SHERIDAN — As a photographer living in Sheridan, Shawn Parker is never too far from finding creative inspiration.
There is always a beautiful image to capture in northeast Wyoming, whether it be in the Bighorns or in the streets of downtown.
“I never lack for inspiration here,” Parker said. “Whenever I need to get over the hump on a project … I just go out in the car with my camera and take pictures for an hour.”
That inspiration from local scenery recently led to him earning a prestigious national award.
Parker, the Sheridan Travel and Tourism executive director and freelance journalist, was the recipient of the 2016 Society of Travel Writers Bill Muster Photographer of the Year award, an honor given to the top travel photographer in the industry.
The award required Parker to submit a portfolio of around 20 pieces of his best work within the past year. His submissions included landscapes, portraits, general travel, sports and action.
“It’s about being the best overall photographer for the year, so you really have to showcase your skills across a wide variety of subject matter,” Parker said.
Parker competed against some of the top photographers in the business including those who work for major publications like National Geographic, Afar Magazine and Esquire among others.
“I was up against some pretty spectacular competition,” Parker said. “To win this award is a cool testament to my career in the last few years.”
Before he took the job as STT’s director over the past summer, Parker spent several years traveling the globe doing freelance work for various national publications.
Parker describes his style of photography as a naturalist, focusing mostly on the use of the environment to tell the story as opposed to setting up shots.
“I like to evolve with a scene. I am more about being at the right place at the right time, if that means being somewhere at two in the morning to get a picture of the stars in the Tongue River Canyon, then I do it,” he said.
From the sands of Africa to the streets of southeast Asia, many of his submissions included scenes from all corners of the globe. Others were taken just a stone’s throw away from Sheridan.
One of his favorites was a photo taken near Devil’s Tower National Monument. The photograph, a night shot which depicts the massive natural monolith under a star-filled sky, was somewhat of a chance encounter. He was only able to grab one shot of Devil’s Tower before a storm rolled in and the clouds covered the night sky.
But even with one quick opportunity to capture the Wyoming sky, it turned out to be one of his favorite photographs of his career.
“I loved it because I was by myself, there was really nothing else going on and it was just me trying to create a little bit of art up there,” he said of the photograph.
He also submitted several other photographs of the Sheridan area. One of his favorites is a shot of Geneva Pass in the Bighorn Mountains.
Of all the places he has traveled and photographed, he calls Sheridan and northeast Wyoming one of the canvases in the world. The towering mountains, Western culture and abundant wildlife make the surrounding area ideal for even the most veteran travel photographers.
“We have a legitimate Western lifestyle and a way of life here that really lends itself to photographs,” Parker said. “Ranches and livestock are just great photographic fodder; there is no one in the country who doesn’t like those photos.”
Parker said he plans to continue to work on freelance projects focusing his journalism primarily in northeast Wyoming.
To view some of Parker’s award-winning photographs see www.satw.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3717.