Finding Nature in the City: A Young Photographer’s Quest

Photo of a creek with the water rushing over and around medium-sized boulders. On the banks of the creek, trees are showing the yellows, oranges, and reds of fall. Rock Creek winds through the heart of Washington, DC. © Dhruv Cohen
Rock Creek winds through the heart of Washington, DC. © Dhruv Cohen

Most adults don’t think of young people as nature photographers, or of there being lots of wildlife in a big city. Wrong on both counts! Dhruv Cohen is a high school student who lives in Washington, DC, and is interested in biology and mathematics. He’s also an avid bird photographer. And he has a lot to say about photography, wildlife, and the experience of being out in nature with a camera.

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Young Photographers to Follow: Ryan Reynolds

Interviewed by Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

Ryan Reynolds has lived in South Korea, Thailand, and Ukraine (his parents work for the US State Department). Currently, he’s back in the US and attending the University of Portland. His photography journey began when he was nine years old and living in South Korea. He had a little point-and-shoot camera and used to take photos walking home from soccer practice just outside an army base there. He loved framing helicopters above apartment buildings as the sun set.

Photo of helicopters flying over Seoul skyline at dusk. “Sunset in Seoul” - South Korea, 2013 © Ryan Reynolds
“Sunset in Seoul” – South Korea, 2013 © Ryan Reynolds

Ryan’s grandparents are both landscape and wildlife photographers and he’s always been fascinated by the images they create. His initial interest in photography comes partly from them and partly from his life-long interest in and enjoyment of nature. At first, getting outside was the draw and photography was a byproduct. Now, photography is a reason to go out into nature. “Almost every weekend, I’m out with my photography friends,” he says. “I do it because I love it.” Ryan enjoys most genres of photography, but his favorite images to make are long-exposure shots at night, when he does light painting or takes pictures of the stars.

“Polaris” - A single 20 minute exposure centered on the north star © Ryan Reynolds
“Polaris” – A single 20 minute exposure centered on the north star © Ryan Reynolds

He really got into photography while in Ukraine. He took photography courses, watched a lot of YouTube videos on photography techniques and started doing photography for his school yearbook. He also had the opportunity to photograph concerts at a large performance hall and some of his photos were chosen for exhibitions in Kyiv. Eventually, he branched out and started making portraits, starting a small portrait and event photography business. Ryan’s most meaningful memory in Ukraine occurred while he was a Boy Scout there. A part of attaining the rank of Eagle Scout is to plan, develop, and lead a service project. Ryan’s project was doing family photo shoots of internally-displaced persons who had fled their homes in eastern Ukraine during the conflict between the government in Kyiv and Russian-backed separatists. He had to raise funds for printing and framing the photos and arrange visits to places where the refugees were learning English. Ryan says that it hardly felt like work because he was helping people and doing what he enjoyed. It was really moving to see the families’ reactions when he delivered the framed photos.

Backlit photo of young man playing a guitar in concert. “The Guitarist” - Taken at a Scream Inc. concert in Kyiv, Ukraine © Ryan Reynolds
“The Guitarist” – Taken at a Scream Inc. concert in Kyiv, Ukraine © Ryan Reynolds

His times in Asia rank among his favorite. “It’s just amazing there,” he says. “I have to go back.” He told us about one particularly memorable experience during a camping trip in Chiang Mai, Thailand, when he stumbled upon a hidden canyon. He had been out hiking when he leaned up against a tree and his hand was immediately covered by a swarm of weaver ants. He jumped, lost his footing, and slid/ran/stumbled down the side of a hill into this canyon. “It was midday and the bright light made visible every small sapling, every thriving piece of carpet moss, every leaf. I was surrounded by vivid shades of greens and browns. It was like I was in the midst of a painting.”

Today, the coronavirus continues to disrupt Ryan’s plans. He had hoped to earn some extra income while in college by running a small event and portrait business, but the pandemic has made that difficult. He did, however, land a job as a photographer for the university newspaper. Ryan has also gotten several chances to explore and photograph different parts of Oregon.

A view of Mt. Hood from Trillium Lake (left). Sunset at Yaquina Head Lighthouse (right). © Ryan Reynolds
A view of Mt. Hood from Trillium Lake (left). Sunset at Yaquina Head Lighthouse (right). © Ryan Reynolds

At the University of Portland, he’s an Environmental Science major hoping to eventually work in ecological research and conservation. Ryan is also in the Army ROTC program and expects to go into the army after college. Will photography continue to be important? Ryan says, “I hope it’s more than just a hobby. I definitely think I’ll always be interested in and passionate about photography.”

