Experiencing life through a different lens

Experiencing life  through a different lens
Along the street art tour, Julia Nichols stopped to take many photographs, and a friend she made on the trip captured one of those moments.

Editor’s Note: We asked Julia Nichols, an Ortega Forest resident and junior this year at St. John’s Country Day School, to share her summer adventure with our readers. In her words…

This summer, I seized the opportunity to take the trip of a lifetime with National Geographic Student Expeditions. I spent 12 days in Portugal for a high school photography workshop, combining my passions of photography, travel and adventure. For the time I spent abroad time, I was in Lisbon and Lagos. The group I traveled with consisted of 22 students, three leaders and National Geographic photographer Krista Rossow, who taught in seminar-style settings and in the field.

Highlights of the immersive trip, June 25 to July 6, included photographing and experiencing a street art tour, artisans in the Alfama Market, local cuisine, a trip to the Pena Palace and other sights in Sintra, and ended with a gallery show in Lisbon where each student displayed a photo. We visited oceanside parks, vistas, and windy cliffs, photographed dolphins, traveled to the westernmost point in Europe, and kayaked and swam in the ocean.

Photographically, every student took something unique out of the trip, as each of us entered with different skill levels. Personally, my passion for photography started when I was in elementary school. I took a photography elective for a semester in middle school, and realized that not only did I love photography, I was a decent photographer. I took a random online course and read as much about photography as possible to continue learning, but I think it’s an art form that boils down to practice. I bring my DSLR camera on every trip I take, whether that’s a trip to the park or a trip abroad. I don’t have the nicest equipment, the most experience, or professional training, but photography is something I love, so I’ve invested time into learning about it. I’ve gotten in numerous hours of practice volunteering to take photos for nonprofits and friends. Last year I was on the St. Johns Country Day School yearbook staff, and this year I will be one of the editors-in-chief. I’m participating in a journalism fellowship at St. Johns, so this summer I took creative photography online.

On Julia Nichols’ first night in Lisbon, she stopped to photograph this mother and her children feeding a multitude of pigeons in a community plaza.
On Julia Nichols’ first night in Lisbon, she stopped to photograph this mother and her children feeding a multitude of pigeons in a community plaza.

This trip definitely provided opportunities to learn. I enjoyed trying a long exposure technique at the Tower of Belem during blue hour, the time after the sunset before dark. I also found learning about using the technical aspects of our camera to capture nightlight beneficial. There were fun assignments, too, including light painting. Learning more about photography from a National Geographic photographer was incredible, and it was interesting to hear about what it is actually like to work as a travel photographer.

One of the coolest aspects of this experience was that it brought me close to people I had only just met and taught me more about myself, photography and life than I ever could have imagined. This trip reminded me that growth doesn’t come from comfort zones, and I’m grateful for this experience. This program put friendship formation on the fast track; no one knew each other when we checked in at JFK Airport, but by the time we were at the gate, we each felt like we had known each other for much longer than a few hours.

In the age of social media, it seems like everyone is focused on taking aesthetically pleasing photographs to enhance their feed, but I try my best to capture unique photos that tell stories. It’s true what they say: traveling really does leave you speechless, and then, it turns you into a storyteller.

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