10-year-old's career got off to a picture-perfect start
Carson Clark leads an unlikely double life: full-time fourth-grader, part-time international wildlife photographer.
In most ways, he is a typical 10-year-old: He loves basketball, horseback riding and the Boy Scouts and is preparing to test for his black belt in taekwondo. But scattered around the kitchen table in his Leesburg home is a copy of his latest wildlife book, an award-winning close-up of a sparrow hawk and a photo of a chinchilla-like animal called a pika. The photos, all shot by Carson, are next to a school workbook on vocabulary.
"If I didn't have more homework in school, I'd be able to take more pictures," he said.
Carson, who attends Loudoun Country Day School, has photographed nearly 50 species of mammals, insects, birds and amphibians. He started off with photography as a toddler when one of his parents gave him a candy camera. Instead of licking the candy, he put his eye to the lens and pretended to take a picture.
Carson learns about photography and wildlife from his parents. His father, Jim Clark, is a contributing editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. His mother, Jamie Rappaport Clark, was the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1997 to 2001. She is executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife, an international conservation group.
Carson won his first photography contest at age 6. While out with his father at Banshee Reeks, Carson snapped a shot when his father turned his back. The picture captured a monarch butterfly in mid-flight.
"It just happened," Jim Clark said. "He brought the camera over and had a huge smile on his face. I said, 'Carson we are going to do something with this' -- and we did."
The monarch photo won a "highly honored" designation in the youth category of Nature's Best magazine's 2006 international photography contest. He was the youngest winner in the history of the contest.
In 2009, Carson won a "highly commendable" award in the youth category of the Veolia Environment Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest, one of the most highly regarded competitions in the world. His image of a beaver is touring the world as part of an exhibition of international wildlife photos.
"It felt really good to know that I got an award in the best contest in the world," Carson said.
In August, Carson and his father spent four straight mornings on a rock slope at Yellowstone National Park trying to capture the pika images. They knew that any loud noise would scare the animals, sending them sprinting back into the rocks. One of the secrets to strong wildlife photography, Carson says, is patience.
"After a couple of days, they would get used to you and let you take pictures," he said.