ST. GEORGE — A Southern Utah-based photographer who specializes in family portraiture recently received top honors in the Grand Imaging Awards for her portrait of an extended family shot in Snow Canyon State Park.
Heather Cook, owner and operator of Cook Photography, has nearly 17 years experience capturing families’ personalities, moments and memories. To her, family portraiture is like stopping time, she said. It’s a way to preserve a moment in a family’s life and help them keep that moment forever.
Cook started her photography career as a summer assistant for a photographer who was expecting her first baby and needed an extra hand.
“I carried her bag, I carried the reflector, I had to kind of be her go-to person,” Cook said.
Film cameras were still used primarily then, and, among other things, Cook learned the ins and outs of shooting with film.
At the time, Cook was attending college to become an elementary school teacher. But when she graduated, she realized that teaching was not the career path for her.
“I love teaching and I love children, but I knew that was not the best thing for me so I went out and bought my own camera,” Cook said.
Cook started with a medium-format Hassleblad film camera that she and her husband somewhat jokingly say cost more than their first car.
Formerly a Northern Utah resident, Cook and her family moved to Southern Utah eight years ago. Even though she had to rebuild parts of her business when she moved here, Cook said she loves the area because of how easy it is to find beautiful backdrops for photos.
Nearly two decades after she first started as an assistant, Cook is a member of the Intermountain Professional Photographers Association and the Professional Photographers of America, both which provide opportunities for continuing education as well as other tools for professional photographers.
Cook is now a Master of Photography as well as a Certified Professional Photographer from the Professional Photographers of America.
Today, she shoots with a mirrorless Canon.
But no matter what camera she uses, Cook said she remains passionate about photography as an art form and and continuously strives to be the best photographer she can.
Now her work has been recognized as being some of the best in her specialty, having recently received first place honors in the General Portrait category at the Grand Imaging Awards for her portrait of an extended family.
Each year, the top images or albums in 12 different categories are selected as finalists competing for the Grand Imaging Award, information from the award’s website said. Finalists are chosen from among the best entries in the Professional Photographers of America’s International Photographic Competition.
Over 5,200 entries were judged across 12 categories including, Animal Portrait, Artist, Children’s Portrait, Creative Open, General Portrait, High School Senior Portrait, Illustrative & Commercial, Landscape & Nature, Photographic Open Album, Restoration, Wedding and Wedding Album.
Ten finalists were chosen in each category and winners were announced in January.
Cook’s photo was a unique win for the General Portrait category, she said, because it featured a large group of people. In past years, winning photos in that category have generally featured a single subject, Cook said.
“Family groupings don’t always necessarily score that high,” Cook said. “It was an extreme honor.”
Cook said the award felt like a win for what so many photographers do with family portraiture and validated its importance as an art form.
“I really love what I can do and what I can compose to make a fine art piece for a family,” Cook said.
Cook’s work is validated not only by the award, but by her clients – many of whom Cook said have become like members of her family as she has watched them grow and change over the years.
“I love the pictures that have forever captured my family,” Brenda Seegmiller said of the photos Cook took of her family. “She knew how important these pictures were to me and she worked to make them the best they could be.”
Seegmiller added that Cook made the whole experience easy to navigate from sitting down with Seegmiller in her home, to scouting the perfect location, to offering tips on what to wear and how to pose to bring out each individual’s personality and explaining pricing and printing options clearly.
“I love showing off the amazing pictures she took of my family,” Seegmiller said.
And that is exactly the kind of experience Cook hopes to continue to provide for each family she photographs.
“What I hope to do in the future is to have all people having their family art hanging in their homes,” Cook said. “Anyone who puts their family portrait in their home gets to see their family everyday in their finest moments, and those who see it everyday know how much they are loved and how much they belong in that family.”
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