2022 Update

December 26, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Hi all!

It has been a while since I've updated my website, but here is a recap on the last few years :

I am now 20 years old. I'm a junior at Texas Christian University (TCU). I was recruited when I was 16 to be on their Division 1 Equestrian team and have been competing with them for almost three years now. I was an All-American my freshman year and due to remaining NCAA eligibility from the pandemic, I have the opportunity to stay a 5th year to compete at TCU. I am majoring in English and minoring in Creative Writing, also taking classes in Communications and Astrophysics/Astronomy. For my 5th year I will be applying for the Accelerated Master's Degree in English. Through this, I hope to attain the tools I need to become a successful photojournalist and writer out of school. 

School has kept me busy these last couple years and because of this I have had to put my love for photography on hold. I have spent my college summers backpacking, working and traveling. This past summer I finished up my advanced scuba certifications, specializing in drift diving, night diving, fish identification and advanced free diving. Now I have the qualifications to photograph underwater :)

With all of my undergraduate courses completed, and my Master's application coming soon, I am focusing primarily on applying writing skills to my photography. This summer (2023) I will be traveling to Zambia to learn and work for a conservation group, and Svalbard, Norway, where I hope to learn and capture how our actions as a species are affecting arctic wildlife. 

When I'm not in Texas at school, or New Jersey at home, I am often found in Wyoming, where my family will be moving in the next couple of years. Most of you know me for my photos of foxes, owls and bears. I hope that in the upcoming years my education and photography can help me become a voice for conservation efforts in our rapidly changing world.

 


2017: A Year to Remember

January 16, 2018  •  4 Comments

2017 was an unforgettable year for me as a photographer, filled with adventures, personal achievements/celebrations and of course, making new friends. Detailed below is a summary of this busy yet thrilling year, one that I will always remember and one that was filled with memories of special places, people and wild subjects. A very big thanks to my family and my parents, and to Jess Findlay, Connor Stefanison, Melissa Groo, Todd Gustafson, Henry Holdsworth, and the Freligh family for following along, lending advice and being such supportive friends. I also want to thank those that have inspired me through their work for wildlife, including the teams at the Teton Raptor Center and Panthera's Teton Cougar Project. Also thank you to friends Amy Shutt and Lisa Robertson, for including me in your plans to bring awareness to our wild canids (and felids!). :) 

My 2017 started off with a trip to Tanzania with my Mom for a photography workshop with good friends Melissa Groo and new friend Todd Gustafson. I had always hoped to be able to do a workshop with Melissa, and to do it in Africa made it such a special experience for me. We spent some days in Tarangire, Ndutu, Serengeti, and the Ngorogoro Crater. My favorite subject was the cheetah. We found over 20 of them, including many mothers with their cubs. It was such an incredible experience being able to observe the behaviors of so many animals for the first time. I also got a chance to see one of the most beautiful lesser-known cats in the world, the serval, on a few occasions. Elephants, leopards, giraffes and hyenas were also very exciting to see, as was watching the lions hunt in their prides! The people on this trip were so nice and fun and they definitely made the experience more memorable for me.

In March, I received some thrilling news from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. I won the 11-14 year-old category with my image of a red fox stuck in the snow in Yellowstone, and also placed a runner-up image of a sow and cub brown bear in the same category. I had earned a runner-up in this category in 2015, with my red fox family photo "Mama's Back", and I really enjoyed the experience of being in London for the ceremony and meeting many of my peers and heroes. I couldn't believe that I was now invited back! I felt so thankful and fortunate and couldn't wait for the October event in London. 

In April, I stopped by the Paul Nicklen Gallery in New York City to see my friends Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen. The line was out the door and down the block! Their photos look amazing on display in their gallery. Cristina and Paul were the judges of the Por el Planeta Conservation Photography Competition in 2015, and I have kept in touch with them ever since. They are both very inspirational to me and I hope one day that I can photograph with them. If you are in the New York area, please make sure to stop by their gallery in Soho!

