The amazing photography of young Lijah Hanley

A talent that defies age

“The Saint of our Stars” Mt. St. Helens, WA — by Lijah Hanley (used with permission)

How do you know when you’re really, really good at something? Seriously good. Is it when people around you sit up and take notice? When you win an award?

For 20-year-old landscape photographer Lijah Hanley, it was both of these things. Growing up with a professional portrait photographer for a mother, Lijah came by his interest in photography naturally. Each time he stood in that spare bedroom-turned-studio with his mom and held the reflector for her while she shot photos, his interest grew. By the time he was 8 years old, he was stealing into her studio and slipping away with camera in hand to take his own photos outside. Photos that, after a while, she noticed were pretty doggone good.

“This is what I love.”

He kept shooting. While his mother specialized in portrait photography, Lijah was captivated by the wonder of the natural outdoors. Landscape photography became his passion. His middle school art teachers saw his work and were impressed. Any doubts he may have had about his talent dissolved at age 13 when he entered a national photo competition with National Geographic — and won. The prize? Twelve days in Peru and the Amazon jungle with noted National Geographic photographers Bruce Dale and Amy Toensing. It was life changing.

“Amy said, shoot as much as you can,” Hanley recalls. So he did. He “shot like crazy,” taking 8,000 photos in those 12 days.

From then on, “Photography changed from just being something fun to what I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to. This is what I love.”

Seven years and many awards later, young Hanley remains intensely committed to fine art landscape photography, driven not only by his love for the art, but by his desire to transport people to where they feel and see what he does when he looks through his camera lens. And he doesn’t think that can happen with small photos. He rues the age of cell phone photography, knowing the sheer magnificence of the natural world is lost when reduced to a small image. Larger photos are undeniably better at giving the, “You are here” feel.

Not all of his work is done during the day. In fact, Hanley is known to roll out of bed at 2 AM to chase images that only come out at night — the stars. Star photography is an aspect of his art that he is over-the-top crazy about (and for which he has received an award). He is happy to push aside sleep to capture the wonders of the night sky — nebulas, stars and the Milky Way. In the wee hours, his camera picks up “beautiful intricacies” and colors — blues, purples and reds — that the naked eye cannot see. (Check out his website, and prepare to be dazzled.

He and his wife, Gabby, are sticking around home for a bit now (home is Vancouver, WA), having spent the past 16 months traveling through 44 states in their RV (a gussied up Dodge Sprinter), showing his work at art festivals and taking thousands upon thousands of photographs. Always searching for that hidden gem — a scene yet uncaptured by a photographer’s camera. That is his constant challenge, he says.

Next year Hanley hopes to open a gallery in Portland, OR, where he can display his work in large, lifelike prints. Another challenge, perhaps, real estate being what it is. But, as a 20-year-old award winning professional photographer, Hanley has never shied away from challenges.

“This is a dream I’ve had since I was younger,” he states.

And sometimes dreams trump challenges.

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