Katherine Hemsley’s Expedition to Iceland

All photographs were taken by Katherine Hemsley

Katherine Hemsley – a senior at Amsterdam High School – has been fascinated by nature photography for several years. She says she became interested in the art by accident when she found her father’s old camera; later that year, she was given a Canon EOS 1300D and began learning and practicing different techniques. Taking photos was something she was not familiar with at the time, but she loved it. Katherine is also passionate about environmental issues such as climate change, water quality, and deforestation. 

Katherine applied to National Geographic’s Student Expedition. She says that the application process was quite simple but involved a lot of writing: what her interests were, why she believed she deserved a spot in the trip. She asked two of her mentors – Mr. Crosby and Mr. Scott, her math and English teachers – for recommendations. She received a full scholarship to go to Iceland on an “on-assignment project”. Her project was called “The Phases of H2O in Iceland” – she documented the phases and phase changes of water (from solid, liquid, and gas) the group encountered. She and twelve other kids from around the US left in July of 2019 and stayed for two weeks, traveling to places such as the Golden Circle (a tourist route in southern Iceland) and capturing its beauty in their photos. 

Photography is something many people overlook; they may see it as just taking a picture and nothing more. But Katherine has studied the different angles and methods used to portray a specific moment perfectly. That is why she loves it so much – photographers can choose a certain style that allows self-expression. She states, “It is also a great way to drive people out of their comfort zones and try something new or meet new people.” 

Throughout the trip, Katherine spoke to many different people – the trip leaders, the other kids in the program, and individuals from Iceland. She says that every student had their own interests and opinions – while Katherine was more environmentally driven, others were focused on social issues in the country. One of her favorite parts of the trip, besides the photography itself, was listening to the other group members explain what they are passionate about and why. It opened her mind up to different lifestyles and ideals and helped her understand that people will always have different beliefs, and you should never let one opinion define someone. 

Katherine’s main inspirations are educators – because they drive young people to be the best versions of themselves – and people who she called “the outsiders” – individuals who are inside their own heads, the ones who think for themselves but do what is best – the ones who will go on to accomplish great things. She hopes that all students her age will take advantage of opportunities like the one she was offered; it is the best way to understand yourself, who you want to be and where you want to go throughout your life. She believes that differences between people should be celebrated and recognized, but should never cause a divide between them. 

Katherine in Breiðamerkurjökull, a glacier in southeastern Iceland, taken by Natalie Baird

While Katherine is an avid photographer, she will be pursuing environmental science and most likely attending Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks, majoring in ecological restoration. 

Co-written by Marley Liszczynskyj

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