Wise beyond her 18 years, award-winning wildlife photographer, Ashleigh Scully has snagged some impressive titles as a young woman in a competitive field.
When she was eight years old, she started experimenting with photography and it was a childhood passion that quickly became a meaningful path in life.
Ashleigh’s aim behind her photos is to create awareness and encourage an understanding of misunderstood animals, which we relate to and admire in someone so tender in age!
It’s impossible not to feel hopeful and optimistic about the future for wildlife when there are dedicated and authentically passionate animal advocates like Ashleigh entering the field at a professional level.
Ashleigh plans to add the power of words to her already powerful photos and pursue a career in photojournalism, which will elevate her voice and help fight the environmental issues facing our planet.
We hope her sphere of influence reaches far and wide!
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Ashleigh Scully. I’m 18 years old and I am from Morristown, New Jersey. I will be attending TCU (Texas Christian University) in the fall to compete on their Division l Equestrian team.
Both riding and photography have played a huge role in my life and I am excited to see what the next few years bring with competing at a collegiate level and studying different aspects of photography.
Can you tell us a little bit about your professional background?
I started photography when I received a point and shoot camera for my 8th birthday. My passion grew from there and throughout the years I began to upgrade to different gear.
To pay my parents back I made money through gallery shows and selling my photographs, and helped pay for any trips I was lucky enough to be a part of!
I got recognition through social media, first through an old NatGeo website called “MyShot” where young kids would publish their photographs and others (including some NatGeo kids magazine editors) would rate them, comment, and give feedback and little awards.
It was the perfect way to start and connect with kids my age, especially because photography is not a common passion amongst young people.
Out in the field I was always the little girl trying to find my own angle through older photographers who knew the area better than me. But once I got older, and a lot taller, people began to notice I was still there. I tend to unintentionally stand out, especially in the photography field of older male photographers, as I am an 18 year old girl who is 6’2.
My social media following had grown throughout the years, I started on Flickr and eventually moved to Facebook and Instagram, which I believe are incredible platforms in getting your work recognized and creating connections.
I eventually gained the respect of those older peers out in the field, most of which I have become friends with.
My goal in photography is to change negative perceptions of misunderstood wildlife. But it is also to inspire the younger generation to follow their passions, whether that is photography or not.
What or who in your life influenced you to pursue this route?
I picked up my love for photography myself, I had no one in my family or circle of friends who did it. Once my parents started to realize my dedication, they supported me and my goals by helping me afford gear and trips. I have been selling my photos in hopes to pay them back for everything!
I have been fortunate to have a lot of mentors throughout my growth as a photographer, all of whom taught me many invaluable lessons as well as helped me develop my own style in photography.
Their guidance and criticism has led me down a path that I am proud of and I hope to inspire others one day in the same way.
Currently, what is the inspiration that keeps you motivated and passionate about your work?
My photography, I believe, is rooted from a deep respect and love I have always had for nature.
I have pursued photography to give back to the wildlife I have photographed and help give them a voice that they very much need during this time.
So many species are misunderstood and I want to move people through images of poorly misinterpreted animals in hopes of changing their perspective.
What is the most impactful aspect of your work?
I’d hope that I have inspired kids younger than me to follow their passions. To me that is the most powerful thing I can do.
I drew so much inspiration from photographers through social media and my mentors, and it motivated me to learn and try new aspects of photography.
The best thing I can accomplish is to give that to somebody else.
Where is your favorite place you’ve traveled and why?
I traveled to Tanzania about four years ago on a workshop led by two of my mentors, Melissa Groo and Todd Gustafson.
Traveling to Africa was like entering a new world, I couldn’t believe I was amongst the diversity of wildlife that I had been seeing in pictures and books my entire life.
That trip really helped develop my style of photography and I learned so much from my peers and mentors while I was there. You develop such a respect for the wildlife around you and learn to understand their behavior and their ways and struggles through life.
I would love more than anything to go back there one day.