To see more of Ryan’s photos, follow him on Instagram @theryan_reynolds or Facebook at theryanreynolds

Young Photographers to Follow: Kinley Bollinger

Photo of a snowy scene in Yellowstone with a path winding through the trees. © Kinley Bollinger
The Beauty of Solitude © Kinley Bollinger

Interviewed by Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

Kinley Bollinger received one of the NANPA Foundation’s 2020 High School Scholarships. That was supposed to include an immersive nature photography experience at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont in Townsend, Tennessee, in June, but the coronavirus pandemic had other ideas and the trip never happened. Kinley, like the other scholarship recipients, is a talented photographer already and a young photographer we should be watching. I spoke with her last month.

Kinley lives in Wyoming, where she is a high school junior. She’s been interested in photography since sixth grade and enjoys combining her love of the outdoors with nature photography. She captured first place in the landscape category of the 2019 Nature Conservancy’s Wyoming “I Believe in Conservation” Photo Contest for high school students and first place in the wildlife category in 2020. Kinley has received honorable mentions in several other photo competitions and had her images printed in magazines and calendars.

Developing an artistic vision

As a result of the pandemic restrictions, she’s had more time to be at home and explore the landscapes and wilderness areas nearby. Bollinger learned a lot of what she knows about cameras and photography by just playing around with her gear, trying things, seeing what happened. When she had questions, she’d look it up online or on YouTube. There’s a video to answer almost any query. Kinley also gives a lot of credit to having great mentors—the teachers at her school, other photographers, her parents. There’s so much you can learn from studying others’ photos, she says, not to mimic or copy, but to understand what they did. That understanding is critical in developing your own style and vision.

Kinley’s artistic vision is also shaped by her interest in painting, pottery, and drawing. “Art, in any form, is all connected at some level, from painting to performing arts to photography. It’s taking ideas and thoughts and putting them out there, on paper, in music or through a photo.”

She says that “photography is one of the only places I can lose myself. When I’m taking a photo, that’s all that matters. The stress of life leaves my brain for a moment. I can find peace.” Music comes a close second. She plays drums, piano and cello and, perhaps to balance the quiet of being out in the forest with a camera, Kinley is the drum captain at her school, in charge of running a drum line of 12 boys. As much as she likes the solitude of being out in nature with a camera, she also loves meeting other photographers because, she says, you have an instant connection with each other and so much in common.

"The Crossing" a photo of a bison crossing a river  ©  Kinley Bollinger
The Crossing © Kinley Bollinger

Photography and conservation

She is interested in the conservation and preservation of wild places. During eighth grade, she was part of a group of students who did an outdoor education program called Expedition Yellowstone during which they stayed in a field study station near Mammoth while learning about the ecosystem and thermal system of Yellowstone. They also investigated how human activity impacts the park and how people can help preserve and protect this great national treasure.

She is on the youth advisory commission of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West museum complex in Cody, a Smithsonian affiliate, trying to boost the number of young visitors, which has been declining. In addition, she is participating in the Earth Optimism Project, a youth-led, nationwide dialog about conservation and sustainability where young people come up with and present to the Smithsonian ideas for projects and applications for micro grants.

Conservation is a big issue among young people, she says, and they have a heightened sense of urgency about it. Her generation is seeing big environmental changes and how those are impacting plant, animal, and human life. Her friends and peers are doing what they can, working on recycling at school and adding their voices to a national conversation on conservation. Kinley knows photographs can have an impact, but it’s harder for young people to see themselves in nature or conservation photography. Most of the photo contests require photographers to be at least 18 years of age. Most of the well-known conservation and nature photographers and potential role models are older. But that’s also where the NANPA Foundations’ High School Scholarship Program has helped. Kinley has seen the work of past participants and follows some, like Ashley Scully.

Long-term plans

When asked what she’d tell other young people thinking about getting involved in nature photography, Kinley doesn’t hesitate to say “there are lots of benefits to doing it, even if it’s just for fun. You can do photography and still be in school, play sports or music, hang out with friends. It doesn’t need to be a career choice or a full-time job. Even as a hobby you can have fun and make a difference.”

While becoming a physician is her ultimate goal, Kinley says “I know that, no matter what career field I’m in I will always take photos and continue spreading environmental awareness. Photography isn’t just a hobby for me, it’s my form of expression and how I escape from everything else. It’s allowed me to gain confidence and be proud of the work I do, and that is life changing.”

We look forward to seeing what Kinley Bollinger will accomplish in the future. You can see her work and follow her via:

Her website:
Her Instagram: @wyo_photography