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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – If a picture really is worth a thousand words, let’s talk about some of our neighbors. Look around. This really is Alabama the beautiful.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources got thousands of entries for its 2021 Outdoor Alabama photo contest.

From the mountains of north Alabama to the shores of the gulf coast, photographers captured the natural beauty that surrounds us. There were 10 different categories ranging from birds and bugs and butterflies to sweet home Alabama and young photographers.

Chris Baker of Madison is a NASA engineer at Marshall Space Flight Center. But he’s also somewhere between an amateur and professional photographer. When I asked him which he was, he smiled and said, “I am starting to blur the line.”

He shoots photos for his friends and sells some of his work online. “I’m not making a ton of money off it, but people started buying stuff here and there and I thought, okay, that’s kind of fun,” he told me. His hobby pays for his photography addiction. “It’s paying off all the new equipment I keep buying,” he said laughing.

The Outdoor Alabama contest allows each person to enter eight different shots. “I bit the bullet and said I’m going to enter one in eight different categories and give myself the best chance of getting some awards,” Chris said.

His strategy paid off. He won two first place nods, one second and one third. His secret to capturing some of prize-winning shots, patience. “Especially the wildlife photos,” he said, “I mean, I’m not going to any exotic locations. I’m usually in my backyard.”

Some shoots, he comes back with nothing. “You’ve got to be willing to sit in the mud and tolerate the bugs and just wait, wait it out,” he said. But sometimes he captures a work of art. “You’ve got to sit on the shoreline and just be really quiet and wait,” he told me, “and you have to kind of get to know the habits of your animals that you’re stalking.”

It’s hard for him to pick a favorite out of his four winning entries. “The fishing one was kind of interesting only because that was a happy accident,” Chris told me, “I didn’t plan that one. We were camping and I happened upon this fishing tournament and I had my gear with me, and I thought, this is kind of a neat scene with all these colors.”

But if he had to choose, it would be his shot of the Neowise comet. He did his homework before heading to Guntersville State Park. “Mother nature cooperated just enough. It was very cloudy that day and it was kind of hit or miss if we were going to see it and the clouds broke just enough and yeah, you could see the comet clearly,” he said, “You still had some interesting clouds in the sky. You had that glow of the city in the background, a nice calm lake in the foreground.”

It was a moment in time captured forever, until a better shot comes along. “There is no perfect picture. That’s what I’ve figured out,” he said with a smile. “There’s always something, something I can improve on.”

Chris has more examples of his work on his website, cscottphoto. If you’d like to view all of the winning entries from the Outdoor Alabama contest, they’re on flickr. Just click on the link.