Ashton Hooker and the NANPA College Scholarship Program

Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park © Ashton Hooker

Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park © Ashton Hooker

One of the highlights of NANPA’s 2019 Nature Photography Summit & Trade Show was seeing the work of NANPA’s College Scholarship Program participants.  Now that the event is over, it’s a good time to learn a little more about them and their experience at Summit.  Today, we meet Ashton Hooker.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am attending the University of Wyoming as a graduate student, majoring in communication/environment and natural resource and working on my thesis, a quantitative study about Instagram’s influence on intent to travel to Yellowstone National Park. I’m extremely interested in the human dimensions of environment and natural resource issues, such as values regarding wildlife and public lands.

Photography has been a passion of mine since I was 14 years old, when I was gifted a Canon point-and-shoot camera. I’ve since worked as a professional photographer, a photojournalist, and I have been a contributing photographer for a couple of outdoor magazines.

My career goals are to be a social scientist or visual information specialist for the National Park Service or other agency/organization focused on public land issues or outdoor advocacy. I aspire to concentrate on social issues, stories and environmental discoveries; bridging the gaps between people and places around the nation, making seemingly dull places more extraordinary, different people more relatable, and complex research more accessible. The amazing characteristic of visuals is that they can often inspire emotion, and as generations become more disconnected, not only from each other, but from the natural world itself, I think visuals have a way of bringing people and nature together.

I hoped that attending and participating in the NANPA Summit would be such an amazing opportunity to network with professionals within the photography and videography field. As an aspiring science communicator, I wanted to mingle and learn from those who have established themselves in these industries. The most exciting aspect of this scholarship is the opportunity to take part in the field-based storytelling project for the Clark County Wetlands Park in Las Vegas.

Gentle cows at Refuge de Loriaz outside of Chamonix, France. © Ashton Hooker

Gentle cows at Refuge de Loriaz outside of Chamonix, France. © Ashton Hooker

What was the highlight of the program for you?

There was more than one highlight! My photography usually revolves around landscapes, so having opportunities to shoot photos and videos of wildlife around Clark County Wetlands Park with amazing camera bodies and lenses from Canon was a new experience that was so much fun!

The portfolio review was another highlight of the program for me. I had never done a professional portfolio review before, and I absolutely loved the chance to have a professional photographer critique my photos and offer career advice.

Another big highlight of the program was the fact that we created a film for a real client – it’s special to know that our film will be used for Clark County Wetlands Park’s marketing efforts.

And finally, listening to and learning from so many of the amazing photographers who were speakers at the NANPA Summit was a huge highlight! I was so inspired by the work they do and the issues for which they advocate.

I had the opportunity to study climate and culture in Chamonix, France, and the view from the top of the Alps was phenomenal. Are those people or ants? © Ashton Hooker

I had the opportunity to study climate and culture in Chamonix, France, and the view from the top of the Alps was phenomenal. Are those people or ants? © Ashton Hooker

What was your biggest takeaway or “ah ha” moment?

One of my biggest takeaways from this experience was to find a focus. As nature and conservation photographers, we have the opportunity to advocate for issues we think are important and show and tell engaging stories, and my experience in this program helped me realize that I can use what I am passionate about to educate and advocate.

Has participating in the program changed you, your photography, or the way you look at the natural world and, if so, how?

It helped me gain clarity as I pursue my photography, and it also helped me discover how I can make a more focused effort to tell stories revolving around my passions and interests.

What would you say to someone considering applying for the program?

It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience! The mentorship and opportunities to learn, create, grow, and network are priceless.

Learn more about NANPA’s College Scholarship Program and see the video created this year by the students.  The biennial program takes place during NANPA Summits, so there’s plenty of time to build a strong portfolio for the next application period in 2020!  Scholarships are funded by the NANPA Foundation.