Sharper Focus Outside the Comfort Zone

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I started my photography career about four years ago when I was hired full time at BJU right out of college in January 2014. I had worked as a student photographer, and apparently, they still liked me enough to hire me full time. What a privilege!

It was exciting to be on full-time staff, and I was (and still am) hungry to learn and grow as a professional and serve my school—and more importantly, my God—to the best of my ability. To help further my photography abilities, I joined the University Photographers’ Association of America, and it was more than I expected. These guys are so talented and great people to learn from. I truly felt like I was stepping into the major leagues.

You can’t help but push yourself harder as a professional when you are around the members of the UPAA. One of the ways you can learn and push yourself is with the Nikon Shootout during the annual UPAA Technical Symposium. Each year at the symposium the Nikon representative gives an assignment that must be completed in a specified place and time. All those participating are on equal ground as they each make an image and submit it (without post-processing) for judging by the Nikon representative. It’s quite difficult to get a photograph perfect out of camera. And to get it in-camera and make a stunning image that can compete against professionals who have been in photography for decades … now that’s a tall order! Wow, just to be counted among them is quite an honor.

The 2016 Nikon Shootout was in downtown Nashville. As always, I was very excited. If nothing else, I got to explore a new city I had never been to. But when I heard the theme, in all honesty, my heart sunk: “Friends in Low Places.” I knew immediately what the Nikon rep was looking for, and it terrified me. I consider myself an introvert. Walking up to a complete stranger in an unfamiliar city was the last thing I ever wanted to do. But as I was learning at the symposium that week, great pictures come from those who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and try new and challenging things.

So, I took up the challenge. I found a city street that was being renovated and started walking. I was eventually able to strike up a conversation with a worker who had just finished taking a load of trash to a dumpster by the street. He—Howard—was a nice guy. Right next to us was a couch being tossed. I asked him if I could take a photo of him on the couch. After a little bit of hesitation, he consented. The result was the entry I submitted to the 2016 Nikon Shootout.

BJU marketing photographer Derek Eckenroth won the 2016 Nikon Shootout—held during the annual UPAA Symposium. This is adapted from the article he wrote upon acceptance. The photo above is his winning entry.


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