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Wow. Let me tell you, I never thought this would happen. Guest blogging for Scott Kelby didn’t even come into my dreams it was so crazy. It is an incredible honor to be able to talk about my photography to so many people, and to follow the long list of fantastic photographers that make up the Scott Kelby guest blog “Hall of Fame.”

I started taking pictures about 4 years ago, around my 12th birthday. My family was just about to go on vacation to Arizona, and right beforehand I got an Olympus C-765 UZ. It was my second digital camera (the first was a Fujifilm, but it broke pretty quickly). I don’t really know what prompted my initial interest in photography. I like to think it was the thrill of capturing a moment in time and being able to revisit again and again. I think that’s why we all take pictures.

So in Arizona, I took some “pictures.” They weren’t up to “photograph” level quite yet. As you can see, I had the eye, but there was a journey ahead.

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One person that I can’t credit enough for my photography is my Aunt Janet. She has been there EVERY step of the way helping me, encouraging me, and carting me around to wherever we decided to go. I don’t think I’d be a photographer at all had it not been for her. And even though I probably mess her up a lot and get in her shots, she sticks with me and she’s the best photo partner anyone could ever have.

So with Aunt Janet’s help, we both grew as photographers. It seemed like almost every weekend we went on photo “expeditions” to various places around our beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. I think I learned more in a weekend of shooting than I did in a week of school!

Another important source of information was books. I ate ‘em up. I loved to read about photography, and I think that, besides just getting out and shooting, is the best way to get better. Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography books were huge in developing my photography. I don’t think I’ve learned so much from a single book than I have from that first edition. It was like a whole new world, ready to be explored. And that book was the gateway. I soon started watching Photoshop tutorial videos with Aunt Janet from Photowalkthrough.com Practicing my skills in both areas, the shooting aspect and the processing aspect, I was slowly inching toward making “photographs.”

Reading, watching videos, and just getting out and experimenting pretty much summed the next twelve months of my photography. This was also the period that I got my Nikon D80, which really set me free creatively. Point-and-shoots are nice for when you want to do exactly that, point and shoot, but there is no replacement for a good SLR. And again I have to thank Aunt Janet. I remember asking my parents often for a new camera, even bargaining that I would pay for most of it.

(Here’s a little note: Being a young photographer, I didn’t (don’t) really have any income. Which means, the money I did get, went straight into photography. Other kids wanted PS3s? Yeah, I’ll go for a new tripod).

When considering a D80 for a Christmas present, my Mom asked Aunt Janet if she thought I would be responsible and take care of it, she responded with enthusiasm that she knew I would take care of my camera better than I take care of anything else. Thanks again, Aunt Janet. I owe you about ten billion.

Here’s a couple shots with my then new D80. I was starting to get the hang of editing.

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After a while, my Aunt and I were tired of shooting locally, so we went on a trip to the Grand Tetons, then the next year to Yosemite National Park. They were both week long trips and well worth the price of getting out there. It’s amazing how much you can learn from a week of shooting. It was also nice to worry only about photography, and not about seeing museums or anything like that. Going with a fellow photographer means you can spend a couple hours at a location without people getting bored!

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When we got back from the Tetons, we decided to exhibit in the art show here in town. We signed up, framed and matted our prints, and showed up on a Saturday morning. We did pretty well! I forget how many we sold, but we were fortunate to have friends and family come and support us, and a few even bought some. It was a great experience and very encouraging. One of my shots was picked to go on the Judges’ Fence. This was the first award of any kind I’d ever won. The show was also a fantastic way to meet area photographers and to see some really great work from local artists and photographers.

My next opportunity came last year when my brother, a french horn player in the Princeton University Orchestra, toured Europe, playing in Germany and the Czech Republic. My family went along and it gave me an opportunity to shoot in another country. This trip was different, because with my family, you can’t spend a long time anywhere, because they get bored, even though the light is just about to be perfect. Sometimes frustrating, but totally worth it. Here’s my favorite shot from the trip. (NOTE: I entered this one in the annual local photography contest a few weeks ago and this one won best in show out of over 300 other photographs! My first “real” award!)

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Most recently, I’ve been working on a little bit of portrait photography. Reading and watching Kelby Training videos has taught me so much about lighting and flash. I asked my friend, Jabez, if he’d go out in the country and model for me. He brought his guitar and we were both having a great time. I snapped some, changed the light a bit, snapped some more. You don’t have to make it a huge deal if you don’t want to! Just get out there and try it! Here’s my favorite from the day.

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With a few good shots in my arsenal, I decided to apply for the NANPA High School Scholarship program. I had read about it the year before, but wasn’t eligible to enter because I wasn’t quite old enough. I sent in ten shots, wrote a few essays and forgot about the whole thing. Four months later, I got an email telling me that I was one of ten high schoolers in the country accepted for the program! Talk about excitement!

It was a week long event, consisting of two days of shooting then 3-4 days of conference time. All the shooting was with Canon provided equipment (before I went, I thought that was going to be a problem, but it turned out that I really liked the 7D). We got to use both the 600mm and 800mm Canon lenses, along with 4 other lenses we carried in our bag. In the two days, we were guided and helped by pro photographers to Lake Tahoe, Swan Lake, Pyramid Lake, and Fly Geyser. We met many professional photographers, George Lepp, Robert Shepherd, Joel Sartore, and Arthur Morris. We also met with editors from National Geographic, representatives from stock agencies, and commercial photographers. It was really a fantastic program for the ten of us and we all became really great friends. Hands down, the best experience I’ve ever had. If any of you know high school or college students interested in photography, make sure they check out the NANPA Scholarship. Here are some from the two days of shooting.

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In recent months, Aunt Janet and I have started a photo club in our town, which is held in our church building. Through Flickr, we’ve found great photographers in the area and come together, beginners and experienced alike, every month to talk about photography, hold critiques, and listen to wonderful guest speakers. If you don’t currently have a club or something of the sort in your city or town, I would encourage you to start one. It’s not difficult! Just bring photographers together and it can go on for hours! When preparing to teach a lesson, I find myself learning a lot, even when I think I know a lot about the material. If you’re going on a Scott Kelby Photo Walk, talk to your leaders and the other people in your group to see if they’re interested. Even the best photographers have something to learn and it’s a great way to share your knowledge while continuing to get better.

I am grateful to you guys for reading what seems like a pretty boring post. The main thing I want you to do, is to do what Aunt Janet did for me, and find an apprentice, a pupil. Somebody young that has either talent or interest in photography. Help them, encourage them, and shoot with them and I promise you will become a better photographer for your efforts.

Thank you so much, Scott, for this amazing opportunity. I’m continually amazed at what a (as you would say) “stand up” guy you are. I hope to one day meet you in person. And Brad, thanks for the help in figuring what a 15-year-old kid can say to a bunch of experienced photographers. And thanks to Alex, who suggested the idea of having me guest blog. You are continually a source of inspiration and encouragement.

As a final note, in preparation for my post, I read Jeremy Cowart’s fantastic guest blog. Summed up, Jeremy’s opening paragraph stated, if you want it bad enough, get off your tail and do something to move forward. Let’s do something to move forward.

You can check out Andy and his Aunt Janet’s website at LoJoPhotography.com