I Used My “Backyard Photography” to Snatch the Trip of a Lifetime

My love of photography began at the age of eight, when my Dad gave me a Kodak Instamatic camera for Christmas. Together, we composed photographs in the backyard. He shot images of his roses and sunflowers, while I preferred taking action adventure shots: photos of my friends falling off the tire swing, splashing into the pond below, or my neighbors’ daredevil bike and skateboarding stunts.

At age 11, I upgraded my camera and explored subjects farther afield. I went through endless rolls of film “on location” at The Philadelphia Zoo; taking shots of a diving tiger, lethargic lions, swimming polar bears, and fancy flamingos.

But little did I know at that early age, my photographs had a value beyond the fun I had while taking them.

Years later, these “backyard” photographs opened a door for me to go on a safari in South Africa. Friends who knew that I loved photographing animals introduced me to a philanthropist who founded a non-profit organization that paid for photographs from around the world. By showing my limited “portfolio,” I was granted a three-week, all-expense-paid trip to South Africa in exchange for some of the photographs I shot while I was there.

My first stop was Tanda Tula Game Reserve, where I slept in a tent at night and photographed lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, and buffalo by day. Further away, in the desert, near Pilanesberg National Park, I photographed the exotic architecture and opulent pools at the luxurious golf resort at the Palace of the Lost City at Sun City. From there, I flew south to shoot close-ups of flora and fauna at the famed Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town. After that, I took a bus trip to see Table Mountain in Cape Town, before traveling to the Stellenbosch Wine Region, where I took pictures of vineyards and Dutch-style thatched roof cottages, before it was time to return to real life back in the U.S.

After I handed my photos in to the non-profit foundation, I still had plenty left to sell elsewhere. I showed my animal safari photographs in local fine art exhibits, and several images were purchased by a villa rental company with international property listings. Others I sold to stock agencies.

Off the back of this trip, I was offered yet another adventure. A publishing company executive hired me to take pictures in France. This time I took my father with me as my “photography assistant.” Together, we enjoyed a two week, all-expense paid trip to Paris. We shared the trip of a lifetime abroad, photographing side by side, just as we had done years before.

It’s amazing how far around the world you can go by just stepping into your backyard with a camera.

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