Living through the lens


photo by Jackson Fromm

Taking pictures at football practice after school, senior James Hilston works as the team photographer.

For most, Friday Night Lights is about cheering on the varsity football team, hanging out with their friends or even playing on the football field. But for senior James Hilston, it is about the moments he captures through the lens of his camera. 

What started as taking photos on an iPod transformed into a future through his summer travels. He wanted to share the interesting places and things he had done, and what better way to capture it than photography. 

Hilston dares the most inspiration from people like professional photographer Michael Fullana and former Hagerty student Artie Nayak, a videographer for Auburn’s football team.

 While a majority of his pictures cover sports, Hilston also takes photos of landscapes, stars and rocket launches. Long exposures of vehicles traveling down city streets creates a light trail effect that Hilston has enjoyed shooting since he got a camera with manual mode. Hilston believes practicing using manual mode was crucial to advance his photography skills. 

“I always tell people that whenever I step onto the field for a shoot, 90% of the time I have the least valuable equipment there,” Hilston said. “Photography is not about having the newest and fanciest gear, it’s about working hard and getting better in order to produce something that gets people’s attention.”

Almost all of his equipment has been bought with his own money. Some of his equipment came as gifts or from money he earned from his t-shirt logo campaign. Hilston believes not having the best equipment forces him to be more creative in his shot selection. 

In the last two years Hilston has been taking photos, he has been the photographer for the football program, which started when a few friends asked him to take pictures of their games. Since then, a majority of his audience has come from football and his Instagram account’s “Shot of the Day” series.

“Being only one person, it can be a lot to edit thousands of photos for hundreds of players, but I truly enjoy what I do and the hard work is beyond worth it to get to contribute to an amazing athletic program,” Hilston said.

Looking ahead, Hilston looks to take photos for more sports and school events. Originally, to distribute his photos, Hilston would send the pictures to any players that asked. But, expanding his reach beyond football has also motivated him to develop his brand further and create a website, through which athletes can download any photos for free after an event. As a student, Hilston understands the magnitude and impact that playing a sport has on his peers, so he wants to be able to share the moments with them at no cost. 

“I’m very excited for this year as I’m expanding my reach into other sports, allowing me to share my passion with even more people,” Hilston said. 

Recently Hilston has been working with The Varsity Sports Network, a sports media company which hosts video broadcasts for high school sports throughout Florida. His job is to provide them with information about what is going on at school related to athletics, so VSN can share that information with their audience. This internship will allow Hilston to get to know the more professional and corporate side of the sports media industry. 

“When you are getting paid, a certain expectation is being set for the quality of your work and if you don’t meet that expectation, you can’t expect to be working as a photographer for very long,” Hilston said.

After high school, Hilston is unsure if he would like to pursue a career in just photography. He aspires to be a pilot, but if the opportunity presents itself, he would like to combine the two into one career.

 “I would say right now that it’s still just an interest because to be quite honest, expectations like that are daunting,” Hilston said. “To me, your success is based a lot on who you know, the risks you’re willing to take, and the amount of hard work you’re willing to put into each and every photo you put out for the world to see.”

It's Raining Touchdowns
Wide receiver Ian Miller preparing for a warmup drill before the game against Lake Tohopekaliga. Photo by James Hilston.
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