Vancouver teen’s photography wins top awards

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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On the Web

View Hanley’s work at http://lijahhanley.com.

There’s a secret to the stunning greens and rich blues of Lijah Hanley’s photographs -- behind the camera there’s often a cold, wet and very patient kid.

Landscape photography is what the Vancouver 16-year-old likes to call an “extreme sport.” At times he’s found himself hanging over a cliff face, climbing up a 14,000-foot mountain or lying in the snow for hours at a time.

But the pain is worth it, because there’s just something wonderful about being able to share the perfect picture, the teen said.

“Most waterfall shots, you don’t see that I’m waist deep and freezing,” Hanley said. “Or sometimes I’ll go out and wait for hours and then I get this spectacular sunrise. To be able to share that with others, it’s just so cool.”

Hanley just won second place in National Geographic Student Expeditions’ 2012 Photo Contest for his image “Midnight Light.” He had three photos in the top 30.

He’s a little disappointed he didn’t take the top prize, which was a trip to London, but he has two more years to enter, he said.

“Next time,” Hanley said with a smile.

Deb Harris, director of the National Geographic program, said in an email to The Columbian that Hanley’s second-place photo, which was shot at night on an Oregon seashore, is “a superb image.”

“It’s a beautiful landscape, but the addition of the human figure amid a vast expanse of land, sea, and sky really captures a feeling of exploration,” Harris said. “The end result is visually compelling and intensely personal.”

It’s not the first time Hanley has won a contest from the organization. In 2009, he won the National Geographic Explorer Challenge and got to go to Peru with renowned photographers Bruce Dale and Amy Toensing.

“It was such a cool experience,” Hanley said. “We went everywhere. We were on 12 planes in 14 days. We got to try a bunch of new foods -- guinea pig, alpaca, termites. And I got to photograph a bunch of amazing people and places.”

Runs in family

In some ways you could say that Hanley got his eye for an image from his mother, Jen Hanley, a professional portrait photographer.

“Lijah started out as my helper, holding the reflector for me,” she said. “Eventually I ended up giving him his first camera.”

In other ways, though, Lijah Hanley’s eye is all his own. He doesn’t do portraits like his mom does, and she doesn’t do landscapes like he does, they said.

“It was after that trip to Peru that he started doing landscapes -- he does more with them than I could ever do,” she said.

The teenager has been shooting for about four years, but he’s been most serious about it over the Past two years.

He spends weekends selling his images at the Vancouver Farmers Market and also sells them through his website at http://lijahhanley.com.

Prices vary depending on size and whether he does a limited number of prints. Smaller prints sell for about $12 and medium prints sell for $25. Large limited edition prints can sell for upwards of $699, he said.

“I’m starting to get customers coming back multiple times,” Hanley said. “People I talk to say I need to raise my prices, but I like to appeal to the mass market and keep it so people can afford them.”

Looking to future

A few years ago, Hanley switched to home schooling through Washington Virtual Academies so he could have a schedule more open for his photography projects.

“He’s a straight A student,” his mother said proudly.

He’s also considering starting a two-year degree program at Clark College next year, to coincide with his last two years of high school. And he’s thinking about a four-year business degree after that to help him better market his work.

“I’ve talked to other photographers, and they’ve told me it’s the best to get a backup in business and just shoot,” he said. “So that’s what I want to do.”

Beyond school, he’s getting a lot of mentoring from local photographers Ryan Dyar and Miles Morgan, who live down the street and like to bring him along on their shoots, Hanley said.

So far, Hanley’s earned enough from his work to buy his first car, and after getting his license in February, he’s started regularly hitting the road to find more of his own shooting locations.

“I’m spending a lot of time in the Columbia Gorge right now -- I love the waterfalls and wildflowers,” he said. “I also love shooting around Mount Hood. The Northwest is just the perfect spot for landscape photography. There are so many climates.”

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; sue.vorenberg@columbian.com; http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo.