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10 Years of Photography: Part Three - Evolution

Me, at age 18, holding my 7D with my new Sigma 150-600mm lens.


The year 2014 to the present has been a big period of growth for my photography.

I've used my DSLR to the full.



This Great Blue Heron was basking in the sun along Lake River, Ridgefield when I captured this shot in 2014.

The year 2014 was a time for shooting, shooting, shooting.

My photo of Mourning Doves that won in the 2013 Get to Know Contest was featured in the organization's 2014 calendar. In late 2013, I had purchased a "wide-angle lens" - the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II. This lens gave me a wider variety of photographic opportunities. I was now able to capture landscape images that were surprisingly sharper than the wildlife images I captured with the Sigma lens. The Sigma, though, had a macro setting which allowed me to take close-ups of caterpillars, butterflies, and other tiny creatures.

Mainly, I accustomed myself to my new camera, practiced as often as I could, and visited wildlife refuges, parks, and other natural areas.


I snapped this photo of the regal Rockies on my flight to the 2015 Unconference.

A lot of things happened in 2015.


In May, I received an email inviting me to submit a proposal for the 2015 Get to Know International Unconference. This event, hosted by nature-loving youth, was to be held in Calgary that October. I was instructed to create a project that highlighted an environmental issue or idea.

After getting the go-ahead from my parents, I began working on my proposal. I wrote down pages of ideas, sifted through my photos, and thought hard. Finally, I chose my topic: the life cycle of birds. At that time, I had observed the nests of ten bird species in my backyard, and had recorded my observations in photo, video, art, and journal formats. I planned to connect the rapid development of baby birds with my own swift growth as a birder, photographer, and artist. I would create a large trifold poster. After tying this all together, I submitted my proposal. A month later, I heard back – I had been selected to present at the Unconference’s art walk!

The weeks ahead flew by in a whirlwind. I looked through hundreds of photos of baby birds, sorted through years of artwork, and experimented with various poster layouts. In the end, my poster read “Get to Know”, “How Birds Grow”, and “You’ll Grow Too”.

The Unconference was a very exciting event that took place in a welcoming, but professional atmosphere. It was inspiring to watch the presentations of talented youth delegates - many of whom were extremely gifted artists and photographers. It was incredibly refreshing to meet people I had so much in common with. I made long-lasting connections with many of the other delegates.

This was a truly thrilling opportunity to share my photography with others!


In the meantime, I managed to get out and take some more photos. I used my Sigma 70-300mm constantly to capture a multitude of bird photos. I even started renting the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. I was astounded by its speed, sharpness, and weight! I began to dream of owning it one day.

Below are some of my favorite photos from 2015.

Later that year, inspired by the Unconference, I once again entered the Get to Know Contest. Not long afterwards, I was surprised to learn that three of my photos had won! Two additional photos I had entered were also featured in Get to Know's 2016 calendar.

The three winning photos (above) were of a Barred Owl perched in a tree in my backyard, a spider resting on its web, and a Peregrine Falcon named Vinnie who'd come with his falconer to the Unconference! The other two pictures (also above) portrayed a flicker and a sapsucker clinging to a tree and a Barn Owl coming to a landing.


I captured this photo of Hazel, a former Portland Audubon education bird, in 2016.

The year 2016 was another exciting year for photography.

I rented the Canon 100-400mm lens for several trips, and became ever more enamored by its quality. In early 2016, I entered over 150 pictures into the 2016 Audubon Photography Awards. In March, I received an email stating that one of my photos had made it past the first round of judging. I was thrilled!

This photo, depicting a Great Blue Heron hunting, had been captured with the Canon 100-400. Although it didn't end up winning in the contest, it was still very exciting to make it onto Audubon's radar.

I took this photo of a hunting heron at Nisqually NWR in August 2015.

Later that year, I entered the youth division of the 2016 Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Photo Contest. The contest required that the submitted pictures were captured at the refuge. After entering several photos I had taken at Ridgefield, I learned that I was a finalist. When I attended the awards ceremony, the winners were revealed - I had won first place!

I captured this photo of a strikingly blue dragonfly at Ridgefield NWR in July 2015.

Below are some of my favorite photos from 2016. About half of these images were taken with the Canon 100-400mm lens. The more I utilized this lens, the more I wished that I owned it.

My Sigma 70-300mm was becoming increasingly fuzzy and slow. By December, while I was helping with a Portland Audubon camp called "Gorge"ous Photography, the lens's autofocus failed. From that point on, I could only focus it manually. This simply would not do for wildlife photography.


In the spring of 2017, these sea lions were lounging on rocks in Florence, Oregon's famed Sea Lion Caves.

Although my Sigma's usefulness was waning, I still carried on. A new lens like the Canon 100-400 (which was selling for around $2,000) was far outside of my price range. I was extra busy during the 2016-2017 school year since I was attending Clark College. I began the Running Start program in September and was working towards my AA in Biology. Because I was buried in schoolwork, I didn't have time to work a job. A better lens would have to wait.

In the meantime, I looked for photo opportunities wherever life (and my family) happened to take me. That spring, my family took a road trip down to California to see the redwoods. In November, we stayed in a little house in Skagit County so I could go birding for my 18th birthday.

