Twin passions for photography and road trips landed an Alexandria woman the grand prize in the Reader’s Digest national photo contest.

Lou Ann Marks and her husband Jerry had just left Clearwater Beach in Florida when she snapped the winning shot of palm trees, sunset and ocean in the vehicle’s passenger side mirror.

“I was sad we couldn’t stay to watch the sunset — until I realized I could capture it in the mirror!” she wrote to the magazine, which boasts a print and online audience of more than 27 million people combined. Close to 2,000 photos were submitted, the magazine told the Echo Press.

Not only did Marks win $500, but the photo ran in the July/August issue of Reader’s Digest in the “Road Trip Treasures” contest.

Marks wasn’t even aware her photos had appeared in print until she went to church one Sunday.

“A couple people said, ‘I saw your picture in the magazine,’” she recalled. “I said, ‘What?’ So we went to Elden’s and bought one. I didn’t even know it was going to be published.”

Marks shoots all her photos with her iPhone X, and she shoots a lot of them. She has 26,000 pictures on her phone and 55,000 pictures on her computer.

“For sunsets I’ll take a couple hundred,” she said. “At night my husband watches TV and I sort through photos.”

Marks is always on the prowl for unique spots around the world. In Georgia, she discovered a junk yard so photogenic that it no longer sells junk; instead, it charges people to come in and look and take pictures. She brought her husband, Jerry, wading through water in a slot canyon to reach a hidden waterfall. In Utah, they slept in a gypsy wagon and bathed in hot spring-fed bathtubs.

“We did a kayak trip in the spring,” she said. “The water was so clear you couldn’t tell you were on water.”

Each year, she said, they put about 50,000 to 60,000 miles on their sport-utility vehicle. They haul along a four-wheeler that helps them reach hard-to-get-to spots.

“Jerry just loves to drive and we love to explore,” she said.

She keeps three crystal balls of varying sizes and wears one in a pouch around her neck to enhance the beauty or originality of a scene. She belongs to a network of crystal ball photography enthusiasts that circles the globe; the balls capture miniature, flipped-over versions of the scene.

Marks avoids filters and clip-on lenses, preferring the simplicity of the filterless iPhone lens. She heavily indulges in the phone’s burst mode, which takes rapid photos; that is how she scored the winning shot for Reader’s Digest. It's also how she snags photos of water droplets suspended in air.

The one drawback to using an iPhone, she said, is that images can be blurry when greatly enlarged.

It’s not the first time she has been recognized for her photography; her images have been singled out 231 times online by a variety of organizations, she said. Her work has also appeared in the Echo Press as Photo of the Week. This is, however, the first cash prize she has won. Another of her images also won honorable mention for the same contest.

“Since I retired, I really got into photography,” she said. “I have my phone with me all the time. They say the best camera is the one you have with you the most. We have another camera but it’s too big — I don’t want to use it.”

She entered the Reader’s Digest contest in March. In April, an email alerted her that she was a finalist, and that she needed to send in a larger file size. In June, an editor emailed her that she had won.

“Your image perfectly encapsulates what we love about road trips,” associate photo editor Matthew Cohen wrote. “In the car, a beautiful landscape and a keen photo eye. We love it!”

Marks displays work in September

Lou Ann Marks is exhibiting her photography in September in the red schoolhouse in Farwell. The schoolhouse is open on days concerts are scheduled in the restored church and when the exhibiting artist leads a class.

Her show will open Saturday, Sept. 7, from 3-7 p.m., prior to a 7 p.m. concert by Peggy Weise and Jewett Benson. There will also be horse-and-buggy rides from 4-6 p.m.

The gallery will also open on Wednesday, Sept. 18, from 5-7 p.m., when Marks teaches book folding.

On Saturday, Sept. 21, the gallery will open from noon-5 p.m., with an artist reception set for 5-7 p.m. There will be a classic car show during the day as well as a 7 p.m. concert by Good Company Band.