BJU Staff Photographer Wins Best in Show

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Lightning flashes over Rodeheaver Auditorium at Bob Jones University

BJU staff photographer Derek Eckenroth won Best in Show in the University Photographers’ Association of America Monthly Image Competition.

How did you capture this photo?

Ever since I got into photography I have been interested in lightning photography, and I even tried capturing it using film as a freshman in college. I had no idea what I was doing.

Now after seeing Matt Cashore (the senior university photographer for Notre Dame) capture amazing lightning photos week after week in the University Photographers Association of America Monthly Image Competition (UPAA MIC), I wanted to try again. I have a much better grasp on how to capture lightning than I did as a freshman, but I still wasn’t sure how Matt did it. Over the summer I had a chance to pick Matt’s brain at the UPAA Technical Symposium, and I learned a lot. For example, I didn’t realize how much his experience in aviation affected his knowledge of weather patterns.

Here are my biggest takeaways from the small conversation I had with Matt:

  1. Stay safe. Don’t shoot a storm with ground lightning.
  2. Keep an eye out for storms with little to no actual rain and lots of lightning bursts.
  3. If you bulb the photo (keep the shutter open manually), the exposure doesn’t have to be as long as you think. It really only needs to be in the 15-second range.

On my way home after an event one evening the “perfect storm” rolled in, and I had to stop by campus and practice Matt’s tips. The storm was almost over by the time I was able to get my camera out. But God blessed, and I was able to get one frame. All I can say is I held down the shutter and watched God work. I’m still amazed at how well the lightning paralleled the building. Only God has that kind of control!

I did very little editing to the file in Photoshop. Almost all the photo editing I did was in Lightroom. I did have to brighten the sky as I learned the hard way that the longer the exposure, the brighter the buildings and the darker the lightning in comparison.

What would you do differently?

If I had another opportunity to reshoot this photo, I would pay closer attention to the settings Matt Cashore mentioned to me. I was surprised by how dark the lightning actually was in comparison to the building when exposed for 25 seconds. A shorter exposure may have helped darken the building in comparison to the flash of lightning.

Where do you look for inspiration, feedback and motivation?

A lot of my inspiration comes from the UPAA MIC, print competitions and following professional photographers on social media (most of them connected with the UPAA). I have learned a lot from the UPAA, which is flooded with professionals who want to share their knowledge and help other photographers improve. And my participation with the association motivates me to do my best in photography.

My feedback comes from my boss Hal Cook, other photography friends at or around BJU, and social media. This generation is flooded with people who love photography, and it never hurts to ask for constructive criticism.

I am motivated by a deep love and desire to create beautiful images, the reminder that if I’m not learning I’m falling behind, and 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” I love photography, both capturing the image and making it come to life in post-production. (Before/after is my favorite tool for any editing software.) I was told once by Hal that if you aren’t learning—especially in photography—you are falling behind. That statement has stuck with me. I want to keep learning to keep up with this fast-paced industry.

But more importantly, I am a Christian. And I want my main motivation to always be for God’s glory. God has given me the talent, ability and opportunities I never thought I would have. I’m humbled, and I hope to always point all of this back to Him.


Derek Eckenroth is a staff photographer in BJU’s Marketing Communications department.