These fun family outings gave me much-needed breaks from school and lots of photography time. Within the college mayhem, though, I still found some time to enter more photo contests.

That spring, I entered the 2017 Our Big Backyard Photo Contest, run by Metro. My 2015 photo of Northern Pintails in flight was chosen as a finalist, which was very exciting!

These three male pintails lined up perfectly in a row as they flew overhead at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve.

I also entered the Get to Know Contest once again. After submitting around fifty photos, I was informed that one of my pictures had won! I was quite surprised which image they had selected: a flight shot of a young Red-tailed Hawk that I'd captured with my Sigma lens. I had considered not even entering this photo in the first place due to its fuzziness!

This juvenile Red-tailed Hawk was flying back and forth at Vashon Island, Washington.

Despite my initial surprise, though, the Get to Know Contest win was still a fun way to round off the busy year!


I captured this photo of a young Western Screech-Owl in Sunriver, Oregon in August 2018.

While I had thought 2017 was busy, nothing would prepare me for the chaos of 2018.

As the year began, I was in a frenzy trying to decide which university to attend. In June, I graduated with my AA in Biology after two trying, but wonderful years at Clark College. However, I still wanted to continue my education. After a lot of thought (and countless college visits) I decided on Central Washington University. I would double-major in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Primate Behavior & Ecology at this small, friendly, and economical school.

Graduation, thankfully, meant lots of gifts - money gifts. Thanks to the generosity of friends and relatives, I racked up around $1,000. Originally, I had planned to tuck it away in my college fund, but then I came up with a more exciting idea - I could finally buy a new lens!

Unfortunately, the Canon 100-400 was too expensive. However, another telephoto zoom had caught my eye: the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM. Not only was this lens about half the price of the Canon 100-400, it also had an extra 200 mm of reach - a dream come true for wildlife photographers like me! At first, I was skeptical about the quality of this lens, but after reading many reviews and viewing sample images, I was greatly impressed with its sharpness. I wasted no time and bought the Sigma 150-600 for a little under nine hundred bucks!

When my long-awaited lens arrived in late July, I immediately headed outside to test it. The image quality was just as I had imagined! At four pounds, the Sigma 150-600 was a bit heavy (six pounds attached to my camera), but I didn't mind. Words cannot express how absolutely thrilled I was to finally possess a high-quality telephoto lens!

Below are some of my best photos from 2018. All of them were taken with the Sigma 150-600.

Before I got my new Sigma lens, I took a graduation trip to Glacier National Park with my mom and sister. This park was the most beautiful place I had ever seen! I tried my best to capture its beauty by renting the Canon 100-400 once again. Its stellar performance likely influenced my decision to purchase my own quality lens.

Can you notice a difference between the quality of these Canon 100-400 photos below and the Sigma 150-600 photos above? I can't!

Before my lens elation hit, I had entered another photo contest. This competition, the 2018 Columbia Gorge Refuge Stewards Youth Photo Contest, was intended for photos taken at Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Washougal. I had captured many photos at this refuge over the years due to its close proximity to my home. I went ahead and submitted five of my best images. One of my photos, depicting a fly perched on flowers, was selected as an honorable mention!

I took this shot at Steigerwald NWR in September of 2017.

The year 2018 was another pivotal photography period!


These two herons were standing calmly in a flock of gulls in Friday Harbor this July.

So far, 2019 has been full of great photo opportunities.

I finished up my junior year at CWU this spring. One of my classes focused on the elements of research. Since I am enrolled in the CWU Douglas Honors College, I am required to create a senior capstone project. Naturally, I wished to do a project combining my love of birds with my love of photography. Engelhorn Pond, a small nature preserve on campus, hosts hundreds of migrating warblers in the spring and many waterfowl in the winter. Since few people know about the pond, I wanted to give it more exposure. I decided that I would create a field guide to the birds of Engelhorn Pond for my capstone!

This project is still a work-in-progress, but so far, I've already taken over 3,500 photos at the pond. Here are a few of my best captures below.

For my summer job, I worked at Portland Audubon as an Education Intern and Environmental Educator. I started working at Audubon in the summer of 2016 as a camp counselor. I've come back every summer since then. In a nutshell, this position involves going outside and teaching kids about the wonders of the natural world. It's been such a blast to lead these amazing camps! This year, I was able to take a trip to the beautiful San Juan Islands, which were simply overflowing with wildlife!

I also co-led a camp called Nature Photography this summer. The entire week was focused on helping fourth and fifth graders create amazing compositions of different parts of the natural world. I focused on teaching the campers wildlife photography. It was a wonderful experience to help these children develop their photography skills! It reminded me of the time when I was just starting out in photography, not so long ago.

To sum it up, 2019 has been a year of travel and adventure. As I've explored central Washington, central Oregon, the San Juan Islands, and my own southwest Washington home, I've been able to document the manifold organisms that inhabit these diverse regions. My good old Canon EOS 7D has certainly been put to work this year!


As my photographic journey continues to unfold, I eagerly look to the future.

I can't wait to get outside and take more photos!


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