Sarah Dolliver, the Accidental Photographer

Sarah Dolliver head shotby Marilyn Noble

Unlike many accomplished photographers, Sarah Dolliver wasn’t born with a Brownie box camera in her hands. She didn’t spend her childhood hiding out in a darkroom while her peers played soccer, nor did she spend every spare penny on camera equipment. “I had never picked up a camera before I got here,” she says with a laugh. Here is Sedona, Ariz., where she has lived with her husband since 2004. Even though she’s a relative newcomer to photography, her image of Turret Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park won the top spot in Rio Nuevo’s spring photo contest.

Turret Arch at sunset, Arches National Park, Utah by Sarah Dolliver

Turret Arch at sunset, Arches National Park, Utah by Sarah Dolliver

Dolliver’s journey to photography is intertwined with her journey to Sedona. She and her husband had flown into Phoenix from Boston on the first leg of a 25th anniversary trip to the Grand Canyon. A friend told them they had to stop in Sedona on the way. The first view of the magical red rocks took her breath away. “I felt my stomach do a flop and I told my husband we would live there someday,” she says. Six years later, her premonition came true when they moved from the Northeast to Sedona. “We ended up living just a few blocks from where my stomach flopped. I can see out my windows today the same scenery my husband took pictures of on that first visit.”

Salmon and Blue Sunrise.DolliverAfter living in Sedona for several months, Dolliver began hiking with a group, and that was when the shutterbug bit. Several of her family members, including her father, had artistic talent, but Dolliver herself had followed a more cerebral career path. She began by documenting the hikes and sharing the photos with the group, but as her skills improved, people started admiring her photographs. She realized that viewers were experiencing their own emotional connection to her images. That’s when her serious photographic studies began.

Dolliver is largely self-taught and has recently stepped up to a professional-grade Canon rig. “There’s a big learning curve involved, and more creativity,” she says. “I’m learning from the ground up.”

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Her favorite photographic subject is the natural world around her, from grand sweeping vistas to the tiniest details. Her entries in the competition comprised not only landscapes, but also macro images of flowers and insects. She takes anywhere from 20 to 100 shots per hike, and out of that number, about 10 percent or less are keepers, although she admits that her quality to quantity ratio is improving as her skills further develop. She does very little digital enhancement, instead preferring to let the beauty of nature shine through, as she says in her artist statement.

In addition to winning the Rio Nuevo contest, which she learned about from fellow photographer and weekly winner Jag Fergus, Dolliver has received acclaim from the Zen Pet Contest as well as the Arches National Park 2014 Visitor Photo Contest. Her work also appears regularly on the Arizona Highways Friday Foto blog.

When she’s not out hiking and taking photographs, Dolliver practices Reiki and life coaching. For more samples of her work, visit her website, Focus on Nature Photography.

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Marilyn Noble is Rio Nuevo’s cookbook and blog editor. She has published four cookbooks, including The Essential Southwest Cookbook; Southwest Comfort Food, Slow and Savory; Viva Chocolate; and Citrus Essentials.

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