I thought I would stay anonymous.

You remember that photo contest I told you about? Yeah. That one. The one that 26,433 photos were entered in and somehow my photo made it to Top 10 in Stylized Portrait? And not just Top 10, I found out it came in 4th place.

Here’s what happened.

I mentioned the contest was put on by this group called Shoot + Share. Well, they host this conference for photographers called UNITED in Santa Barbara, and that’s where the winners for the contest were announced. I had not signed up for UNITED (just not in the budget) and was perfectly fine waiting for the go-ahead to tell everyone which picture I entered. They announced the Top 10, one by one. Every day I didn’t see my picture was fantastically agonizing. Once they announced 6th place for all 20 categories, they told everyone that 1st-5th place wouldn’t be released until the conference.

Somewhere, I was in that Top 5. If you did the math, that’s the best 100 photos of the whole contest.


I had been following the days leading up to the conference pretty closely, and I saw that they had printed out 37 of the Top 100 photos. Pretty neat, right? I thought so. Then my lovely friend Brittanee (who was attending UNITED) sent me a photo… it was my photo. Blown up on a 30×40 canvas. All I could do was cry. I never expected something I made to come so far. When I entered the contest, I figured that if my photo didn’t win, it was just another fish in the sea. I thought I would stay anonymous.

I’ve mentioned this here and there, but my senior year of college was one of the worst years of my life. Even some of the less than fortunate things that happened in the years leading up to it, that year took the cake. I never would wish my 2012-2013 school year on anyone.

So as I was sitting in front of my computer, sobbing, I knew I had to send my thanks to some of the people who I KNEW were a big deal within Shoot + Share. Not thinking it would really do much or that they would even see it (I mean, it WAS the night before the opening talk of UNITED), I sent them this:

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 9.22.02 PM

Even going back and re-reading that message, I’m overwhelmed. What was even more incredible was the thing that happened next: Andrew told me to just show up the next morning in Santa Barbara. They wanted to tell my story, and they wanted me there to hear them do it. I tried to tell them that I didn’t think I could just drive to Santa Barbara on a whim, I had too much to do the next day (which was a Monday). But they insisted, and so did the guy who had asked me on a first date for that Tuesday.

I wasn’t going to go alone. It was after midnight, most everyone I knew was asleep. Except for him. After going back and forth for about a half hour over why I should go to the conference and why I wasn’t planning on it because of the drive, he said, “I’ll be at your house at 6:30 tomorrow. You’re going to this conference, and I’m going to sleep on the drive.” He didn’t sleep on the drive, we talked the whole time. You would think that it was me convincing him to come with me so I wouldn’t have to be alone, really it was the other way around. If it wasn’t for this amazing person, I never would have had this day.

He showed up at my house, we got in my car, grabbed Starbucks, and hit the road. It took us just about three hours to get to Santa Barbara. We walked into the giant conference room just as Andrew was walking off stage and the next speaker (DJ) was getting ready to speak to everyone. I flagged him down, introduced myself, and he found us seats.

DJ started talking about the impact photographers have on their clients, and how we have such an opportunity to serve them with our gifts. But then he went on… He said, “See, I got this message last night from this girl named Bonnie. And she reminded me that not only do we have an impact on our clients, but we have this incredible impact on each other. She told me this amazing story…”

DJ told the room of 400+ photographers about the message I sent him, the ways that we can build each other up, how amazing my photo was and how far it had come in the contest, and how he hoped I was on my way to UNITED. I sat there and cried, but had this amazing man holding me close the minute he heard my name. God works in incredible and amazing ways, this was one of those times I felt him in every part of my world.

The opening talks ended. I managed to stop crying. We went to DJ and introduced ourselves, and for the rest of the day I was “THAT Bonnie??” I was so overwhelmed getting to meet photographers who have been in the industry for decades longer than I have… And they all wanted to see my photo. They all told me it was one of their favorites.



We went to one of the sessions, stayed for lunch, had A LOT of people ask us how long we had been together only to tell them we were on our first date (got some interesting looks for that one — heh), took photos with some of my favorite photographers, found out what place I came in, picked up the magazine with the winners, put my giant photo in my car, and drove home.  It was an incredible day.

February 24 will forever hold a special place in my heart; It was the first time I ever felt that 4th place has just as much reward as 1st. It was the day I felt true healing from my hurting. It was the day I learned what it looked like to totally abandon your life for someone else. It was the most amazing first date (I dare anyone else to try to hold a candle to it). I learned what love looks like, in so many ways.

That photo is now sitting in my house, waiting to be framed. Some people have told me to sell it, but I can’t bring myself to part with it. That particular print is priceless to me. Someone wants to buy a copy? Totally.

But that copy? That’s my reminder of the most perfect day, ever.


10 Comments Add yours

  1. Jarrod C says:

    Wow! That’s great! Congratulations!

  2. Love this Bonnie! Thanks for sharing, and so so great to meet you!
    Come up again to Santa Barbara sometime! We’d love to all hang out again!

  3. I will absolutely come to SB again! Thank you all for this day!!

  4. kellylynnefotos says:

    Bonnie, thank you for sharing your story and your beautiful image with us all. What a beautiful adventure you are on. Hope to meet you someday.

  5. You are such a doll. I hope so, too!

  6. Ashley says:

    What an amazing story! So happy for you, you’re very talented!

  7. Sarah Jaeger says:

    That was beautiful Bonnie! Thank you sharing! From all that I have heard about United this year there is no way I am missing it next year! Congratulations!

  8. Mara Wolff says:

    What an amazing story…thank you so much for sharing!

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