During the month of May, I spent alot of time photographing a family of screech owls that had occupied a nestbox in our backyard. We have about 4-5 nestboxes on our property, and it's always a pleasure to know that one of them was chosen for nesting by these amazing little raptors. It wasn't until all of the owlets had fledged and we could count them that we realized that there were 5 chicks raised in the nestbox - a record for us! It was so thrilling to search my backyard for these tiny little owls. Fun, but very hard at times! They blend in so well. I am so fortunate to have been able to photograph and watch a whole family of screeches thrive in my own backyard. What a treat that was!

At the end of the month, I received a phone call from Steve Freligh, the Director of Nature's Best Photography magazine, who told me that I had won the Youth Wildlife Photographer of the Year title in the 2017 Nature's Best Windland Smith Rice International Photography Awards. The winning image was another brown bear image, this one of two cubs wrestling in the sedge grasses. The Nature's Best competition was always one that I hoped to win. I was a Highly Honored winner in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and I was so appreciative of the Freligh family and everyone at Nature's Best for including me in their award ceremonies over the years, and displaying several of my photos in the Smithsonian in their amazing gallery displays. To win though, meant so much more, as I knew that I could better connect with other young photographers now, and ultimately inspire the next wave of youth conservation-minded nature photographers. I am also very honored to have won an award in the name of Windland Smith Rice, a special person who cared deeply about her subjects and loved the Tetons as I do. I am looking forward to watching other young nature photographers have an opportunity to shine in this competition!

In late June, I left with my Dad for British Columbia to do a photography workshop with two of my friends, Jess Findlay and Connor Stefanison. Jess and Connor have been supporters of my work for many years, and I was really excited to finally get to shoot with two of the best young photographers in the world. We spent a week photographing loons, various other waterfowl and my favorite subject, the great gray owl. Our days were from 5am - 9pm, with maybe a nap sometime mid-day. The forests and lakes in British Columbia are some of the most beautiful that I've ever seen, and the wildlife opportunities were incredible. Most of all though, I had a great time with two of the nicest young photographers that you will ever meet. Jess and Connor are very inspirational to me, due to their passion, hard work and creativity, and I am looking forward to doing another workshop with them soon. If you have booked a trip with them, prepare to have fun and a lot of success! After the loon workshop, we drove to visit my friends the Launsteins, who were kind enough to show us around their neck of the woods: Waterton Lakes National Park. We spent a few days with them and enjoyed seeing grizzly bears, black bears, moose and owls. It was such a fun-filled week being able to spend so much time shooting with friends! I’m glad I was able to learn something new from each of them.


(with Connor Stefanison)

(with Jess Findlay)

In July, I flew to Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, where I was a student in the 2017 NANPA High School Scholarship Program. This program chooses ten High School students to learn nature photography from leaders in the field. We photographed some of the local wildlife and also pushed our individual comfort zones by trying new and innovative techniques. I met alot of other youth photographers and had a blast! My instructors were Kika Tuff, Morgan Heim and Andrew Snyder. They were all so fun and helpful! I would recommend this program to any young person interested in nature photography. I had so much fun at NANPA I still talk about it all the time! I learned so much and tried so many new techniques and am proud to have improved my photography skills a little more. I am so thankful to NANPA and the many supporters that make this program possible.

In August, I had a photography exhibition at a gallery in Vermont at the Tilting at Windmills Gallery in Machester. This was a new experience for me, and I chose a gallery/printer in my hometown that was very helpful with prepping files and handling acrylic mounting. The best part was that proceeds from my sales were going to the World Wildlife Fund. This made all of the hard work worth it for me! The exhibition was a huge success and I really enjoyed meeting customers and talking to them about my stories from the field. I am super excited that they were the first gallery I have displayed my work in!

In September, I was asked to take over the Instagram account of Adobe Lightroom for their "Rising Stars" campaign. Adobe's agency had emailed me earlier in the summer with the news. For the takeover, I selected a few of my favorite images along with related stories, and also shared some editing tips. This was a great honor for me, and also gave me a good platform to raise awareness for some of the subjects that I care so much about. As my friend Cristina Mittermeier once told me, "Never turn down an opportunity to speak up for wildlife". Adobe gave me that chance, and I'm grateful for it.