Tell us about your strangest experience while traveling?
A classic favorite, and the strangest, of my photography stories was when I went to Idaho a few years ago to photograph Great Horned, Long-Eared, Short-Eared, and hopefully Saw-Whet owls that all roosted, nested and hunted in the same marsh. Yes, all of those owls can be found individually in Idaho but them being all together in the same place was rare.
The Long-Eared owls were particularly skittish, mainly because they were nesting during that time of year. They would take over old magpie nests, some of which were small but some were about 10 times the size of the owl. The nests were located in thick rows of brush and trees.
I was with my dad but I started walking in the opposite direction from him down this narrow corridor of trees trying to find a nest to photograph. I couldn’t stand straight up because of the brush above me and it was getting dark out.
Finally I saw a magpie nest that took up almost half of the tree. I thought it looked strange because there was no owl in it. I got about five or so feet from it before it whipped around and stared straight at me.
Turned out to be the biggest porcupine I had ever seen in my life. I have also never run faster in my life. At the time I believed that porcupines could shoot quills at you, so while I was running I was imagining a thousand flying needles right behind me.
Yeah, porcupines can’t shoot quills at you, it is only when you make contact. I know that now!
Why do you feel that wildlife conservation is important?
I think that awareness of wildlife conservation is the first step, as there are so many people who go through their everyday lives without realizing the destruction that we have inflicted on wildlife and their ecosystems and environments.
For example, if someone were to buy a drink that came with a plastic straw, having no idea the damage it causes to turtles and marine life, then they would use the straw and throw it away without even thinking about it. But since the impact of straws and other plastics became so well known, and people acted on it, the next time that person buys a drink with a plastic straw, it’s on their mind, and it may even impact them enough to not buy it in the first place.
If that applies to everyone in the world, that could move mountains.
What is your favorite Wild in Africa bracelet style and why?
I love the amethyst bracelet because it is my birthstone, but I also love the Nkombe Rhino bracelet because it is adjustable, and it represents both the white and black species of rhino. The donations for the bracelet are going towards providing training and equipment for Anti-Poaching units.
Are there any animals you feel especially passionate about?
My love for photography growing up revolved around backyard wildlife, especially owls and foxes. There were so many people in my neighborhood that had no idea there were even owls in New Jersey. I published two books, one about foxes and the other about owls in NJ, and sold them to people in my town with the proceeds going to a local Raptor Rehabilitation center.
I am very passionate about Grizzly bears, mainly because I feel as though they are so misunderstood and negatively viewed upon. Having read “Mark of the Grizzly” and “Death in Yellowstone”, I sure understand the perspectives on some who have never had an encounter with a bear, and why some would never want to. But that doesn’t mean in any way that accidents don’t happen and that all bears are dangerous, aggressive, or even violent. Because in my experience, they are not.
During the time I spent with Grizzlies up in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska, I learned more about bear behavior just by pure observation than I had in any book, article or movie. My hope is that my photos of mother grizzlies with their cubs, showing emotion and love and care overpower those negative perceptions and that I could maybe change someone’s mind.
Could you share the story behind your favourite photograph you've taken?
It’s hard to choose a favorite photo, but if I were to, I like to do it based on the reaction it received from other people.
Many of my Grizzly bear photos (mothers with their cubs), sparked positive feedback from people seeing a different side of bear behavior than what society portrays.
I have found that my most powerful images are ones of animals showing emotion, because that connects people with the subject and photograph, but also gives them something to think about.
Do you have a favorite place or subject to photograph?
My favorite places to photograph are Africa and Alaska, and my favorite subjects are bears, owls and foxes.
Can you share your future plans and hopes for yourself?
As I head to college in the fall, my hope is to stay on track with my photography goals while balancing school and being on the equestrian team.
I plan to become a part of some programs at school that allow me to travel and use my passion for photojournalism. I will be majoring in English, as my end goal is to become a writer.
I hope that if I do, I can combine it with my photography and see what happens.
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