How Photography Has Changed My Life
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How Photography Has Changed My Life

The story of how my journey with a camera began.

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How Photography Has Changed My Life
Karley Nugent

It happened. My God, it happened.

Recently, I accomplished a major goal I had set for myself, and I’m sitting here writing this still somewhat in shock that I can finally and officially say…

My photography has been published in a book.
Photo by Karley Nugent

Over the last few days, a lot of people have asked me how it feels to have met this goal; what has been going through my mind and what do I plan to do next?

And my answer has consistently been, “I don’t know.”

That’s the thing that I love most about photography: it brings me so much uncertainty, and every path I follow this art down has been a surprise.

In my 23 years of life, perhaps the most important two lessons I have learned are these: there is nothing more fulfilling than making great strides while pursuing a passion you love beyond measure, and how humbling those strides can make you.

This is the story of how practicing the art of taking pictures has taught me those two lessons, and a plethora of others.


People always seem to think that from the instant I discovered photography, it was my life from then on out. That is very much not the case. There were times when I strayed far away from it, almost certain I’d never go back. Thank God it always seemed to find its way back into my life.

When I was a child, some of my favorite memories were going through shoeboxes of old photographs with my grandfather; a tradition we still keep up to this day. He would tell me the stories behind each picture, who the people in the photos were and how he used to dream of traveling the world taking pictures when he was younger.

Through these times, he taught me the possibilities photography could bring and the power of preservation it held. How a simple photo of a single moment could freeze time and keep a memory alive forever.

He taught me to see what photography truly was, why it is important and, above all, how to love it.
Photo by Karley Nugent

Throughout my younger years, I went through countless disposable cameras. Some of which I never actually got the film developed from before I lost them, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless; just taking the pictures was fun enough for me, then.

I got my first real camera at the age of nine, and I remember being excited about it. I don’t remember a lot of detail about it, but I do remember it was small and blue, and I couldn’t wait to take it with me on our trip to Colorado. At that point in my life, while I respected photography, I had never thought about pursuing it as a career in my life. I just wanted to save the moments I shot with that camera, and fill up spare shoeboxes like my grandfather had done.

My time with that camera was short, though. I broke it about two weeks later on that fateful ski trip to Colorado. It fell to the floor, and refused to turn back on after that. My mother promised me we would replace it, but when we got back home and school started again, how quickly that was forgotten.

When I was 11, I had gotten a new camera, and this one was far more valuable to me. This one actually had a screen, so I could see the pictures after I took them instead of having to print them out. It got me back into photography as a whole after losing my first camera.

I spent that Christmas day doing what my grandfather had done; taking pictures of my family and the moments around me, hoping to show those pictures to people and have them look through them for hours, listening to their stories and all of the things I used to do.
Family Halloween Party
Photo by Karley Nugent

And at first, I got what I wanted. I got to share my picture with those around me. But after a while, it got old. But it occurred to me that other people were doing exactly what I was doing; taking the same pictures at family events, and it felt like it wasn’t too special for me anymore. Eventually, one day, I noticed that I had no idea where my precious little camera even was, and by the time I found it months later, it wasn’t working. It didn’t bother me all that much, though.

When I was in eighth grade, I had a Myspace page, as did everyone around me, and I quickly learned that sharing pictures online was what everyone was doing. So, I needed a camera. And on Christmas day of that year, I received what I considered to be my first serious camera.


I took that little Canon Powershot with me everywhere; I shot images of everything on it, like I’d never lost the love for it.

Back then, I was only interested in taking pictures of family parties and stupid pictures with my friends; I’d never really thought about the portrait or landscaping side of what I was doing. I mean sure, I’d take a picture of a mountain or two if I was on a vacation, but who doesn’t do that?
Photo by Karley Nugent

It was the summer I was going into my freshman year of high school, on a random beach near Destin, Florida that it all changed for me.

It was sunset on the beach, and I decided I needed to document the last sunset of our trip. So, that’s exactly what I did, and as I was showing my family, they commented on what a “great” picture it was. It stopped me in my tracks, and I started shooting the scenes around us.
Photo by Karley Nugent

Looking back at that picture now, I acknowledge it’s not that great. But at the time, when I was told I should try to shoot more nature shots and things like it…well, that’s how I really got my start.

From that day forward, every kind of photography was an obsession. Not just selfies with friends or pictures of Thanksgiving at maw maw’s house. I learned to love shooting nature. And the more I did, the more experienced I became.

When I was a sophomore, my parents bought me what I’ll always refer to as my first “big girl camera,” a Canon Rebel XS. (It was a huge deal to me to have a camera that actually required changing lenses.) Everything from then on felt more professional to me.

I was slowly getting better and better; I was self-teaching myself by studying pictures out of National Geographic magazines and wall art in doctors’ offices. I showed my stuff to anyone and everyone who was willing to look, taking their criticisms to heart. I reached a point in my life where I realized just how much photography mattered to me.

And I remember the first time someone ever asked me to take pictures of them, it was the moment I realized I wanted nothing more in life than to become a professional photographer.

Since then, photography has brought me a lot of things.

I won second place in my first ever photography competition with that camera, which I still consider one of the proudest moments of my photography career.


Second place winning photo at the 2011 Silver Scribe Journalism Competition at Loyola, New Orleans
Photo by Karley Nugent

I’ve only gone up from there.

To this day, photographed small artists on stage and huge concerts in venues packed with thousands of people. I’ve shot countless milestones in people’s lives, from senior years to engagements to first born children and so much more. I’ve traveled to places and captured images of things few people have ever seen.

It’s given me a window to share peoples’ joys and opened the door for so many adventures.

But above all of that, photography gave me a sense of direction in life; photography is what brought me to Yellowstone National Park, where I learned that more than anything, I want to use my photography to inspire wanderlust in people. I want to show people that exploring the world is one of the most magical things a person can do.
Photography in the Hayden Valley
Photo by Karley Nugent

It's given me something to look forward to doing for the rest of my time on this planet and has shown me that I am capable of accomplishing great things

Being published in my first book was one of those things.

Of course, there were bad days. From not getting good shots to bad criticisms, there were frustrating times when I felt as though I wasn’t doing a good enough job to continue on with it, but I have learned that giving up on something you care so much about is the worst decision a person can make.

I have countless other goals I have promised myself to achieve in my life, and photography will take me to about 75 percent of those goals.

I used to fear uncertainty in my life; not know where I would go or what I would do, but pursuing the art of photography has taught me to embrace the unfamiliar and to love not knowing what to anticipate.

That is how photography has changed my life.

I encourage you to find whatever will change your life, and run with it. Discover your passion in live and focus on it with complete and utter diligence. It will bring you to accomplish incredible things if you work hard enough for it.

So on your journey, I bid you…

Happy exploring.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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