Sophomore’s camera skills earn her ‘Hawkeye Photographer of the Year’


Sophomore Marissa Johnson has always had a love for taking pictures and said she’s got a ridiculous amount saved on her phone. Her passion has really blossomed over the last two years starting with shooting on a film camera and now working her magic with a digital camera.

In only her second year of high school, Johnson was named the Iowa High School Press Association (IHSPA) Hawkeye Photographer of the Year for her impressive portfolio of homecoming shots, sports pictures and portraits.

Putting in extra hours to get photos at almost every school event, Johnson said she loves taking pictures of anything, but sports tend to be her favorite. “You just get a rush of adrenaline, especially when you get a really good picture,” Johnson said.

Johnson said her photography skills didn’t just come to her overnight. It took a lot of practice and playing around with the camera at home. “When I first started on my film camera, the pictures were all really bad, so after learning more on the digital camera, I started taking pictures for school and would experiment with different settings,” Johnson said. “I started taking home a camera almost every weekend to experiment with portraits, nature and anything else I could find.”

Going to every school event may sound exhausting to the regular student, but Johnson said it definitely has its perks. “I love getting to do events for school because I get to take pictures and get out and watch all the games for free,” Johnson said. Johnson also said she has enjoyed taking pictures for Big House on Wednesday nights.

Beyond the sports and activities, Johnson likes to continue experimenting and growing her photography skills by having photoshoots with people, but she said it takes planning to make sure everything is just right. “After we plan a date, we will decide where to go based on transports and what people are willing to do,” Johnson said. “I have two favorite photoshoots, which would be working with Alexandra Williams and Savannah Willard because they both have such distinct personalities and places that we took pictures.”

Looking forward to many more photoshoots, Johnson said she’s been able to find willing participants to aid in her experimentation and practice with the camera. “I have lots of access to people who have offered to experiment for me. I have two pairs of couples to try out some couples photography, which would be new territory for me, and I am really excited about that,” Johnson said. “I also have a few dancers that I am going to photograph, which will be very fun,” she said. “We are still hoping to get baseball/softball photos in as well.”

Quarantine has made it difficult to get creative in her photoshoots, but Johnson said she still looks for every possible opportunity to take out her camera. “I have made my sister come over after work to do some photography, and I would love love love to get someone over here who has been working and take some essential workers pictures, but this is very hard due to the conditions we are living in,” Johnson said. “I also have been taking pictures of nature, but living in the middle of town has not been a very good situation, mostly animals and flowers which are not very exciting.”

Beyond the creative block of being stuck in quarantine, Johnson said she’s sometimes struggled with confidence when it comes to shooting and displaying her pictures. “I have self taught myself almost everything that I use when I take pictures. This has been hard because I am still not super used to talking to people and being confident in my own photography. This makes choosing pictures for spreads or contests very hard for me, and I also ask other people for approval of it,” Johnson said.

To help put herself and her work out into the world, Johnson created her own photography account in January after popular demand by her peers. Recently, her account on Instagram has become a team effort, adding her friend junior Lex Hesse to showcase her photos on the platform as well.

While having a lot of time on her hands to reflect in quarantine, Johnson said she has some short term and even some long term goals with her photography. “My short term quarantine goal is to learn how to do self portrait photography because that will broaden what I can do when I am on my own. I am also hoping to save enough money to get my own camera before college” Johnson said. 

Johnson said it all starts with gaining a little more self-confidence before pursuing photography as she gets older. “I would love to take pictures as a side business to physical therapy once I am older. I do not want a full job because I have a passion for PT as well and not just photography,” Johnson said. “This skill is a lifelong skill too. You take pictures all the time, and it is nice to be able to make pictures good and unique to yourself.”

Her fuel for photography comes from both reaction and curiosity, Johnson said. “What inspires me is getting a really good picture and seeing how happy someone gets when they see their picture,” Johnson said. “I love to try new things with the camera and learn new things about it, like the other day I learned about what the mechanics of taking a picture is, which was really interesting.” 

Johnson said she also finds inspiration from other photographers on social media platforms that push creative boundaries. “I am a total Pinterest addict, so all my ideas come from there, and much of my inspiration stems from other photographers. I also follow some on Instagram and TikTok to see their editing and pictures,” Johnson said. “I love watching one guy who goes up to random people and just asks people to model for him. I would love to gain enough confidence to do this sometime.”

As a photographer, Johnson sees her place in the art realm and described photography as being an art that requires impeccable timing. “Photography is a type of art because you are creating something out of what you have. Photography is very unique in the fact that you don’t have something that you can just create with your hands; you have to know everything that fits together and how fast you need things to work,” Johnson said. 

Seeing the beauty in how unique her form of art is, Johnson said photography is a very unique and distinctly individualized art. “Like art, it can create beautiful pictures that people will enjoy for many different things. Pictures can also be used to make an art project unique to one person and add a flare to their project. I consider myself an artist because I am able to work with an amazing machine to create this unique and beautiful art,” Johnson said.


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