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Students Reflect on Photo Camp Experience with National Geographic Explorer Tara Roberts

A month after the National Geographic Photo Camp in Key Largo, three students share their experiences, lessons, and goals with Explorer Tara Roberts.

In July 2022, the National Geographic Society hosted a five-day Photo Camp in Key Largo, Florida where 20 young people—including members of Youth Diving With a Purpose (U.S.) and Centro Comunitario de Buceo Embajadores y Embajadoras del Mar (Ambassadors of the Sea Community Diving Center) based in Costa Rica—learned photography skills with guidance from National Geographic Explorers Jahawi Bertolli and Tara Roberts.

Throughout the week, Photo Camp students reflected on themes of cultural preservation and ocean conservation in the Florida Keys. They also built their photography skills as they snorkeled and explored the coastal waters and visited the Higgs Beach slave memorial in Key West.

Last week, Roberts, who was named the 2022 Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year in June, reconnected with three participants––Kennedy Lucas, Damien Davis, and Bo Visty––and they reflected on lessons learned during their Photo Camp experience, and shared future goals.

Tara Roberts: Did you have an “ah-ha” moment during the camp?

Kennedy Lucas: I remember getting up super-early one morning, and I am not a morning person so it was super-difficult but I got up because my friends and I wanted to take pictures of the sunrise. I was looking around when I saw a bird on a fence. As I was getting closer, I took this photo where the bird’s foot was kind of stuck in the air right as it was about to walk and showed intent through that photograph. I was like ‘this is it!’ From that point forward, I was looking for good stories rather than good composition opportunities.

“An early bird” photographed during National Geographic Photo Camp Key Largo by student Kennedy Lucas. Photo by Kennedy Lucas/National Geographic.

Damien Davis: My favorite night at the camp was when my friends and I went to take pictures of the moon and the lightning. The process of setting up a shot and then waiting for the exposures to happen was my favorite thing. During that time you would always find something new as you wait. With astrophotography, you don’t necessarily know what you are going to get and that is truly fascinating to me which is why I am saving up for a telescope now.

Tara: Do you think the assignments changed the way you see yourself or others in any way?

Bo: I’m noticing the details in the way people look in the way that everyone’s face would make a great photograph. It’s less about physical traits and more about people’s beauty through a camera lens.

Kennedy: At first I was looking at taking a photo of a landscape, an animal, or something else, and now I want to capture emotions. Whether it’s through portraiture or taking photos of nature I really want to capture the more abstract feelings that will then transfer to us when we view the photographs.

Damien: I love seeing everyone’s different thought processes when they look at the photos. For example, three different people could look at a photo and they would tell you three different stories. I like seeing how people think about that and how their life experiences influence it because I think it shows that we all have a story to tell.

Tara: Was there a story that you tried to tell about yourself in one of the photographs? If you did that, how did people respond to that? Did they see or hear the story you were trying to share?

Kennedy: Often as photographers, I think we get so into the details that we get emotionally connected to the shots and we want the best story to be told. But when we show our work to other people we can look more at the bigger picture and the story we tried to capture at that moment. I think that is special because we are exposed to new perspectives and new stories which help us realize we all have a different interpretation of things.

Bo: I’m not used to taking photos and then having to fit them together into a collection. So, I was a bit inexperienced on that front. I took some good photos but when I had to compile them into a story it was difficult. So, I spent an entire day taking photos of all the mentors to use as my final collage and my favorite photo was of Ms. Tara laughing which fit perfectly into my collage. I think through that process of realizing what I needed, it taught me about how to get what I need to fit the story in my mind.

A portrait of National Geographic Explorer Tara Roberts taken by National Geographic Photo Camp Key Largo by student Bo Visty. Photo by Bo Visty/National Geographic.

Damien: I was struggling to take a photo when one of my friends told me “I really like this photo” and I was like “why?” because I was so frustrated by it. I ended up putting it in my final collage. I didn’t capture what I originally intended but I was really happy with the final result and got that perspective only afterward.

A Key Largo nightscape taken by National Geographic Photo Camp student Damien Davis. Photo by Damien Davis/National Geographic.

Tara: What does it mean to you to say you were a participant in a National Geographic Photo Camp?

Bo: I cannot say enough about how hugely important to me it is to have been part of a Nat Geo program. I got a hat and I am never going to stop wearing it. My dad was a documentary filmmaker for Nat Geo so growing up with that it’s super special to me to get to wear that hat is a super big honor for me.

Kennedy: The Nat Geo experience was super special to me to be able to reignite my love of photography with some of the most incredible mentors we could have asked for was an experience I will truly never forget. I was afraid that afterward, we would graduate and never talk again, but the mentors said they wanted to keep in touch and we kept a group chat with the participants. I am truly honored and thankful and now I see the world in frames and stories.

Damien: It was the coolest thing ever that I could say to someone. I was nervous there would be an attitude that there is one way to do the art but it was nothing like I imagined it would be because it was so independent and inspiring. The mentors helped us get to where we wanted to go and it was incredible.

Tara: My last question is about the future. Are you going to follow this photography bud of inspiration from this camp? What’s going to happen as a result of this camp?

Damien: I am going to try to take photos of deep sky nebulas and work with NASA imaging to create my images and share them.

Bo: I think that I am going to spend the rest of my life diving. I can’t say for sure all the things I am going to do but I know they will be in the ocean. I will take what I have learned and there is space to document the field of diving I’ll be in.

Kennedy: I want to get started on a personal project. I don’t know what it will be yet but I do think it will relate to African ancestry. I think taking a trip to Africa with my family would be very powerful to capture the stories I was never taught, to inspire me and those that are also curious. For the rest of my life, I am never going to stop taking photos and will never stop doing personal projects because I really enjoy it.

National Geographic Photo Camp is a photography learning experience for young people from under-resourced communities around the world. The goal of the program is to provide a meaningful introduction to photography and photojournalism that will inspire the next generation of storytellers, and empower them to share their experiences and perspectives. With instruction and guidance from world-class National Geographic Explorers and photographers, students build skills and confidence, explore the world around them, and develop deep connections with each other.

Learn more about Photo Camp here.

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About National Geographic Society

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