Holly Neill won an honorable mention in a photography contest.
Holly Neill won an honorable mention in a photography contest. (Hannah Grover/The Daily Times)

Farmington — Holly Neill has a Cannon Rebel camera, and, until January, she had always used the automatic settings. Then, in January, she started taking photography classes at San Juan College and learned how to really take advantage of the camera's abilities.

"I've always been interested in photography, but never pursued any formal training," Neill said.

While studying photography, her professor, Tony Bennett, encouraged her to enter the Photographer's Forum 33rd Annual Spring Photography Competition. Thousands of people from all around the world entered their photographs and, in August, Neill was selected for honorable mention. As part of receiving honorable mention, her photograph will be featured in a hardcover book called "Best of Photography 2013."

While in class, Bennett assigned the students an environmental portrait. Neill and her husband took a trip into Carson National forest in April. He wore the camouflage and took his bow. They searched for the perfect place, a place where his camouflage would almost blend in. Then she found a certain "special" tree that she knew had to be the background.

This was one of four photographs she entered in the competition. She said it wasn't the one she thought was the best, but the judges obviously saw something in it. She was selected as a semi-finalist along with just over a thousand other contestants. Later, she received a second letter telling her she was one of the 100 contestants chosen to receive honorable mention in the competition.

She said she was stunned and hadn't expected to be selected even as a semi-finalist.

"I just threw my photos in because Tony (Bennett) was so encouraging," she said.

Neill said Bennett was her inspiration entering the competition.

"There's different instructors out there who can push you to pursue something," Neill said.

For Neill, taking the photography class was part of continuing her education after moving to Farmington in 2008. They had been living in Hamilton, Mont., where she and her husband, Wayne, had been fighting wildfires.

"It was great to have a college in a town we lived in," Holly Neill said.

Being a fire fighter, Neill moved around a lot. She said she attended three or four colleges, but never finished her degree.

"I've always loved college and I've always loved learning," she said.

While in Hamilton, she considered taking classes at The University of Montana in Missoula, but it would have been a 100-mile round trip to get to class.

After moving to Farmington, she took a few years working on landscaping her yard. Then the opportunity arose for her to return to school at San Juan College. She said she had a list of classes she wanted to take, including Spanish, economics and photography. She has been able to take photography classes and macroeconomics.

"It's never too late to pursue your passion," Neill said.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.