I spent Wednesday morning judging photography at the Ellis County Youth Expo. There were some photos that really took my breath away, and when I realized they were taken by students in this county, it made me proud to be a resident.

I've known for quite some time we have some bright and talented young people here, but getting an up close look at their work was an enlightening honor.

When I received an email from Rita Hodges, Texas AgriLife Extension Agent, asking if I would judge the photography portion of the event, I was all too glad for the opportunity. Not having any prior knowledge they even held such a thing at the Expo, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I figured since it was the ECYE, that I would see tons of photos of pigs, cows, chickens and the like. To my surprise, there were photos of people, animals, landscapes and scenery, flowers and other plants.

There were some well-done photos displayed on the tables, and all I could think about was how were we, my partner Cam Jackson and I, going to narrow these down to grand champion and reserve grand champion photos?

Thank goodness we had some strict criteria and guidelines to go by to help us narrow down the decisions.

The photos had to contain appealing subject matter with a centered focal point. They had to display some form of originality and imagination. The images had to be sharp with a pleasing contrast of light and dark. And the overall appearance had to command attention.

I really appreciate the Extension office taking the time to put that form together for us. We could narrow choices down a lot faster, but it was still a difficult task.

Thankfully, age groups divided the photos: Juniors (8 – 10), intermediates (11 – 13) and seniors (14 – and up).

We began the day at a table consisting of photos taken by juniors. It was a little easier to judge this particular group. To be as young as they were, some of them had a fantastic eye when it came to capturing great art. There were several photos taken at night, and from a distance, that made for very creative artwork.

When we progressed to the intermediate section, things got a little harder and the judging became a little stiffer on our part. In the midst of raising the stakes, there was one photo that jumped out at us. This photo made us say, “Wow. What a great photo!” It was an excellent contrast of light and dark. It had great composition; it was appealing and demanded our attention.

In this particular photo, a little boy was looking over a fence. The colors of his outfit popped, and we could feel there was a story behind it. It obviously made a lasting impression upon me. Maybe it was because a middle school student was the one responsible for such an amazing photo. To think that someone that young could produce such a photo really blew my mind. It wasn't the only great photo on display, but it definitely captured my attention.

Perhaps the two most stunning photos of the day were brought to my attention when I was looking at the photography on the display table of the senior group. I'm not sure if it was the majestic look of the eagle perched on the top of the fence, or the American Flag swaying in the wind behind it that gripped me, but when I gazed upon this photo, it all but took my breath away.

I didn't know if I should sing “The Star Spangled Banner,” stand at attention or cry. At some point, I felt like doing all three. When I looked at this photo, it made me proud to be an American.

One of my other favorite photos was of a scene shot in Mexico. I have no idea what part of Mexico it was, but it made me want to hop on a plane and go there. The beautiful blue water displayed a reflection of the bridge that was above it. Mountains on both sides surrounded the body of water. It was a breathtaking photo that looked much like a postcard you would send to a family member to make them envious of your surroundings.

I could go on and on about the wonderful photos that I was privy to judge. It was an absolute honor to be there and it's an experience I will treasure for many years to come.