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Right place, right time is the mantra for Surge photo contest winner

Sometimes the key to a great photo is just being in the right place at the right time. That’s what happened for Allyson Switzer of Socastee on a July walk in Myrtle Beach.

Her photo of the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove sign juxtapositioned with the glitzy new Skywheel is the winner of the fourth annual Surge Summer Snapshot Smackdown photo contest.

For people who know something of the history of downtown Myrtle Beach, the sepia-toned shot offers a reminder of simpler times that have been overtaken by a new kind of neon rush, a time before mom-and-pop motels were torn down in favor of high rises that blot out the ocean view in many spots.

Switzer, 37, is an amateur photographer with a good eye for the difference between old and new, down home and downtown, and a deep love for the natural beauty that makes the Grand Strand a shutterbug’s dream.

She’s a native of McCormick, a small town in the far western part of the Palmetto State that’s so unfamiliar to many people here she was pleasantly surprised when a Surge reporter knew where it was. Switzer studied child psychology at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, where she also met her husband, and moved to the Grand Strand for work as a child psychologist with the Horry County School District. She presently serves two schools, Socastee High and St. James Elementary. Switzer and her husband are animal lovers with five cats: Nitro, Butterball, Garfield, Sapphire and Molly.

Photography so far has been nothing but a hobby for her. She’s never taken a formal class, only read some articles about it and is mostly self-taught except for some apprentice work with a local photographer. She loves to share her images through her Facebook page (

Her memories of visiting the “old” Myrtle Beach as a child gave her a perspective about how things used to be when you could still walk to the top level of the staircase at the Gay Dolphin and when the Pavilion – not a big patch of land with a zip line – was the hallmark attraction of downtown. She fondly remembers visits to the Gift Cove with her family, especially because her mother loves knick-knacks and the place was a souvenir hunter’s paradise.

Switzer has no problem with the new – she thinks the boardwalk and Skywheel are “very, very nice and a great improvement.”

For her, however, the beach is the key attraction – not what developers build near it.

QUESTION | When and where did you take the winning photo (seen on this week’s Surge cover and above), and what gave you the idea?

ANSWER | It was taken at the end of July. I was with my sister and brother-in-law, and none of us had been to see the Skywheel. This was actually the first time I had been out there since the new boardwalk was put in place. We were just walking – my sister had her camera, too – and we were pausing every so often and taking some shots. I just saw the old Gay Dolphin sign, something that’s been there all my life, and the difference between that old sign and all the new things out there just struck me. The Skywheel was right behind it and it was a great shot.

Q. | What kind of camera do you use, and do you shoot digital or film?

A. | I have a Canon Rebel T2i digital SLR. I just got that camera a year ago in May. I had a regular Olympus digital point-and-shoot for a while, but this is the first SLR I’ve had.

Q. | Many amateur photographers rely solely on a point-and-shoot their whole lives and are hesitant about making the leap to SLR, but you’ve done it very successfully. What would you tell them is the key difference between the two?

A. | The biggest difference for me was that the point-and-shoot had a delay – you’d shoot a picture and then have to wait a couple seconds to take the next shot. With SLR, you can take several photos in succession by leaving the shutter down. And of course the SLR is more sophisticated, with better optics and zoom, and the resolution – 16 megapixels – is much much better. You can do a lot more with the camera.

Q. | Was this the first photo contest you’ve entered?

A. | I’ve entered a couple before but never won. Last year I made it to the second round of the National Wildlife Federation contest, and I’ve entered some others, but this is the first time I’ve won. I think I’ll look around for some contests now.

Q. | How long have you been into photography?

A. | My whole family is into photography, my mom and sisters and nieces, and I’ve been taking photos as long as I can remember. I really got interested in it when I was living in Rock Hill and attending Winthrop University. I used to walk a lot and there are some beautiful areas around the school, with a lot of dogwoods and azaleas and a park nearby. I took a lot of photos there and then over the years started to take more family photos at events. They liked what I did and thought I should get more involved with photography.

Q. | Is anybody in your family professional, and have you done any professional shooting?

A. | Nobody is a professional, but one of my nieces won the South Carolina Festival of Flowers contest two years ago. I’m trying to get into photography more and I’ve done some shoots with some friends but I haven’t charged them anything. I did an apprenticeship with Susan Hart Photography during summer 2011, working on beach portraits and things like that, and my long term goal is to eventually do some professional work. My first love is nature, but I’m not sure that’s where I would go because it’s a hard area to make money in, so I would love to get into shooting beach weddings.

Q. | What are your favorite photo subjects?

A. | My preference is really nature and pets. I have five cats, and they’re readily available subjects, but I’m trying to break into the other realm a bit and do some portrait photography. I haven’t done a lot of that.

Q. | The beach and surrounding areas are amazing places for nature photography. What are some of your favorite locations here or around the state?

A. | Huntington Beach State Park is amazing because of all the wildlife, especially the birds. Last year I took a bunch of shots of the roseate spoonbills that were out there. I was fortunate enough to see them because they were up near the walkway and I could get close to them. They’re beautiful birds. In Socastee, I’ve found some nice locations near the Waterway. I also like to go up to Lake Wylie (near Rock Hill) where my in-laws have a lake house. My father-in-law works the garden and has a lot of flowers which make some great photos.

Q. | You mentioned taking many photos of your cats. People love pet photos, but often don’t know how to take one. What’s the key to getting a good shot of Spot or Fluffy?

A. | The hardest thing is catching them when they’re still. You kind of have to know the animal already, or work to get to know them, and have to be ready to take the shot the minute it appears. You basically have to keep the camera up to your eye and wait for a few minutes until you get the shot you want.

Q. | Do you have any other hobbies beside photography?

A. | I read a lot, especially books by Stephen King, my favorite author. And of course there are the cats, who are a big part of my life. They just give a lot of love. They’re great photo subjects, and my husband works a lot of hours so they’re good company. They don’t talk back, and you don’t have to walk them.

Q. | What about the beach makes it such an intriguing subject for photographers?

A. | It’s never the same one day to the other. Plus there’s so much you can do with the lighting and how different it is during each time of day. My favorite time is in the evening, just at dusk or around sunset.