Friday, October 20

UCLA student takes scientific approach to capturing scenic shots


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Felicia Ramirez / Daily Bruin


The original version of this article contained an error and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.

Jeff Lewis was hiking a 4,000-foot mountain in Washington when the rain turned to snow and the winds began to blow at 50 miles per hour.

Lewis had seen satellite images of the area and was confident the sky would clear, so he pitched his tent and waited for the opportune moment to take his shot.

His dedication and scientific approach to photography is why Lewis, a fourth-year atmospheric sciences student and vice president of the Photography Club at UCLA, stood out to software giant Adobe. He was one of 12 students in the nation chosen to be sponsored by the Creative Cloud campaign, which promotes Adobe’s updated software package.

Lewis uses his atmospheric science knowledge along with satellite images, the weather forecast and Google Earth to predict the weather in remote locations. He then hikes to these locations to photograph the landscapes.

“I’m the opposite of most people when they plan their trips,” Lewis said. “When I see the sun in the weather forecast I get really sad because I need clouds for my shots. If I see thunderstorms I’ll literally jump up and down, pack my bag and head out.”

This past summer, Stephanie Tung, fourth-year computer science student and president of the Photography Club at UCLA, was contacted by an advertising agency looking for a student with a flair for Adobe products and a compelling story. She immediately forwarded the email to Lewis.

At the time, Lewis was working as a park ranger in Sequoia National Park – a job he took so he could hike and continue to work on landscape photography. A few emails and one phone interview later, Lewis was driving down to Los Angeles (gas paid courtesy of Adobe) to be filmed for a profile for its website.

“It was overwhelming at first,” Lewis said. “Six people appeared in a car with big camera setups. That was when I realized it was a full-scale production.”

Lewis, who gets one free year of Creative Cloud thanks to the sponsorship, uses its software Lightroom and Photoshop to enhance his photos.

“I have to overcome the limitations of the camera in capturing what I see,” Lewis said. “I use post-processing to bring the picture I took with my camera back to the scene I saw with my eyes and help viewers feel what I felt.”

Lewis said he took the first photo that was meaningful to him as a photographer during a backpacking trip in Yosemite, back in 2010.

“It had poured and hailed all day and then the sun came through right at sunset and the sky blew up into every color,” Lewis said. “Looking back on those pictures there are things I would’ve done differently, but I still remember that scene like it was just this morning.”

Lewis, who often takes four-day off-trail trips alone, said his parents have had to get used to him hiking alone in dangerous areas.

“My dad still laughs when I tell him where I’m going, until he realizes I’m serious,” Lewis said.

But Lewis doesn’t just photograph places that are hard to find. His work also includes photos of the UCLA campus, which have won ASUCLA photo contests and have been used on the cover of this year’s and last year’s ASUCLA agenda planners.

Lewis said he will pursue landscape photography as a career and he ultimately wants his photography to move others to care for the world around them.

“I hope my photos inspire people to care about the planet and ensure that these beautiful places stay that way,” Lewis said.

Samuel Kim, a third-year environmental science and history student and Lewis’ friend, is also an avid hiker. Kim said Lewis travels to places most hikers don’t reach.

“He captures what we’ve never imagined before,” Kim said. “His art speaks to me. It evokes feeling.”

Lewis said not all his photos are successful and sometimes he’ll leave a brutal hike with no usable shots, but each experience is completely worth it. After he pitched his tent for the night during the 4,000-foot hike in Washington, the snow finally stopped falling and the full moon illuminated the fog trails below. After two hours taking photos in the 15 degree cold, he finally got his shot.

Correction: The last names of Samuel Kim and Stephanie Tung were incorrect.

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  • Austin Rose

    Awesome, congrats!