville High School, said he knew nothing about photography before his introductory class last year.

"My mom told me to take it," he said.

She also gave him a Minolta 35 mm camera for class.

Jason said he was graded only on his 35 mm photographs. On his own, though, after several months, he also dabbled with digital photography. His father, John, a technical services consultant in education for Apple Computer, supplied the digital camera - a Canon PowerShot G2.

Jason turned in his 35 mm assignments, but he also used his digital camera to photograph subjects that caught his attention. He'd shoot architecture for a week, then landscapes for a week, then move on to the next category.

Photography evolved from a filler class on his schedule to a bona fide interest.

Jason said he won two second-place awards in a fall photography show at school. During the spring show, he won 26 awards; some photographs - including "Float Away" - won more than one prize.

"Everybody seems to like this one," he said of "Float Away." "My grandparents have it in their own house."

He shot "Float Away" with his Minolta on Kodak 400 speed film.

Several days later, he scanned the photo onto his iBook laptop computer, imported the photo into Adobe Photoshop 7.0, cropped it and fine-tuned its color and sharpness. The result was a solitary white and red rowboat, with one oar extended, sitting on its reflection. The pool of water is dappled by Impressionist-style patches of yellow, blue, green and gray.

Jason doesn't remember the shutter speed or the aperture he used to capture his prize-winning image. He's not the type to remember those kinds of details.

"It seems to work better that way for me," he said.

John Leach said his son's nonchalance shouldn't be misconstrued; Jason's teachers have praised his work.

"He has a talent and a gift for art," Leach said. "We'll support him with anything he does. Because with that talent, we want to make sure he can nurture it and not cut it short."

About three weeks ago, Jason and his family went to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia for his first college visit. A teacher looked at his portfolio and told him he might be scholarship material. He was floored.

Now, Savannah is one college choice and the University of Maryland is another, mainly for their architecture programs. He realizes that architecture is precise and he'll have to adapt.

Jason didn't enter "Float Away" in the Herald-Mail/FirstLook Photo Contest. His grandfather, Jack Leach, sent it in - with Jason's consent.

Jason said he plans to use the $100 first prize to buy a taillight for his 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass.

He's aware that a novice winning the Best in Show award might create a stir.

"They're not going to like me very much," he said coolly, with a slight smile. "They'll be very disappointed and they'll be very angry."

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