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Announcing the 16 Winning Photos of the 2023 Life Is Better Outdoors Sunflower Photo Contest

Join Us At September Final Fridays to Meet the Artists Behind the Photos 

We are excited to announce the winners of the 2023 Life Is Better Outdoors Sunflower Photo Contest. We want to give a huge shout out to the Sunflower community that came through with the best photos and stories of celebrating life outdoors. You submitted almost 150 images that captured breathtaking moments across our three contest categories — Midwest Scenic, Self-Propelled Adventure, and Overall. From there, our prestigious judges (big thanks to Liam Inbody, Andy White, Ann Dean, and Dan Hughes) whittled the competition down to 10 finalists in each category

We received hundreds of votes to determine which of the finalists would be named our winners, and the public has spoken! Below are the Top 5 winning images in each of our contest categories. We had a tie for fifth place in the Self-Propelled Adventure Category, giving us a total of 16 winning photos for this year. Congratulations to all the winners, and thank you to everyone who submitted, voted, and shared — we appreciate you!

The fun’s not over: Join us on Friday, September 29, to see all the winners displayed on our walls for September's Final Fridays event. The photo contest gallery opens that evening, but the photographs will be up throughout the entire month of October. Be sure to make your way up to our second floor the next time you’re in the shop to check it out. 

And The Winners Are…


1st Place: Palmer Bowles — Flint Hills Sunrise

Originally from Kansas City, Palmer now calls Manhattan home. Palmer loves to document his own adventures, especially Kansas-based ones that can inspire others to get out and enjoy our often under-rated state (a worthy cause we’re equally passionate about!). This photo was taken in the Flint Hills at the Konza Prairie in early May. The hillside had been burnt just a few weeks prior, and the grass was vibrant green with the recent storms.

2nd Place: Laurel Nagengast — Among the Wildflowers

 Laurel is from Lawrence, and it’s perfectly fitting that her job is to promote all of the magic that Lawrence has to offer through her position at eXplore Lawrence. Through her work, she gets to be creative, meet new people, and spread the love for Lawrence and the Midwest. This photo was taken at Float Local Fridays at the Clinton Marina in June and features purple wildflowers in front of Clinton Lake during sunset, with a full moonrise visible across the water. 

3rd Place: Dylan Stone — Cedar Lake Falls

Dylan is a young nature and wildlife photographer in Kansas who loves to capture nature as it is. This photograph captures his favorite Kansas waterfall, Cedar Lake Falls in Olathe. 

4th Place: Robert Hendon — Spring Storm at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Robert's childhood, which included frequent family campouts, weekends exploring Yosemite, and regular backpacking trips with his father, left him feeling most "at home" when immersed in natural settings. He got his first "real" camera decades ago, and it was only natural that he gravitated toward capturing the beauty of the outdoors. He's always felt like it was an attempt to bring the wilderness home with him, a way of mitigating the restlessness between adventures. Robert captured this photo during a brief letup in a spring downpour at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

5th Place: Roger Lee — Trumpeter Swans Take Flight 

Roger moved to Lawrence from California several years ago and immediately fell in love with the area’s natural world, especially the seasons, the skies, and the birds. This is a picture of Trumpeter Swans at sunset at the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri.


1st Place: Todd Segraves — Sunrise Kayaker 

Based out of Topeka, Todd always tries to capture photos when he can find the perfect light intersecting the activities he loves. He found the light when he captured this shot of a kayaker paddling at sunrise at Bone Creek Lake in southeast Kansas. 

2nd Place: Palmer Bowles — First Light 

Originally from Kansas City, Palmer now calls Manhattan home. During the summer when he’s not in school, he works as a raft guide in Granite, Colorado. He took this photograph just as first light broke above Hand Pass on his way up the Crestone Needle in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range.

3rd Place: Val Bontrager — Sunset Paddle 

Val is from Lawrence and loves getting outdoors and trying to capture the amazing things she sees on her adventures. This photograph caught a sunset paddle at Wilson Lake in north-central Kansas.

4th Place: Zach Ziesmer — Nori The Natural 

Originally from Colorado, Zach spent family vacations visiting extended family in Kansas. He'd spend summers swimming in a pond near Kansas City and credits those early experiences as instrumental in shaping his view of the outdoors. Zach's lab, Nori, is a natural water dog but a first-timer on the paddle board. 

5th Place: Quinn Manring — Morning Roll with Mom

Quinn is a fifth-year architecture student at KU who grew up in a small town in northwest Missouri. Quinn loves the challenge of capturing things that don't often get much credit but that hold immense beauty when creatively captured. This photograph shows Quinn's mom (the person responsible for his love of cycling) on an early morning ride heading into dense fog. Quinn enjoys going on leisurely rides with his mom, where he takes in the beautiful moments of nature.

5th Place: Craig Myers-Arenth — Bikes & Blooms 

Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Craig moved to Lawrence after attending the Maryland Institute College of Art. Riding his bike was always his first love, although he's added roller skating, trail running, and paddleboarding to the mix. Craig loves how cycling allows you to use your own power to visit places far away in a short amount of time.This shot captures one of Craig's favorite places to unwind after a long day at work — the Lawrence River Trail.


1st Place: Laurie Steen — Sunset Swim

From Olathe, Laurie has found a love for capturing a moment through the lens of a camera. Laurie says that she doesn't go searching but tries to capture what she sees wherever she happens to be in that moment. Laurie captured this image of her 18-year-old son, who is now off at his first year of college, off Anna Maria Island, Florida.

2nd Place: Aaron Groene — The Swiss Alps 

A Lawrence native, Aaron grew up looking at the most beautiful and vivid sunsets anywhere. He loves trying to bring the same vivid color to his shots. This photograph is at the top of a hike in Champéry, Switzerland, just as the timber clears and you can see the full spectacle of the Alps.

3rd Place: Robert Hendon — The Grand Tetons 

As a lifelong camper, backpacker, and explorer, Robert loves to capture the beauty of the outdoors as a way to keep it around him even when he's indoors and between getaways. His photograph captures the unreal feeling of being in Jackson Hole beneath the Grand Teton Mountains, which are some of the most iconic in the country.

4th Place: William Lang — Under the Canopy 

William (Bill) is from Olathe, and the more he is outside, the better life is. He shot this photo among the trees at the foot of Pikes Peak in Colorado.

5th Place: Hannah Proffitt — Dip with Dragonflies

Hannah was born and raised in Kansas, attended KU for her undergraduate degree and master's degree in Geophysics, and loves hiking and backpacking. She is a self-taught photographer who likes the challenge of capturing her travels, whether that means cool cities or remote areas. While finding solace at Bobby Lake, Oregon, Hannah noticed dragonfly friends having fun where she sat.