CREOL, UCF’s Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers, is sponsoring a photo contest aimed at K-12 students. The winner will receive a $100 cash reward.

The first-ever photo contest by CREOL is by no means a selfie challenge. Rather, students are asked to submit an original photo that shows how light affects their daily lives.

The photo contest, which is open until May 30, is part of a much larger project. In 2013, the United Nations declared 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies, or IYL. Their aim was to globally raise awareness for the importance of light-based technologies and how they are key to finding solutions to challenges in energy, education, agriculture and health.

The contest is the latest in various projects UCF has been creating to raise awareness for light-based technology, said Mike McKee, the assistant director for the college’s undergraduate programs who organized the contest. He has led teacher workshops where elementary teachers received free kits of lenses and LEDs to do hands-on activities with their classes.

Though many of the activities for the IYL have been science-based, McKee said he felt it was important to expose kids of all different interests to the power of light.

“What I like about this is it attracts sort of a different type of kid. It might be a kid that is more artistic that will be engaged and interested in the field,” McKee said.

And it’s done just that for Maxwell Zengage, a sophomore at A.W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in Palm Beach, who can be found most often editing his photos through Photoshop but has yet to enter a photo contest. He saw the competition as an ideal opportunity to share his love for photography.

Photo submission by Maxwell Zengage
Photo submission by Maxwell Zengage

“My appreciation for light’s ability to create every visual aspect of our world fuels my love of photography,” the visual major said.

“I myself hated school,” said McKee, who was a middle and high school science teacher for fifteen years. “So, I like to do things that are very hands-on and inquiry based that engage the kids in learning so that they’re not studying science, they’re doing science.”

For Allie Wisniewski, a senior at Matanzas High School in Palm Coast, her camera roll on her phone is full of experimental photos of natural light, so this contest immediately piqued her interest. Her photo submission consists of her hand in the sunlight with her shadow dancing behind it.

Photo submission by Allie Wisniewski
Photo submission by Allie Wisniewski

“The hand in the photo is my own, and I feel that its shadow on the wall demonstrates the fact that I, as well as any other person, have the capability to affect nature in a beautiful, personal, and almost unintentional way,” Wisniewski said. “I aimed to convey that fact: the complexity of light and light obstruction make it possible to create a separate and artful extension of yourself in the form of a shadow.”

McKee said the panel of judges consists of himself, the dean of the College of Optics and Photonics, Bahaa Saleh, and one other faculty member. Along with looking at the photo’s artistic appeal and ability at capturing light, the judges will take into account the photo descriptions required with each photo submitted. At the end of the contest, McKee said all photo submissions will be displayed on the CREOL website.

Photo submissions can be uploaded at