By Sabrina Petroski
Alexa Helburn’s interest in photography started at the age of 13, with an iPhone camera and a dream. Now 15, the Huntington High School honor student held her first photography fundraiser, Nature Through the Lens, at the Cold Spring Harbor Library on June 13 in hopes of educating people on how to conserve the environment, as well as how to appreciate the beauty around them.
The event was for the Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society, a chapter of the National Audubon Society whose mission is to protect birds and other wildlife, and the habitats upon which they depend through education, public advocacy and conservation action.
Of the 24 photographs on display, 17 of them found homes with members of the community, raising $195. The money will be used to fund a Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society (HOBAS) backed fishing line receptacle project by James Ricci, a seventh-grader at Greenlawn’s Oldfield Middle School, which helps prevent wildlife on North Shore’s waterways from getting caught in unused fishing line.
Reached by email the day after the event, Alexa, who took all the exhibit’s photos using her newest toy, a Canon EOS T6 digital SLR, was still taking it all in. “I worked really hard and felt both nervous and excited — nervous about people’s reactions and questions, and excited to showcase my work to the public.” Alexa said she still uses her iPhone 8 sometimes, whether it be to capture a moment that would otherwise be missed or to preview shots before using her Canon.
Relocating from South Salem in Northern Westchester a year ago, Alexa used her love of photography to explore her new home in Huntington and found that taking pictures of her surroundings made her more comfortable in her new community, as well as made her appreciate her surroundings more.
“Moving was tough, but I guess you could say that having a hobby, like photography, made the transition a little bit easier,” she said. “Photography allows me to capture what’s going on in my life and share that with my friends and family. Photography is also a creative outlet for me, whether it’s snapping a photo of that perfect sunset or capturing a fleeting moment at the exact right time — the feeling of getting it right makes it all worthwhile.”
Alexa says that she has always been interested in environmental conservation, and when she found HOBAS she discovered she could use her two passions to benefit her new community while giving herself exposure and a chance to connect with the community.
The photos at the exhibition included pictures taken on recent HOBAS field trips as well as images from nature preserves in the Huntington-Oyster Bay area. The selection included the aptly named “Spiral of Branches,” captured at the John Hume Japanese Garden in Mill Neck; “Amber Breeze,” taken at Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve in Lloyd Harbor depicting common reed grass blowing in the wind forming a natural fence in front of the marshes beyond; along with the beautiful image of “Camelot Lavender Foxgloves” snapped at Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay.
When asked what advice she would give to people her age interested in pursuing photography, Alexa said it is important that they know that they don’t need a professional camera to take good photos. “Newer smartphones have great built-in cameras, and that’s a good place to start,” she advised. The photographer also recommends focusing less on the technical aspects and more on the compositional aspects instead.
“This was her first time exhibiting her photography publicly, and it’s great to see someone so young using their talent to not only benefit themselves, but also the community,” said Ronald Feuchs, the founder of Stand Out for College, LLC, a college counseling and mentoring service that focuses on helping students create significant service projects that benefit the community as well as fostering the student’s personal growth and confidence in the process.
Feuchs has been working with Alexa to develop this community project that showcases her talents and gives back to her new community.
“Alexa is a self-taught photographer, and her eye is incredible,” said Jackie Tepper, Feuchs’ assistant. “Her use of light and color is so sophisticated.”
Alexa’s family has been so supportive of her recent escapades and hopes she continues to pursue her passion. “I’m so proud of what Alexa is doing with her photography project with HOBAS. She’s using her tremendous talent to benefit a very important organization in our new hometown and she’s pushing herself beyond her comfort zone by exhibiting her work to the public,” said Alexa’s father Jim. “It’s a big deal for anyone, let alone a 15-year-old, to put their artistic talent on display. And, even though I know firsthand that a high school student has taken these photos, I am still amazed by how sophisticated her eye is.”
For Alexa, the opportunity to hold a photography fundraiser was a no-brainer. “I thought this would be a great way to make a difference and take responsibility to help care for our environment.”
More of Alexa’s photos will be posted on the HOBAS website shortly to continue raising money for the society. For more information, visit www.hobaudubon.org.