In October, I visited Wyoming with my family during a school break. The fall is one of the best times of the year to see Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Park. On this trip, I took a day trip into the field with my good friend and mentor Henry Holdsworth for a day. We drove around looking for moose and bears, talking and laughing as we usually do. Henry has meant a lot to me, and I credit him for much of my success as a young photographer. A day later, I met Jeff Hogan who did a brief film session with me for the Nature's Best ceremony. I had heard alot about Jeff during my time in the field with the Teton Cougar Project. Jeff has created many of the nature films that you may see on TV today, including alot of natural history footage from the Tetons and Yellowstone for the BBC and National Geographic. What an awesome guy and so fun!

(with Henry Holdsworth)

Later in October, I traveled to London for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards. The ceremony took place at London's Natural History Museum, in the great hall beneath a giant blue whale skeleton called "Hope". At the ceremony, I had a great time meeting so many other photographers from all over the world, including many of the other young photographers that were also recognized. I gave a short speech after receiving my 11-14 award, and then did an interview for NHM Live, answering questions about my winning photo. Later, I got a chance to tour the exhibit and answer questions from members of the global press. I was really pleased to see how many conservation-minded images were recognized this year, especially those by Brent Stirton (overall winner) and Justin Hofman (seahorse riding a cotton swab). I spent time talking to as many photographers as possible, and was especially excited to talk with Brent, whom I had met in 2015. Photojournalists like Brent spent so much time in the field in often very dangerous places to return with very powerful and important images. I was so happy for him when he was announced as the Grand Prize winner, and even happier knowing that the plight of rhinos and the ivory trade would get more exposure. All of the other photographers gave me such great advice and I look forward to applying it to my future work.

Two nights after the awards ceremony, I joined David Lloyd and Aaron "Bertie" Gekoski (both category winners) on stage to present our images and stories in a private event for the Natural History Museum's members. I had always admired David's work from afar, but after speaking with him personally, and hearing his speech about the difference between a picture and a portrait, made me appreciate his talent and caring and thoughtful style even more. Bertie's spirit and passion were infectious and I hope that we can work on a project together some day. The event was hosted by the amazing Roz Kidman Cox, editor of the WPY portfolio book and other publications, and former BBC Wildlife Magazine editor for 23 years and WPY judge for 32 years. Roz was such a pleasure to be around and so kind, fun and helpful. She is hopeful that young photographers will continue to enter WPY and other international competitions worldwide.

(Bertie, me, David and Roz at the 2017 WPY Member's Evening)

In November, I had 3 events that shaped this busy month. The first was a gallery exhibition at the 70 South Gallery in Morristown, NJ, my hometown. 70 South exhibits the work of a local high school student each month, and I was the first student exhibitor to present wildlife art. The gallery was very helpful in preparing my images and choosing mats and frames for the display. I had a separate event where I had the chance to meet and talk with gallery customers during an informal Q&A. It was cool to see so many of my favorite images on the walls of 70 South! I am so glad to be able to exhibit my work so close to home!

The next event in November was the Nature's Best Windland Smith Rice Photography Awards, at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. When I arrived at the exhibit, Jeff Hogan's short film about me was playing on a TV screen in the gallery space. It was so cool to see the finished product and it looked great! On one wall nearby was a tall vertical image showing several frames of my leaping fox sequence (which had won the Yellowstone Forever Youth award), and on another wall, a huge acrylic print of my Nature's Best winning bear cub image. The entire gallery looked beautiful! That night, I was introduced on stage by my good friend and last year's Youth winner, David Rosenzweig. I had an opportunity to give a short speech and then I enjoyed the rest of the evening talking with other photographers. It was great to see Jackson Hole photographer Steve Mattheis there (who is so talented and so much fun!), as well as my friend Amy Shutt and many members of the International League of Conservation Photographers. The Freligh family did an amazing job with the exhibit and the awards ceremony, and I am going to make sure that I inspire more young photographers to enter this awesome competition. One thing that makes the Nature's Best Awards so special to me is that they are named after a Jackson, WY female photographer, Windland Smith. I never got the chance to meet Windland, but I know many people who did, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be recognized by a competition in her name. I hope to honor her by continuing to support wildlife non-profits in the Tetons which she loved so much.

