On the Sidelines, a Photographer is Born

By Beacon Staff

Katherine Ohlson wants to be a photographer, but not a starving artist. At 17 years old, she’s trying to figure out the complicated relationship between the two. And while she is discovering the creative path, Ohlson has also made another important discovery – people think she’s quite good at photography.

Ohlson, a senior at Flathead High School, already has a solid resume, which is coming in handy for odd photography jobs and college applications. As a junior, she took sixth place in the Montana Journalism Education Association photographer of the year category, as well as second in sports photography.

Then at the Northwest Montana Fair, Ohlson skipped the junior class and entered the professional class. Each of her photos received a blue ribbon and she won the grand champion prize. To top that off, she won a scholarship to the National Association of Photoshop Professionals fall conference at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Oct. 1-3.

Before her trip to Vegas, Ohlson will concentrate on her senior photo business, which is booming. She’s booked every weekend until mid-October. When not in class or taking senior portraits, she’s traipsing around the valley somewhere with her Canon 5D Mark II camera in hand. And don’t expect to find her with anything besides the Canon 5D any time soon.

“I’m still in debt from (the Canon 5D),” Ohlson said.

Ohlson’s love of photography began without a dream or a plan. It was inspired by what most refer to as a whim. She was 14 years old and decided to buy a Pentax “for something to do.” Over the next year, she toted her Pentax everywhere she went.

“I really got into it,” Ohlson said.

As is the necessity of maturing photographers, her equipment evolved along with her skills. She upgraded to the Rebel XTI and then to the Canon 5D, each serving as a constant travel companion. Today, if she’s not shooting photos, there’s a good chance she’s editing them on a school computer.

Vicky Hyde is Flathead High School’s publications advisor, which means she oversees Ohlson in both her yearbook and school newspaper courses. Hyde said Ohlson doesn’t just rely on her natural talent, of which she has plenty. She also listens to suggestions, scrupulously edits and analyzes her photos, and challenges herself to shoot a variety of subjects.

For an example, look no further than her sports photography skills – a couple of years ago Ohlson couldn’t have even found the football field. Now she spends hours there each week. Hyde said Craig Moore of www.glacieraction.com has helped Ohlson on the sidelines, but much of the teenager’s growth as a photographer stems from self-discipline.

“She’s done this on her own,” Hyde said. “I haven’t really taught her anything except there’s four downs in football. After that it was just, ‘Watch her go.’”

As word of Ohlson’s talent spreads, demand for her time has increased. Besides shooting sports events and other school functions for the newspaper and yearbook, as well as the senior photos, she was also hired for a paid gig to shoot David Hashley’s retirement party. Hashley was the long-time theater director at Flathead High School.

“I think her work is definitely getting recognized and appreciated at the school,” Hyde said.

Ohlson has looked into attending Columbia University and the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, though she said her college choice is still up in the air. But at this point, she’s positive she wants to go for photography, though she understands in this rapidly changing technological landscape she’ll need to add video and other skills as well. Hyde says her student has the attitude needed to make it in the photography world.

“She’s got a little edge to her,” Hyde said. “And she brings that out in her photos.”

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