Tumwater High School’s Noah Mahlon Wins State Photographic Technology Contest

The Washington Technology Student Association state competition required a timed, on-demand event. It was Mahlon's Pentax film camera that took the spotlight in the on-demand competition phase. Photo credit: Noah Mahlon

Under pressure, but ready with skills, Noah Mahlon of Tumwater High School turns out award-winning photography. High school photography class is a whole new ball game these days. Focus is no longer on the darkroom. Instead, it is on state-of-the-art technology. A student photographer’s keen, artistic eye has a new tool. Learning about digital cameras and the intricacies of photo editing programs, Mahlon took his skills and instinct for the right shot to the state level competition and brought home first place in the Washington Technology Student Association (WTSA) Photographic Technology competition.

Life experiences had prepared him for what makes a good photograph and how to utilize tools and technology to produce it efficiently. Having traveled the world with his military family, Mahlon has reference points for how collecting imagery helps preserve memories. He has lived in Germany, Hawaii and Pennsylvania, before his family moved to Washington. One such memorable event was perusing photographs with his father from trips to Asia, Africa and Tunisia. With many experiences of scenic places, he was inspired to do more to record memories.

Working at his own photography began in 2014 on a trip to Hawaii. He attached camera lens enhancements to his cell phone. The possibilities were inspiring, and the experience spurred motivation. In middle and high school, he participated in yearbook work and continued a self-taught approach. A few years ago, he received a digital camera as a gift, and then he was on to the visual technologies course. Confinement to home and yard during COVID-19 restrictions gave him the opportunity to practice macro-photography of bees and flowers. A road trip to eastern Washington, Idaho and Oregon made for an awesome opportunity for landscape images.

Noah Mahlon, a student at Tumwater High School, won first place in the Washington Technology Student Association Photographic Technology competition. Photo credit: Noah Mahlon

Mahlon is quickly learning the broad spectrum of photographic technology history. He also shoots film. After a failed light meter incident, his teacher lent him a Pentax K1000 35mm film camera. His interest continued from there. His darkroom processing is done at home, and the negatives go straight to the scanner and then on to a computer editing program. In fact, it was the Pentax itself that took the spotlight in the WTSA on-demand competition phase.

Bringing Home First Place

According to the WTSA website, “Participants demonstrate understanding and expertise in using photographic and imaging technology processes to convey a message based on an annual theme.” The 2021 theme was nature. WTSA, a nonprofit organization, aims to help prepare students for technological careers. After his visual technologies teacher mentioned the contest, Mahlon submitted five nature themed photos to enter the competition. He won his place for the next step at the state conference, which included an on-demand performance of expertise. He would next have to be skilled and artistic under time and condition restraints.

After reaching the final stage of the state level competition, contestants were required to perform their skills and artistry at home, in under two hours. The theme? Product photography. Mahlon had two hours to plan the photo shoot, take the pictures, process them and have them ready for a final presentation.

“The on-demand event was fairly stressful overall, but I am super grateful to have participated in the opportunity,” explained Mahlon. “This isn’t like anything I have ever done in the past, let alone a photo competition. At the start of the contest, I was surprised to be presented with the prompt of ‘product photography.’ Halfway through my designated two hours, I made the brave decision to switch my subject and retake my photos.”

Noah Mahlon’s darkroom processing is done at home, and the negatives go straight to the scanner and then on to a computer editing program. Photo credit: Noah Mahlon

One image had to give perspective. Another had to show the product alone with nothing else in the frame, and the last had to show it in use. Not happy with the first product choice, he went for the Pentax, the model representing the tools of the trade. The Pentax became his subject for the product photography.

With the images taken, edited and ready for submission, the task wasn’t finished. He had to document the steps, starting with declaring the camera used, the aperture setting, the exposure, the film speed and focal length of the lens. Editing steps had to be described and defended, and a final declaration as to how the images met the criteria of the contest had to be given.

“In the end,” says Mahlon, “I am content with my submissions and I am thrilled to be awarded with first place.” An entry to the national level event is on the calendar.

A future in the photography world is Mahlon’s dream job. He would be happy photographing for National Geographic or product testing for equipment companies and is fully aware of the competitive nature in the field. He also has his sights on the chiropractic profession. Whatever this student chooses, he seems up for the task. Right now, he mostly enjoys sharing his photography with people and recording memories.

“I hope my photos inspire people to stop and discover the unexpected beauty around them,” says Mahlon. “Sharing my experiences with people all over the world and inspiring people to keep pursuing their passions motivates me to work at mine.”


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