I’m participating in a photo contest today. It started on Friday. The entries must all be photographed, printed, framed and presented by Wednesday at noon. Oh, and they have to be made only in the valley I live in.

It’s a ton of fun. It’s a very level playing field — no one has pictures of eagles in Alaska or Icelandic waterfalls. Just local and fresh. It’s cool.

I did two very quick shoots for it. And I tried to use all the principles I’m always writing about here. But things happen and things don’t always go as planned or hoped for. The thing is, I’ve been practicing for this for 12 years. Every shoot I do is an exercise of all I’ve learned before. So when my lights didn’t work as planned, I was ready to find a good spot (a porch situation) and use only the available light.

And I like that picture a whole lot. It’s outside my comfort zone, using a 35mm lens like that. But I think it turned out well.

Still, knowing who the judge is going to be, I didn’t think this portrait would quite do it. It’s a fairly artsy contest. And I had a vision in my mind of one of my neighbors who is a dairy farmer. He has lots of land for crops, and I help with varmint control, so I’ve seen lots of his lands. I had an idea of him at work that I was excited to make. The thing is, a farmer in the summer is very busy working. In the end, I was lucky to get 10 minutes with him and had to meet him in the field. It was easy to find him by following the plume of dust across the horizon.

But I knew what time I wanted to shoot, and I knew what the picture in my mind looked like. And I knew I couldn’t bring any kind of lighting tools, either. However, right after the sun sets, the sky is like a huge softbox for a few minutes.

I’m usually telling you all kinds of things about lighting and posing and stuff. And it’s all stuff that I use all the time. But when the going gets tough, you’ve got all that stuff ingrained in your habits and your brain … and you throw it out the window and work on instinct. You make all that junk your instinct so your picture works as you envisioned.

Anyway, this turned out exactly as I’d imagined. Fingers crossed I do well in the contest.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.