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Snap judgments

From Hong Kong to Hungary, Rotarians captured perfect moments in our annual photo contest

This year, we received more than 600 entries to our photo contest from 56 countries and geographical areas. The photographs take us from the vast plains of Inner Mongolia to the manmade canyons of Hong Kong. They tell a story of Rotarians exploring the world with open eyes and hearts, making connections across cultures, and capturing beauty wherever they find it.

Our judge, Damon Winter, has brought to his task the discerning eye of a professional photographer. His comments on the images our readers submitted are like a master class in photography; like the best teachers, he sees what is good — and how it might be even better.  

In addition to the winners and honorable mentions that appear in this issue, we’ll feature more photos from the contest in The Rotarian throughout the coming year.

First place

Photographer: Tono Valdés
Rotary Club of Guatemala Sur, Guatemala
Location: Fuego Volcano, near Escuintla, Guatemala

Winter: With every color in the spectrum represented, this nighttime volcano scene is like a deconstructed rainbow stretched by time and punctuated by the raw power of nature. It is the rare photo that you would be happy to have on your wall, to stop and stare at every time you pass by. I love the collision of the blue-hued star trails, all traveling through the composition in tidy, concentric circles, with the chaos and violence of the exploding volcano. The green hue of the fluorescent-lit cityscape below helps balance the frame.

Second place

Photographer: Fang Keong Lim
Rotary Club of Bandar Utama, Malaysia
Location: Xiapu, China

Winter: Godly beams of morning light penetrating this foggy forest scene make this photo come to life. The beautifully stacked and layered vertical composition, in which the main subjects are perfectly silhouetted against a layer of lush groundcover, is a thoughtful way to utilize all the elements and bind them together. This is a tricky exposure that could have benefited from just a little more fine-tuning to retain more detail in the highlights.

Third place

Photographer: Yuan Lung Hsieh
Rotary Club of Tainan Cherng-Ta, Taiwan
Location: Tainan, Taiwan

Winter: A masterful use of light, exposure, and composition allowed the photographer to render this colorful indoor-outdoor abstract scene. I wish there had been a little more care with the edges of the frame and a more clearly defined moment with the silhouette at left, but it is a valiant effort and clever use of exposure to see beyond how our eyes perceive this scene.

Honorable mention

Photographer: M A Taher
Rotary Club of Sonargaon Dhaka, Bangladesh
Location: Sylhet, Bangladesh 

Winter: Lovely composition and framing, and a great job by the photographer getting close to the subjects to bring an intimate experience to the viewer. It looks like a difficult place to maneuver, so I’m sure careful planning and forethought were necessary to get this shot. By choosing the moment when the central woman’s head turns up and catches the light, the photographer gives us an entry point into the photo and an anchor for the composition.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Shravan BM
Rotary Club of Bantwal Loretto Hills, India
Location: Udupi, India

Winter: Peak action in magic-hour light — what more could you want? Maybe a bit of golden backlighting under a crowd transfixed by the moment, just to top it off? This photograph has that too.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Carlo Antonio Romero
Rotary Club of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
Location: Hong Kong

Winter: At first I thought these were stacks of shipping containers waiting to be lifted onto a cargo ship. Then I looked a little closer and saw that it was a different kind of storage — the human kind. This is a very interesting use of an ultra-wide-angle lens and an unexpected low-angle perspective along with mixed-source nighttime lighting and a surreal illuminated city sky to create this beautiful abstract architectural study that is also a poignant commentary on the modern human condition.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Lola Reid Allin
Rotary Club of Belleville, Ontario
Location: Fez, Morocco

Winter: One of the very few portraits I looked at that went beyond the feeling of an ordinary posed snapshot and showed quiet grace and a direct and intimate connection between the subject and the photographer. A beautifully detailed face is but one of the many patterns and textures that make up this photograph — from the weathered paint on the walls to the multiple decorative iron grates and stone details, to the different fabric textures and designs. Somehow his eyes still pierce right through that patchwork of textures.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Philbert Williams
Rotary Club of Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago
Location: Stone Haven Bay, Tobago

Winter: What an amazing scene, with the fallen tree as a backstop for the young goalie as a group of boys play soccer in the misty orange glow of the setting sun. It brings back many fond memories of the best time of day on the beach, when the tourists have gone home and just the people who live there remain. It’s a small thing, but I keep wishing I could see if that ball was headed for the goal.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Yeong Hsiou Chen (Asic)
Rotary Club of Taipei Hwachung, Taiwan
Location: Inner Mongolia, China

Winter: This reminds me of the Marlboro Man ads from the 1970s, minus the weathered cowboy in a dusty ten-gallon hat. It is such an amazing scene, but it’s missing a little something to take it to the next level.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Ken James
Rotary Club of Kalamalka, British Columbia
Location: Elliston Point, Newfoundland

Winter: A simple but lovely puffin portrait with a little something extra to make it unusual and wonderful. These birds are not herbivores, so was it doing a little home decorating? Those sorrowful eyes suggest something more meaningful.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Cynthia Barasz
Rotary Club of Saint Petersburg Sunset, Florida
Location: Walvis Bay, Namibia

Winter: Absolutely perfect timing captures the battle between sea and air for feeding-time supremacy. The seagull’s wings are in peak extension, with every single feather on display, beak open, ready to snatch that tasty morsel from what seems to be a very calm person. A very nice execution on a fun photograph.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Richard Hallick
Rotary Club of Tucson Sunrise, Arizona
Location: Dunapataj, Hungary

Winter: The way those four horse heads stack up together as if carved from a single piece of Italian marble lends such wonderful texture to this action shot that I almost don’t care what’s happening with the rider in back. I find myself wishing this were either shot wider, with some room to breathe around the subjects, or just really tight on those magnificent horses.

Get ready for your close-up

The next edition of The Rotarian’s photo contest will open on 1 October 2020 and close on 15 December 2020. For more information, go to

Meet our judge

Damon Winter is a photographer for the New York Times, who won the Pulitzer prize for feature photography in 2009 for his photographs of Barack Obama's presidential campaign.