(Giving my acceptance speech at the 2017 Nature's Best Windland Smith Rice Photography Awards)

(Thanking my good friend, David Rosenzweig, 2016 Youth Photographer of the Year)

(Doing a short interview after the awards ceremony)

Finally, I wrapped up November with a visit from a new friend of mine, whose family has been an inspiration to me since I was really young. Robert Irwin and his mom, Terrie came to visit me in NJ while Robert was in town to film the Jimmy Fallon show. I took them to the Great Swamp and to The Raptor Trust, two of my favorite places near my home. We walked in the woods and talked about wildlife, and their life back home in Australia. They were so kind and humble, and I am really glad to have met them. Robert is a very talented wildlife photographer and an amazing ambassador for wildlife. I hope to visit with him at the Australia Zoo sometime soon.

December was a month of closure for me, having wrapped up most of my photography commitments. In the middle of the month, I took a Saturday to explore a local beach in New Jersey for snowy owls with my good friend and gifted photographer Carolina Fraser. Carolina and I had a great time looking for snowy owls (we found one!) and I really hope to be able to photograph with her more in the future. During December, I also finally had time to complete a big goal of mine for the year - a children's book about great gray owls. The book, "Growing up Great Gray", was the result of many years of great gray owl photography in the Tetons, and included alot of shots taken with Jess and Connor in B.C. The book could not have been done without the help of Jaymi Heimbuch, who assisted me with editing, time management and lots and lots of good advice! Thanks Jaymi!  The book is self-published and my hope is to donate the proceeds of the book sales to the Teton Raptor Center located in Wilson, WY. I have spent many hours in the field with TRC biologists learning about great grays, and this is my way of paying them back and helping their research and awareness efforts. In late December, I had a book signing at the Tayloe Piggott Gallery in Jackson, WY. I am proud to say we sold a lot of books and all the money went towards the TRC program. The coolest thing about the event was that Taiga, an educational great gray at TRC, got to hang out with me the entire time. Taiga is the lone surviving owlet from a nest that was predated on by a black bear. Having Taiga there made all of my work on the book worthwhile!

(me, Jessie, and Taiga, TRC's educational great gray owl)

And finally, what could possibly wrap up such a busy and thrilling year for a wildlife photographer better than a visit by one of my biggest nemesis subjects, a species that I've only ever heard, and always hoped to find? One late December morning, I woke up to find a northern saw-whet owl roosting peacefully in a spruce tree in our Wyoming backyard. Finding this owl was the icing on my 2017 cake. It also put it all in perspective for me, too. Standing there with my tripod and watching this little owl sleeping through the sounds of mobbing chickadees and the chill of blowing winter wind, made me realize that my entire year was all about moments like this. It feels awesome to be rewarded for my work, to see it hang on museum and gallery walls, shared on social media, and used for conservation purposes. But in the end, a quiet moment with a wildlife subject, whether it's a playful brown bear, a calling loon, a hungry red fox, a cheetah cub or even this sleepy little owl, is what it's all about for me. And I hope that 2018 brings more moments like this.

Thanks for following along and for all of your support! Best wishes in 2018,

Ashleigh


My Ten Best of 2016

January 02, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I had some exciting photo adventures in 2016, including an amazing trip to Lake Clark National Park, AK and a few vacations to Wyoming. I was focused this year on capturing unique behavior and trying to add to my portfolio of fur-bearers for a presentation that I gave in Jackson Hole this fall to benefit Wyoming Untrapped, which works very hard on trapping reform in Wyoming. I had many outings searching for my favorite subject, the great gray owl, and also had a memorable experience with Panthera's Teton Cougar Project. Scroll down to see which images were my favorites, not just because of the images, but because of what the experience taking them meant to me. 

