Teen's Old Faithful photo catches PBS' eye

September 27, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Hilary Grabowska's photographic eye, theoretically in development since she received her first toy camera as a toddler, has emerged with a blast.

The 17-year-old Shepherdstown girl's photograph of Old Faithful erupting at dawn in Yellowstone National Park and several others were chosen by PBS to promote a natural history film that premiered this month.

Although "Yellowstone: Land to Life" was produced by her father, John Grabowska, who is an environmental filmmaker for the National Park Service at the Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) Center, Hilary's photographs still had to meet PBS quality standards.

The images can be viewed on Idaho Public Television's Web site,, which presented the film.

"I talked him into letting me come and I paid my way there," Hilary said of saving money she earned from working as a lifeguard at Cress Creek Country Club for the trip in the summer of 2008. "So it wasn't just me getting a free trip from the parents."


The photographs were taken while the Jefferson High School senior helped her dad with the film's production, capturing images and locations that were used to guide the cinematography work for the Yellowstone documentary.

To take the picture of Old Faithful's steam effectively blotting out the sun, she and her father got up about 5 a.m. and drove through the park, where Hilary said they often experienced "bear jams."

"No cars are moving anywhere ... because people are looking out the window taking pictures of all the bears," she said.

While her father acknowledges his influence on his daughter's ability with a camera, he credited Hilary's experiences at a digital nature photography camp at the National Conservation Training Center just before she joined him on the trip to Yellowstone as contributing to her talent.

"After just a couple days, I saw some of the work that Hilary was doing and the work that the other kids at the camp were doing, and I was very impressed," Grabowska said of the hands-on training directed by Matt Poole and co-sponsored by the Potomac Valley Audubon Society. "But I do think she has an eye for it."

While she hasn't decided what she plans to study in college, Hilary said photography could be part of her future.

"It's exciting actually," she said. "You're trying to find that really cool picture, but you go through lots of other pictures. You'll take a picture ... and at first think that's really cool, but then you'll look back later and say, 'ehh it's an OK picture.' And then this picture that you thought was OK originally is 'wow, when did that happen? I don't remember doing that.'"

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