Richland photographer vies for top spot in national photo contest

Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldJune 29, 2014 

Tri-City photographer Scott Butner took an eye-catching photo of the midnight sky at Palouse Falls recently that is attracting notice on the Internet.

The photo is so far leading the pack as the favorite in the Weather Channel's It's Amazing Out There photo contest, in the living world category.

People can help Butner win the contest by visiting the Weather Channel's website at http://bit.ly/butnerphoto and voting for him.

The photo is a computerized composite of six panoramic shots he took in rapid succession showing the brilliant stars of the Milky Way with the falls and surrounding canyon walls illuminated by a huge bonfire. He melded the shots together to make it look like one photo.

Butner, from Richland, said he arrived at the falls around midnight and stood at the top of the cliffs above to set up his shots.

Palouse Falls is northeast of the Tri-Cities in a 105-acre state park named after the 200-foot waterfall that spills into the Palouse River between Washtucna and Starbuck.

"I was looking for a good star photo that night, and at this time of year the Milky Way doesn't rise above the horizon until after 11 p.m.," Butner said. "It took about 10 minutes to shoot the composite of shots I wanted, which was lots of detail in the sky. And it was pure luck those campers had built that bonfire that gave such great illumination."

Butner's fascination with photography began when his mom gave him his first camera.

"My mom was a city of Everett cop and often had to visit pawn shops looking for stolen goods," Butner said. "On my ninth birthday, she picked up a camera for me during one of those visits to a pawn shop."

During the next several years he wore the camera out learning how to take photos.

By the time he graduated from high school, he fell into a job as a team photographer for the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders.

"After doing that job for three years, I kind of got burned out on photography and decided to go to college," he said.

He earned an engineering degree focusing on renewable energy, then went to work for Battelle in the Tri-Cities. It wasn't until six years ago that he decided to take up photography again. When he retired from Battelle last year, he opened his own studio at 450 Williams Blvd., Richland.

Although he appreciates being able to make a few extra dollars photographing weddings and such, Butner gets even more pleasure taking random photos of people, bands and life as it happens. He then posts them on Flickr or Facebook.

"I'm sort of like the picture fairy," Butner said with a laugh. "People get a kick out of those (random) shots I post. And there are just some things you can't get paid for that make you feel good."

While he's entered only one other photo contest in his life, Butner would love to win the Weather Channel's contest, which pays the winner $15,000. He said he chose Palouse Falls because it has had a surge in popularity since it was declared the state's official waterfall.

People can vote for images until July 13. The top 25 photographs will go before a panel of four people who will choose the overall winner, according to the Weather Channel's website.

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal

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