BJU Photographer Wins National Awards

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BJU photographer Derek Eckenroth with his 2019 awards

BJU photographer Derek Eckenroth won two awards last week in the University Photographers’ Association of America (UPAA) Annual Print Competition. He placed second in the Campus Environment category and fifth in the News and College Life category.

BJU Photographer Annual Print Awards

The Annual Print Competition gives each university photographer the chance to submit up to six of his best photos from the year. Photographers from the University of Notre Dame, the University of Michigan and other schools compete in this contest.

Second Place – Lightning on Front Campus

While at the 2018 UPAA Symposium, Eckenroth got tips on lightning photos from Matt Cashore—senior university photographer for Notre Dame. Not long afterward, the perfect storm with little rain and lots of lightning—a rare combination in South Carolina—rolled over campus. One thirty-second frame later, Eckenroth had the shot. “I just held down the shutter and watched God work,” he said.

The photo won Best in Show in the 2018 September Monthly Image Competition before winning in the UPAA contest.

See Also: BJU Staff Photographer Wins Best in Show

Fifth Place – Grave Diggers

Eckenroth captured grounds crew digging Beneth Jones’ grave on campus. He said, “(I submitted it because) it was one of my favorite compositions of the evening . . . it had one of the supervisors in the corner overlooking (a) student in the grave digging; it was a nice overhead shot and it told the story well.”

See Also: Remembering Beneth Peters Jones, Lady of Talent and Grace

The Spark of a Passion

Photography did not interest Eckenroth in his childhood or even during high school. Though he did enter a photography competition in high school—”It’s a really nice frame” being his best “compliment”—Eckenroth thought photography was “an expensive hobby and a waste of time.” But college promptly flipped his opinion.

Eckenroth came to BJU not knowing what God wanted him to do. After a period of indecision, he felt God leading him to study cinema and video production (now cinema production) with a minor in counseling. His major required a basic photography class. His first photo was, as Eckenroth bluntly called it, garbage. But with guidance, he learned what and what not to include in his photos. Soon after beginning the class, he realized his passion and changed his minor to photography.

Steps of Improvement

Eckenroth progressed by taking classes and persevering. “It’s just a matter of constantly studying your work and improving on it,” he said. “(Don’t take) your work too personally. (Allow) people to criticize your work, and … (then) improve upon the criticisms.” He even tried to journal about his photographs, but he stopped after 10 photographs because there was too much to criticize.

BJU instructors influenced his photography as well. He especially looked up to Wade Ramsey—one of his favorite teachers. Ramsey could be tough, especially when he discussed assignments in front of the class. The challenge of these discussions was that, because film was still in use, students did not see their final product until it was presented in front of the class. On one of these assignments, Eckenroth received much positive feedback from Ramsey and others. To Eckenroth, this assignment confirmed that he had photographic talent.

During his senior year, Eckenroth was a student photographer behind the scenes of BJU’s Milltown Pride. That experience allowed him to be a student photographer the following semester. Afterward, a graduate assistant position was created so he could continue working at BJU after his undergrad. Once he completed his graduate assistantship, he joined the staff at BJU in January 2015. Using more advanced cameras with each position also helped him improve his skills.

Eckenroth’s favorite subject to shoot on campus is theater, specifically production dress rehearsals. “When they are doing the final dress rehearsals and I am the only one in the audience, it feels like they are doing the entire production for (me),” he said. During the rehearsal, he also enjoys walking around on stage while taking close-up photos.

Joining the UPAA in 2014 also helped Eckenroth improve through feedback and experience.


The BJU photographer has won 15 awards since he began entering UPAA competitions in 2015. Nine have been within the past academic year: six in the monthly competition, the two from the annual print competition and one from the Nikon Shoot Out, which awards a camera to the winner(s). Last week, he also ranked 18th of hundreds that competed in the Monthly Image Competition.

See Also: Sharper Focus Outside the Comfort Zone

“It’s been an amazing year photography-wise,” he said. “God has blessed in a way I have not seen before.”

Eckenroth aspires to win the Photographer of the Year award, an achievement based on the combination of points earned from the monthly image and annual print entries.

“I did not expect to be a photographer in high school,” Eckenroth said. But that expectation transformed into a career that only continues to grow by God’s grace.