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A Photography Hobby Turned Professional

Natalie Thomas is an accidental professional photographer

Long before moving to The Hill with her husband in July 2019, Natalie Thomas has had an eye for photography.

Ever since their four children left the house over 25 years ago, Natalie has not really been able to sit still. It all started shortly after they became empty nesters — she broke her ankle and needed something to keep her busy while recuperating. So she decided to start a business.

Natalie had a library of gorgeous nature photographs she had taken over the years and decided to turn them into greeting cards. The cards were sold at a local UPS store, and there was enough interest in them to keep the business running for ten years.

“My photography is really a hobby gone wild,” says Natalie. “I was probably about ten years old when I got started taking photographs. I was never formally trained. I had a Brownie Hawkeye camera and for years really just took photos of what interested me. It wasn’t until computers and cell phones came out, and cameras became digitized that I was able to take it to the next level.”

Although her photography career is rooted in humble beginnings, Natalie has received public recognition of her talent. About 40 years ago, the Garden Club of America (GCA) adopted photography as a category for competition, and Natalie was encouraged to enter.

“I ended up winning a blue ribbon for that first competition,” Natalie recalls. “It was a gorgeous photograph of an American flag hung way up high, on top of a barn in Bucks County. Actually, the woman who owned the barn in that original photo is now one of my neighbors here at The Hill!”

When asked how she feels about being a nature photographer, Natalie pauses for a moment before responding to explain that she doesn’t consider herself to be a nature photographer.

“I am just a photographer. I love taking photos; my subjects don’t have to be flowers and plants and birds. I really love showcasing architecture and my favorite subject is patterns, no matter where I find them.”

She explains that about ten years after winning the blue ribbon from the GCA, she went on a photographic trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, led by a Nikon photographer.

“Everyone got an assignment from the photographer and I was given the task of shooting flora,” says Natalie. “But I didn’t want to just shoot flora — I loved shooting everything! The architecture, the people, food — anything I found interesting and beautiful. The instructor took one look at my work and called me ‘schizophrenic’ because I had photographed every subject that interested me. I took it as a big compliment!”

Natalie has found that despite her subject, people seem to connect with her photographs. She thinks that is due, in part, to the fact that she chooses to focus her lens on things that she loves to look at. The camera allows her to capture a moment in time as she sees it through her eyes, and grants others the ability to see the world from her perspective. Natalie tries to capture the “usual in an unusual way.” Since moving to The Hill, Natalie has provided lectures to the photography club, offering up some professional tips to help them improve their own pursuit of photography.

She also doesn’t suggest that photography enthusiasts invest in an expensive camera. Over the years, she has abandoned her cameras for her iPhone, which takes exceptional high-quality photos.

“Anyone can take a great photo, even with a smartphone. You do need to practice and a cell phone is perfect for that because you don’t have to be afraid of making mistakes. You can delete whatever you don’t like and just keep going,” she says.

Natalie currently serves as a judge for the GCA photography competition nationwide, which is a great honor and no small task. It requires that you actively show your work in competitions, have won a blue ribbon for your work, and attend a two-hour workshop run by the GCA each year. Additionally, she is finishing a large book project that has been five years in the making. Natalie served as the portrait photographer for the book, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of Bald Peak Colony Club in New Hampshire, where she and her husband have a second home.

When asked what lies ahead for her now that the book is nearly finished, she says that she isn’t quite sure. We have a feeling, however, that she’ll find a new subject to document with her camera in no time.