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Easton, Conn. Family Gets Snapshot at Fame



EASTON -- The O'Brien siblings didn't know it at the time, but when they clasped hands, coordinated a running start, and jumped off a dock into placid seawaters during a family vacation last year, they also leaped right into the pages of National Geographic magazine.

The youngsters' father, Frank, snapped a photo of the plunge that was entered into the magazine's "Your Shot" competition. As one of two pictures editors deemed the best of thousands of entries from around the world, the O'Brien photograph is featured on page 10 of the magazine's August issue.

"It's pretty cool," said O'Brien, an amateur photographer. "The kids and I all have cameras and we take a lot of pictures."

"It's kind of surreal," added O'Brien's wife, Kathleen. "It's kind of neat that you can submit something like that, and it's neat to be in National Geographic."

The O'Briens subscribe to the magazine and were familiar with its monthly competition, which invites shutterbugs to submit digital photographs that illustrate a predetermined theme. This month's theme was "Where I Vacation," noted O'Brien.

Last November, the O'Briens spent Thanksgiving at their vacation home on Cayman Brac, one of three land masses that comprise the Cayman Islands. On the day the photo was taken, the children -- Shealagh, 14; Egan, 13; Kaitlyn, 11; Kiernan, 8; and Erin, 6 -- were enjoying the Caribbean waters.

The picture captures the linked queue of gleeful youngsters halfway suspended in mid-air, just before they plummet some eight feet into the Caribbean. A half-second later, and the opportunity for the shot would have been gone.

"I got lucky," said O'Brien. He took the picture with a new Nikon D50 digital camera his wife bought him for the trip. He'd taken only about a half-dozen pictures before snapping the winning shot, she recalled.

"He just pointed it over the dock," said Kathleen.

The photo turned out to be so special the family decided to use it for their 2005 Christmas cards -- and Shealagh decided to submit it for the National Geographic photo contest.

"It's an excellent picture," said Kathleen.

National Geographic Illustrations Editor Susan Welchman agreed.

"You have a peak moment in all action shots, and this is it," Welchman says in an online critique. "And the composition is wonderful & There's a nice line with the biggest girl in the middle, forming a perfect pyramid, but the photo is still unpredictable. It makes you want to have the same vacation they're having."

Not only is the picture a critical achievement, it also is an accurate family depiction, said Kathleen. She and her husband, owners of a mortgage company, maintain the vacation home to help strike a healthy balance in their lives and the lives of their children. When they go to the island, the family can eschew modern stresses and focus on the natural environment and simple pleasures, she said.

"It's a little bit different experience," said Frank.

The family shared top honors in the August photo competition with a resident of Poland who submitted a picture of a precariously positioned ship crossing rough Baltic Sea waters. They did not receive any prize for winning the contest beyond publication of their photos.

That in itself is an honor, said O'Brien.

"It's nice to have a great photograph to share with the rest of the world," he said. "It's a nice little bit of a local family that did a little thing and got recognized."

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