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Gemma Keys with her photo.
Gemma Keys with her winning photo

Bird photo flies to top of competition

By Zoe Applegate
A Norwich girl has beat 10,000 budding photographers to become one of the winners of an RSPCA competition. Gemma Keys' quirky photo of an American bird clinched her the winners' trophy in the 12-18 section.

It was captured in a second, but the stunning result was enough to clinch Gemma Keys a title in a top competition for young photographers.

The 17-year-old's image of a snowy egret bird, taken during a family holiday in Florida, was revealed as the winner of the 12 to 18 section in the RSPCA Young Photographer Awards on Friday, 15 December, 2006.

Gemma, from Thorpe St Andrew, Norwich, was one of just four winners in the national contest, which attracted 10,000 entries.

Her shot of the snowy egret's quizzical look and its lacy white plumes set against a black background caught the attention of the judging panel, which included TV wildlife expert Chris Packham and RSPCA photographer Andrew Forsyth.

London ceremony

A snowy egret by Gemma Keys.
Gemma's shot of the snowy egret (detail)

Gemma, who is taking art, biology and psychology A-levels at Thorpe St Andrew College, was one of the 28 short-listed snappers who travelled to London's Natural History Museum to hear the results announced.

"I was so chuffed to win," said Gemma. "I loved my photo but I never expected to win.

"We went into the theatre for the results and they announced the under 12 winner, then they went through the 12 to 18 runners-up and my name didn't come up.

"I thought never mind, I'm just happy to be here and then my name flashed on screen and I had to go up on stage and collect a glass trophy," she said.

Sense of fun

Judge Andrew Forsyth praised the humorous shot of the heron-like bird, saying: "It is an excellent graphic photograph - not to mention great fun!"

She also won a digital camera, which she said will be a useful back-up to the one which captured her award-winning shot.

Although Gemma has been taking photos since she six years old, she only bought a digital camera last year after saving money from her part-time job.

Having a good piece of equipment inspired Gemma to start taking more shots - and it was her constant companion during her summer holiday in Florida.

Gemma Keys with her trophy.
Gemma was delighted to pick up the award

She said: "Snowy egrets are like the seagulls of Florida and in Seaworld they were flying around because it was feeding time and the staff were bringing out fish.

"All of a sudden this one stood on a rock and he was so close that I decided to get a picture, which was face on."

Long quest

Although Gemma had always wanted to enter the annual RSPCA contest, she'd never had an image she was happy enough with - but was still surprised when she was short-listed in September.

The news that she had won her category has been a boost to her confidence and is shaping her career choices.

"I love animals, especially marine animals and birds and I'd love to work with them either in the wild or captivity, so you can get close to them and help with their rehabilitation," she said.

"This has really inspired me - if I can work with animals, then I can take more photos. I think I've shown that it's just about believing in yourself," she added.

The winning shot will now go on display for a year at the RSPCA's London head-quarters.

last updated: 20/12/06
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