"Leap of Faith"

A red fox at the top of its arc, leaping for prey buried deep underneath the frozen snowpack of the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, WY.

"Mama's Little Shadow"

An Alaskan brown bear cub sticks close to its mother in the sedge grass flats of Lake Clark National Park, AK, as hungry male bears roam the forest edges looking for an opportunity.

"Napping Marten"

An american marten snoozes on a pine branch in our backyard near Jackson Hole, WY. I had always looked for martens in and around Yellowstone over the past few winters but only ever found tracks. I could not believe that one was hunting in our yard for a week during this holiday season.

"Snack Break"

An adult great gray owl gets ready to swallow a meadow vole from a perch near Jackson Hole, WY.

"Double Trouble"

A pair of western coyotes along the edge of the Madison River listen nervously to a disturbance far off in the trees, near a recent elk kill, in Yellowstone National Park, WY.

"Mama's Boy"

A brown bear spring cub boldly stands its ground near its mother during a break from clamming on the flats of Lake Clark National Park, AK.

"Blending Right In"

A great gray owlet, recently fledged from its nearby nest, chooses an ideal spot to roost during the most challenging time of its life, when it must learn to hunt for itself and avoid predators, in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

"First Sunrise"

Red fox kit siblings take a break from playing outside of their den site to take in the early morning sunrise in my backyard, Morristown, NJ.

"Prepare to Launch"

As the autumn leaves fall on an October day in Grand Teton National Park, WY, an adult great gray owl hones in on the sounds of its prey and prepares to launch an attack.

"Eyes of Innocence"

A mountain lion kitten waits patiently for its mother to return to their den site in a dense willow thicket in Wyoming. Despite only taking a handful of quick shots with really low lighting conditions, this experience was by far the highlight of my photography career. Thanks to the generosity of my Facebook followers, I was able to sell copies of this photograph and in turn raised over $3,000 for a WY mountain lion research team to continue their efforts studying this magnificent animal.


Red Fox Mousing Series, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

March 31, 2016  •  13 Comments

This is a sequence that I took this past winter (February, 2016) of a female red fox mousing in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park. It was a cold and overcast morning and it was the third day of my trip. We hadn't seen a fox until we climbed a hill and looked up ahead of us in the road. This vixen was hunting right next to the road. We drove up near her and waited. She left and walked out into an open field. I watched her and waited until she started listening closely to the ground in front of her. This is what happened next:

 

1. She tilted her head a few times trying to pinpoint her prey. A red fox has incredible hearing.

 

2. Once she knew something was there, she focused on the exact spot and got ready to jump. 

 

3. She was now ready to spring. I was braced on a beanbag in a car window and I moved the lens up a bit here from the last shot. I don't remember doing it but I was now worried that I didn't have enough room at the top of the frame if she jumped.

 

4. She uses her forelegs to push up and then her back legs give her the spring. She is still looking at her target.

 

5. I don't know if I ever would have had enough shutter speed in this low light to freeze this frame perfectly. It shows how focused she still is on where the prey is.

 

6. There is a subtle shadow of where she used to be. She's on her way to the top of the leap, still looking at where she should land.

 

7. This is the highest point of the leap. I love the shape of her body and how determined she is.

 

8. She is on her way down now and is tucking her back legs in a bit.

 

9. Here she is becoming more streamlined and the forelegs are folding up tightly under her chin. There is no turning back now!

 

10. This is one of my favorites from the sequence. She is like an arrow, focused and straight dropping out of the sky to pin a vole under the snow below.

 

11. OK. Ouch. This has to hurt a little bit, especially if there's crust on the snow surface. I think the nose breaks the snow first and then the front paws follow to widen the hole.

 

12. There is a lot of fox under the snow now. Who knows what is going on under there??

 

13. This is the straightest she extended herself on the landing. She held herself like this for a few seconds. I think she was feeling around for the vole or maybe scratching deeper with her paws.

