Justin Hyon trekked out to Death Valley to get away from people and turn his camera’s focus to nature, hoping “to escape my comfort zone in city life and see what the unexplored world was like.”
The La Cañada High School sophomore was, at least initially, disappointed. The place was packed with tourists. Determined to distance himself from the crowds, Hyon made his way out at sunset. He explained what happened next in a short essay that accompanied his winning photograph — “Searching Upward” — in the California County Educational Technology Consortium’s California Streaming photo contest.
“I walked out to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, to take sunset pictures,” he wrote. “However, I had not anticipated how fast the sun would set, and my dad and I were soon lost in completely moonless darkness with only one flashlight, miles into the featureless black basin.
“I had been looking to explore, but had gotten more than I had hoped for,” he added. “However, in the darkness, I discovered something far more interesting than the flat basin — the stars. Living in the city, I had never seen more than a few stars, but now I could see the Milky Way for the first time.”
He knew what to do. He got the shot, a mesmerizing image of the brilliant, star-filled night sky, with just a lone figure on the Earth, leaning on a car, pointing a stream of light upward toward the heavens.
“Your photo was one of the photos that was talked about the most,” said Lisa Smith, an Instructional Technology Outreach coordinator for the L.A. County Office of Education.
She was at La Cañada High School on Thursday, May 18, to honor Hyon and his classmates who were winners in the county’s annual Digital Voice Awards.
For the last time, educators from any school in the county were invited to submit exemplary classroom instructional technology projects for consideration. Gayle Nicholls-Ali entered an assignment that required her students to design homes, using a 3D modeling software called Sketchup, that could survive a zombie apocalypse.
“It was really cool,” Smith said. “We liked how you guys took it and exported it as a movie so we could view all sides of the house and see it was truly zombie-proof.
“A lot of times, our high school winners are more serious and it’s our middle school students who make us laugh because they’re the ones with the crazy notions. But we were very pleased with this, that innovation to think differently, because I don’t think we’ve ever had any zombie protection home designs before.”
LCHS’s Digital Voice Award winners included Jace Kruizinga, Kevin Mo, Luke Bowman, Sabrina Patao, Benjamin Chant and Graham Massimino.
The project was challenging, but it was fun, they agreed.
Hyon said he was surprised with the victory; he was one of eight winners among nearly 700 entries.
“That’s one of my favorite photos, so I was confident in the photo,” he said, “but I didn’t expect to win.”