My father started taking pictures when he was in the army. He rediscovered his love of photography when I was around 11 years old, and he gave me my first camera as a gift and sat me down in a friend’s backyard bird garden with a Sigma 170-500mm. The first time I looked through that lens I was hooked on photography. A blue jay alighted on the stick that the camera was focused on and I snapped the shutter at my father’s urging. When we got home, my father enlarged that image and printed it for me. The image was tack sharp, the colors vibrant and the blue jay looked alive!
After that, all I wanted to do was take pictures. I got up early on weekdays to photograph in our backyard and discovered a love of strong coffee when my dad woke me up at 4am to photograph sunrise. My parents were incredibly supportive of my newfound hobby, but they were clear that they could not afford expensive equipment. I had to find a way to pay for my cameras and for my film. I started a senior portrait business and selling my images through a breakfast restaurant in Greensboro, North Carolina. I made an image of a pair of Eastern bluebirds with my Sigma lens and that became my bestseller, paying for my first trip abroad (to Russia) when I was 14 years old.
Since that time, I have had wonderful opportunities to learn and to travel through my work with the North American Nature Photography Association and, more recently, through National Geographic Young Explorers. I spent 10 months in Southeastern Peru working on a photography project to document conservation efforts around a new transcontinental highway that cuts through the Andes to Amazon region. While there I hitchhiked through the Andes, trekked up rivers with an indigenous group working to protect their land, and searched for snakes and frogs in the dark jungle. My camera was always within reach.
Although I have mostly used Canon camera bodies, Sigma lenses have been in my bag along the way. I started working closely with Sigma when they supported Nature’s Best Photography Students Magazine, a program that I helped to start along with publishers Stephen and Deborah Freligh. On my first trip to Peru, I took along a Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG HSM and it helped me to capture landscapes of distant mountains in the cloud-covered Andes and some of the 600 species of birds that are found in the region. My Sigma DP2s also came in handy in when I needed a compact, discreet camera to use on city streets. The portraits I made with the small camera were often better than those taken with bigger lenses because its size did not intimidate my subjects.
At 26 years old, I am still very early in my career and I have an enormous amount to learn. I am particularly interested in natural history photojournalism and conservation photography, and I have also maintained a passion for mentoring other young photographers. After all, I would not be where I am if my parents had not provided encouragement and support that helped me turn an inspiring moment looking through that 170-500mm lens into a career as a photographer.
Gabby used the following products in Peru: 500mm F4.5 EX DG HSM, DP2s