Wendy Wood of Grand Forks knelt in the middle of a rural highway in southeastern North Dakota last summer to capture a picture of a rainbow as a dark storm began to clear.

That photo has been selected, out of more than 500 submissions, as one of 15 winners in the 18th annual North Dakota Governor’s Photo Contest.

Gov. Doug Burgum and Sara Otte Coleman, the state’s tourism director, recently announced the picture, titled “The Vast Lane,” as the winner in the Road Trips category. Other categories were Recreation, Badlands Scenery, Beyond the Badlands Scenery and Wildlife. Winning submissions will be published in North Dakota Tourism’s promotional materials.

“The Vast Lane” was the only photo she submitted, Wood said. When she heard it had won, she said she "was quite shocked, actually.”

Wood had never before submitted a photo for this contest, and has only been pursuing photography in a serious way for about five years, she said.

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“I’ve always tried to get a nice picture of a rainbow and I never have – sometimes they disappear so quickly, you know?”

Wood posted the photo on a website dedicated to North Dakota history – and “some towns that are no longer towns,” she said – and was encouraged by others to submit it to the Governor’s Photo Contest, which she had never heard of.

“What I really like to take pictures of are old country churches, so I go out and about and try to find them,” Wood said. It was on one such outing, near Christine, N.D., when she took the winning photo using a Nikon D800 camera.

On her way to a little old white church, “there was a rainbow – just a perfect rainbow,” she said.

She pulled over on the highway that “had some traffic, but not a lot.” It was late afternoon or early evening, she recalled, when she knelt in the middle of the highway to shoot the photo that had long eluded her.

“I think it’s a peaceful picture,” she said.

The church she was heading for can be seen in the photo, to the left of the highway.

Now in retirement after 18 years as director of the home-delivered meals program at Altru Hospital, Wood is free to pursue her interest in photography more earnestly. She also likes to shoot old farmhouses, barns and lighthouses, she said.

This year, there were 543 submissions for the contest, which encourages the state’s amateur photographers to submit photos that capture the unique things to see and do in North Dakota, Coleman said in a news release announcing the winners.

Of the 15 photographers selected, 12 were first-time Governor’s Photo Contest award-winners.

Since 2004, the annual contest has received more than 17,100 photos.

“We are deeply grateful for these talented photographers who captured the spirit of what makes North Dakota a great place to visit, live, work and raise a family,” Burgum said. “They do a fantastic job of highlighting the wide-open spaces, outdoor adventure and diverse opportunities available in our communities.”

Guest judges for the contest were Tim Lamey, representing the North Dakota Council on the Arts, and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Hume Kennerly, representing the Governor’s Office.

Prints of the winning images will be on display through mid-November at the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum. The images will then, for the first time, comprise a traveling exhibit through the North Dakota Art Gallery Association. Exhibitions will be in Cando, beginning Dec. 1; the James Memorial Arts Center in Williston, starting May 2, and The Arts Center in Jamestown, beginning June 9.

“We are excited to showcase these images throughout the state as a traveling exhibit,” said Kim Konikow, executive director of the North Dakota Council on the Arts.

The AAA organization, a sponsor of the Governor’s Photo Contest for the past 13 years, provides prizes and exposure for winning photographers.

“This is a unique opportunity to support our North Dakota amateur photographers,” said Gene LaDoucer, director of public affairs, noting that the photos will be showcased in a AAA publication and communications efforts.

“The Governor’s Photo Contest categories continue to provide stunning imagery that inspires travel and community experiences,” said Coleman. “Road trips have been a large part of our marketing efforts and we look forward to using these unique photos to inspire trips both near and far.”