 

14. After the landing, my buffer was about full, so I reset my AF point and recomposed for what she would do next. This is my favorite of the series. Im pretty sure she stayed down there for almost 15 seconds. That's a long time.

 

15. Here she is starting to push herself backwards out of the hole. I was curious to see if she caught her prey!

 

16. I still can't tell if there's a vole in her mouth. I was impressed that she was able to back out of that hole with just her forelegs. She shook off some snow from her face...

 

17. and I can now tell that she missed her target. At least she doesn't look too disappointed...

 

18. well, maybe a lot disappointed :(

 

19. This is the last shot that I took of her, as she trotted off to find another meal. She looks more determined in this photo. I never saw her again.

 


My Ten Best of 2015

January 06, 2016  •  1 Comment

This was harder than I thought! I have so many that I like but I chose these 10 because of what they mean to me and the stories behind them. I have left out some of my award-winning photos, even though they were photographed in 2015, so that I could share some newer images. You can see all of my award-winning photos in my Gallery.

Winter SlumberA red fox napping in the woods of Grand Teton National Park, WY

"Winter Slumber"
A Red Fox naps beneath a bent pine trunk on a snowy bank in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

Meadow HunterA Great Gray Owl perches on an old aspen branch while looking for meadow voles for its fledglings nearby.

"Meadow Hunter"
A Great Gray Owl perches on an old aspen branch while hunting meadow voles for its nearby fledglings in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

Lady of the LakeA Red Fox pauses to listen for the sounds of mice under the snow on Yellowstone Lake near Fishing Bridge.

"Lady of the Lake"
A Red Fox pauses to listen for the sounds of mice under the snow on Yellowstone Lake near Fishing Bridge.

Silent SentryA Great Gray Owl rests on an aspen branch in the late afternoon light near its three calling fledglings in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

"Silent Sentry"
A Great Gray Owl rests on an aspen branch in the late afternoon light near its three calling fledglings in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

All Ruffled UpA Great Horned Owl ruffles its feathers for warmth on a cold day at the edge of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Millington, NJ.

"All Ruffled Up"
A Great Horned Owl ruffles its feathers for warmth on a cold day at the edge of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Millington, NJ.

What's the Matter, Momma?A Red Fox Kit greets its injured mother in a field near my home, after their den was disturbed by a bulldozer.

"What's the Matter, Momma?"
A Red Fox Kit greets its injured mother in a field near my home, after their den was disturbed by a bulldozer.

Owlet in PinesA Great Gray Owlet sits near the end of a pine branch patiently awaiting the return of its parent, in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

"Owlet in Pines"
A Great Gray Owlet sits near the end of a pine branch patiently awaiting the return of its parent, in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

Teton MooseA young Bull Moose strides across the sagebrush flats in front of the lower Tetons, searching for bitter bush on a -20 degree morning in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

"Teton Moose"
A young Bull Moose strides across the sagebrush flats in front of the lower Tetons, searching for bitter brush on a -20 degree morning in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

Thank You, Screech OwlA rufous-morph Eastern Screech Owl looks out from the cavity of a Sycamore Tree near my home in NJ. My photos of this owl won a couple of awards in 2015, including Nature's Best Youth Highly Honored (18 and under), and 1st place in the Por el Planeta Nature, Wilidlife & Conservation Photography competition (11-14 year old). This photo is of the last time I saw this owl, and it makes me wonder how it is doing. I hope it's safe.

"Thank You, Screech Owl"

A rufous-morph Eastern Screech Owl looks out from the cavity of a Sycamore Tree near my home in NJ. 

My photos of this owl won a couple of awards in 2015, including Nature's Best Youth Highly Honored (18 and under), and 1st place in the Por el Planeta Nature, Wilidlife & Conservation Photography competition (11-14 year old).

This photo is of the last time I saw this owl, and it makes me wonder how it is doing. I hope it's safe.

Alone in the MeadowA Red Fox mother rests in a field of wildflowers while her kits play nearby, in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

"Alone in the Meadow"
A Red Fox mother rests in a field of wildflowers while her kits play nearby, in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

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