Katie Ulsh is busy adjusting her focus to make the picture crystal clear.
This 17-year-old Carlisle area youth has an image of what direction to take toward a career as a professional shutterbug.
“I’m not interested in studio work,” said Ulsh, a senior at Trinity High School. “I’m much more interested in field work … possibly photojournalism. I want to write stories about the people I’m taking pictures of.”
Growing up, Ulsh never thought of digital photography as an art form. It was just a way for her parents to take family snapshots of herself and her brother.
That all changed the summer of 2012 when Ulsh went overseas to Europe as part of a People to People tour of Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany.
“I took 7,000 pictures on my dad’s camera in the span of two weeks,” Ulsh said. “I thought this was really cool. … I can capture these moments and look back on them.”
The subject matter was typical tourist – landscapes, architecture and group shots of travelers, but the quality of her work impressed family and friends, setting in motion a career aspiration.
Encouraged by the feedback, Ulsh took a basic photography class with the Carlisle Arts Learning Center. In the summer of 2014, she participated in a program for middle school and high school students offered through Pace University in New York City.
There Ulsh learned how to work in a studio and to use software like Photoshop and Lightroom to process images. It was the beginning of an understanding of photography as a career.
“It opened my eyes to all the possibilities,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be fine art photography.”
The opportunities really took off once Ulsh realized she could turn a hobby into a business venture. She started Katie Ulsh Photography as a freshman by asking friends if they could model for her. In exchange, she made the images available for them to use on Instagram.
Gradually Ulsh took on paying jobs where she would photograph events like family reunions, snap senior portraits and take publicity skills for local businesses. Her parents taught her such basic business practices as how to prepare an invoice and develop a pricing sheet.
“It’s a unique thing to have at such a young age,” Ulsh said of her business. Because customers are expecting quality results, the experience has forced her to be more mature and responsible with her time.
Trinity High School students are encouraged by staff and faculty to use their skills and talents to help charitable organizations. Ulsh volunteers to photograph events held by the United Cerebral Palsy of Central Pennsylvania and the United Way of Carlisle and Cumberland County.
Her most exciting opportunity came during the summer of 2015 when Ulsh was selected to travel to London with National Geographic for a photography expedition.
National Geographic carried with it a prestige that allowed Ulsh greater access to sites than the general public. She was able, for example, to go in among the ring of stone monoliths that make up the mysterious Stonehenge.
Participants in the expedition were given assignments to complete. If they failed to follow through, they were not allowed to be involved in the next opportunity to do field work.
For one assignment, Ulsh had to take 15 photographs in 45 minutes. This proved to be irritating to her because she wanted the freedom to take more.
Another assignment required Ulsh to take 50 portraits in 90 minutes of passersby recreating along the river Thames or heading to work in the London financial district.
Ulsh was not used to going up to complete strangers and asking them if they could be photographed. She had to learn quickly how to be assertive without being standoffish.
During her two weeks in London, Ulsh learned from such mentors in the field as Gianluca Colla, an internationally known photographer, teacher and speaker who guided the expedition.
So far, she has been accepted to three schools of photography including the Parsons school of art and design, the Pratt Institute and the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Aside from photography, Ulsh is the vice president of the United Way Student Leadership Council of Carlisle and has been on the council since the sixth grade.