Young Milton photographer queen of Prime Hook contest

Maria Deckmann, of Milton, a senior at Worcester Prep, shows one of her photos taken at her home beehive. (Delaware State News photo/Jennifer Antonik)

MILTON — Maria Deckmann, of Milton, has a world ahead of her and her camera lens. But it’s a photograph she took at home that earned her several top awards.

A queen bee, regal in her own right, now hangs in the visitor center of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Milton with Ms. Deckmann’s name listed as the photographer.

“She’s a queen bee in our beehive, so we’re also beekeepers. That’s a pretty cool hobby. And the queen bee, she’s one out of so many … that’s the only time I’ve actually seen our queen. It was a happy moment. I mean, who gets to see a queen bee in a real beehive?” she said, still in awe of the experience.

“We pulled the frame out and saw her moving around. She’s bigger and other bees were making a path for her to walk through. We were like, ‘Yipee!’ And I grabbed the camera, because it’s a moment you’ll want to save forever.”

She turned that moment into a first-place award in the student category of the 15th Annual Friends of Prime Hook U.S. Wildlife Refuge Nature Photography Contest this year.

The contest was open to all photographers with a goal of showcasing “much of the finest nature photography on the Delmarva Peninsula,” according to Michael Short of the refuge. Thirty photographers submitted a total of 138 photographs for the 2018 contest, including categories like the beauty of Prime Hook, native flowers and plants, native birds, native wildlife and Delmarva scenery. Student categories were also offered.

“I felt accomplished,” said Ms. Deckmann, a senior at Worcester Prep in Berlin, Maryland. “I felt like I really got my name out there because it’s hard here since there’s not many places to really photograph wildlife. But, there’s a lot of nature photographers. I think this showed me that I’m better than just average. I’m not just your backyard photographer.”

This photo of bees making a path for their queen earned Ms. Deckmann a first-place prize in the student category of the 15th annual Friends of Pirme Hook U.S. Wildlife Refuge Nature Photography Contest. (Submitted photo)

This is Ms. Deckman’s most successful photography contest but it’s not her first time displaying her work to the masses.

Earlier this year, she displayed photographs of a recent student trip to Africa at The Moorings in Lewes.

“I had my whole collection there. It was like I completed a whole piece. There were so many different subject matters,” she said.

“All the pieces of the puzzle were there to express a whole image. It really was what I wanted to show from the trip.”

The trip took the 18-year-old Delaware native and a host of other students to Africa to study animals alongside professional researchers. And, of course, Ms. Deckmann brought her camera along for the ride.

“We helped researchers there conduct their research. We would go through scat, for example, monkey poop, to see what kind of diet they had. We also hiked around the entire property and collected motion access cards to see what kinds of animals were actually lurking around there. We saw leopards, porcupines, bushbuck. which is like an African deer. One morning, we heard banging on the roof, howling, screetching, banging, I said, ‘Oh, this can’t be good.’ We walk outside and there’s this Samango monkey making a ruckus. You don’t get that anywhere but there,” she said.

“The whole time I had a camera in my hand. It didn’t matter what we were doing. The trip was mostly directed to animal research. It ended with the safari. We learned about conflicts between humans and animals in that part of the world. The things we find are struggles, they don’t have there. They have these problems with lions and monkeys that we just don’t have here. It’s really kind of funny, but it’s scary at the same time. They have some serious issues and we’re all trying to find solutions to it.”

Africa is just one country on a list of places Ms. Deckmann has visited already. Family trips have also taken the teenager to Belize, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Germany.

“I got into photography when I was 13. We had iPads at school and the camera on the IPad was super cool at the time. As a kid, my parents traveled a lot all over the world. And I kind of realized as I got older, that I wouldn’t have those experiences again,” she said.

Maria Deckmann, of Milton, captured this image elephants during a school trip to Africa.

“So, to capture that moment, in a real picture, is really important to me. Life moves so quickly, when you get to capture the actual moment and light. It’s just really cool.”

After her first experience with photography, she received her first DSLR camera when she was 15 years old.

“It was the best present I ever got. I was so excited. But, I unwrapped the box and there were rain boots inside. And I thought, ‘Rain boots, oh how great.’ But then, they had the camera somewhere else. It was exciting,” she said.

She continues to study photography and painting in school. She also plays volleyball, volunteers on the stage crew for school plays and sings in the chorus. Ms. Deckmann cofounded and now co-directs the a capella group at Worchester Prep and attends a Russian Orthodox youth camp for a month every year, now as a counselor.

She has applied to several colleges, hoping to attend the University of Michigan, like her parents. Ms. Deckmann would like to study Russian, photography and possibly biology or dentistry in college. But she’s sure art will play a role in her future.

“I think that in writing or in words, there’s only so much you can say in words. But you can learn a lot about a person from their artwork,” she said.

“I’ve learned that whatever you do, no matter how big or small it is, make the most of it. It may seem boring. Your mom could be taking you to this museum, and you don’t realize why until you get older. You’re experiencing a world.”

Photographs like the one Ms. Deckmann took of her family’s queen bee can be seen through Sunday, Dec. 9 in the visitor’s center at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, 11978 Turkle Pond Road in Milton from 9 a.m. until 4 a.m. The contest was sponsored by the Friends of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Judges included photographers Ken Arni, David Koster and Deny Howeth.

Visitors are asked to participate in the contest by voting for their favorite photo for a People’s Choice Award, which will be given at the end of the show.

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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