Lou Ann Marks of Alexandria holds a print of the winning entry in the Reader’s Digest America’s Road Trip Photo Contest. Marks was awarded $500 for submitted the grand prize photo. Contributed photo

Lou Ann Marks of Alexandria loves to take photos. Since retiring about five years ago, she has been taking many photos with her iPhone.

“I have always been interested in photography but having a camera on my phone has given me more flexibility,” she said. “They say that the best camera is the one that’s with you,”

Last year she entered some of her photos in the Douglas County Fair and she received ribbons on all entries, including two grand champion ribbons. Her efforts at the fair resulted in some modest winnings, but her big win was still to come.

“This summer, I won the grand prize in Reader’s Digest America’s Road Trip Photo Contest with a prize of $500,” she said. The contest was nationwide and asked readers to send in their best snapshots from roadside America.

The award-winning image was taken in Tampa Bay, Fla., as Marks was leaving the Clearwater Beach. She captured the sunset and row of palm trees in her car’s side mirror. 

“I heard from Readers Digest that I had two photos that they were considering and they asked me for a higher resolution copy of each,” she said. “I hadn’t heard back from them for over a month so I just assumed that I hadn’t won. Then I got an email telling that I had won the grand prize!”

Marks said she takes thousands and thousands of photos every year.

Award winning photo in the Reader’s Digest photo contest. It was taken by Clearwater Beach in Tampa Bay, Fla. Photo by Lou Ann Marks

“I have almost 22,000 on my phone right now,” she said. “I love to take sunset photos and will generally take a couple hundred in one evening and narrow it down to three or four that I keep.”

Marks has also got into crystal ball photography, a technique using a small crystal ball to make a unique effect with the photos.

“I am very active on three different crystal ball sites on Facebook,” she said.

Some of Marks’ photos have been published in the Echo Press and Senior Perspective.  One of her photos was included in the 100 Best iPhone Photos of 2017 at iPhone Photography School. Her photos have been featured online by Explore Minnesota, Midwest Captures, Explore Alexandria, Voice of Alexandria, Living Alex Area, Clearwater Beach is Awesome, Visit Clearwater Beach, Tampa Bay is Awesome, Best of the Sunshine State, Color Spirit Magazine and IMography magazine, among others.

Lou Ann Marks has been practicing crystal ball photography lately. Here is an example. Photo by Lou Ann Marks

“I was excited to receive the Best of the Month Award from the Universe of Color Photography… twice,” she said. “This is an international group of photographers with 48,000 members, both amateurs and professionals.

Marks said she enjoys learning more about photography from other photographers and also through tutorials.

“I was inspired to pursue photography when I won an online photo contest sponsored by iPhone Photography School,” she said. “I learned much about composition, lighting and selective focus from their tutorials.”

Marks was born in Glenwood and raised in Cedar, a small town north of Minneapolis.

“We returned to Glenwood to raise our children,” she said. “We enjoyed living on Lake Minnewaska until our move to Colorado, where we lived for nine years. We returned to Minnesota upon retirement and chose to live in the Alexandria area. We are so fortunate to live on Lake Brophy, which gives me many opportunities to capture beautiful sunsets. And because we winter in Clearwater Beach (Fla.), I am lucky to take sunset photos over water year round.”