Lori Ruch and her family had picked up a bunch of kittens from her grandma’s to then get them placed at various homes.

“But before we gave them to different people, I said, I’m going to take a photograph,” Ruch said.

Utilizing the props from prior photoshoots at her rural Mankato studio, she grabbed a bird cage outside and a nest from another project and pulled out feathers.

“And it just went together like that,” she said. “And naturally, the cat wanted to get out.”

At that moment, she snapped the photo in what created her award-winning photo for the Professional Photographers Association Loan Collection exhibit, “Not Guilty.”

Ruch, a Mankato native and owner of Lori Marie Photography, has always had the passion of furthering her skill in photography. Even when she was younger, she liked to take nature photographs or clouds.

“There are a million horrible photos that I haven taken,” Ruch laughed. “But everybody starts somewhere.”

Then she began working at Gallery 19 with Gregg Andersen when she was 15 years old. The gig was mostly office work, but it was a stepping stone of education in her future career.

Ruch opened up her studio in 2008, just a short few years after graduating from Minnesota State University in 2005 where she focuses on single and family portraits.

And when she had opened up her studio, it was when she joined PPA — an association that helps with networking as much as with education in the field, which is what drew Ruch to join.

“That’s what they’re all about — helping people improve and become better all around for business and the art of photography.”

Ruch had been working on becoming a certified photographer through the PPA — an arduous examination for photographers to showcase their skill and knowledge. The test involves a lot of studying, Ruch said, from proficiency in lighting and color balances.

The PPA then gives test takers three images as starting points to then replicate the image exactly. Photographers have up to two years to complete the examination in which they submit a raw file photograph (to ensure that the photograph hasn’t been altered). Ruch completed hers in a year and passed her first time.

The certification is a concrete dedication to the skill. “(It shows) to my clients that I care about their images and care to always give them the best that I can,” she said. “With learning and pushing myself, it shows that I care and I just want to be better.”

With this year being the first that Ruch had been certified, she decided to submit her work to the Loan Collection of Professional Photographers of America — an international photographic competition. The competition had more than 5,000 images — 1,706 were chosen for the General Collection and only 865 were selected for the Loan Collection, including Ruch’s “Not Guilty.”

Ruch had even been able to see the live judging of the images — a humbling experience, she said.

“I’m really honored and very proud of my work,” she said.

Looking at the other images, Ruch said there were many that could have also been in the Loan Collection. And she reminds herself, it’s not luck that her photograph had been chosen.

“I put a lot of work into it. It depends on your judges and what they see. … I feel very fortunate that it was picked.”

The exhibition will be taking place virtually, from Jan. 17-19. The images from the Loan Collection will also be published in the “Loan Collection” book by Marathon Press.

Ruch’s goal is to continue to push for great images for her clients and for the art of photography.

“I’m really excited where this takes me and excited for the next level and how this pushes me to create better images every time.”

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