Students earn CPOY awards, publication, career advancement

The professional photography program at Colorado Mountain College is gaining momentum and earning national and international recognition, as students and alumni earn awards and build careers.

“It’s rewarding,” said CMC photography professor Derek Johnston, “to see our students succeed like they have.” The photography program has most recently again garnered international attention through the College Photographer of the Year awards – for the third year running – on top of several other student and alumni achievements in the field.

“The CPOY competition is a big deal,” Johnston said. “We’re up against the best photography schools in the world, and we had three students win awards.”

The 68th Annual College Photographer of the Year competition took place in early November at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. Judges included photography and video professionals from major media outlets across the country.

Colorado Mountain College student Anthony Williams took gold for illustration, while Michael Sandoval was awarded excellence in illustration and Andrew Braun in portrait photography. Three other CMC students made it to the semifinals: Adam Hughes for illustration, Lucas Hammett for a sports feature and Cody Bainbridge for a feature photograph.

Current student and alumnus place photos in ‘National Geographic,’ ‘Outside’

Also this fall, both a student and a graduate from CMC’s photography program earned photo credits in prestigious national magazines. Student Braun’s portrait of a Kenyan schoolboy secured a spot in November’s “National Geographic,” while graduate Seth Andersen’s shot of Mount Sopris was featured in the September issue of “Outside” magazine.

Though Braun is still working toward his associate degree in photography, he’s already placed a photo in a “bucket list” publication.

“As soon as I got the shot,” he said, “I knew I had something special.” Braun was working in Nakuru, Kenya, with The Child’s Eye, a local organization designed to put cameras into the hands of underprivileged kids, when he snapped the photo that earned him his first big break.

Braun was stunned when he learned “National Geographic” had selected his photo, though he felt prepared for the opportunity by the skills he’s learning. “All of my professors have been absolutely wonderful,” said Braun, citing former CMC faculty (and Pulitzer Prize winner) Steven G. Smith as “a huge influence” and current faculty Johnston as “a terrific mentor.”

Alumnus Andersen, whose photo of Mount Sopris appeared in September’s “Outside” magazine, was also quick to credit the college for his achievements.

His Colorado State University degree in natural resources, recreation and tourism led to work related to his field, but the jobs he loved always brought him back to photography. As a field photographer on hiking and mountaineering trips, he started getting referrals to private clients. But he knew his skills needed the refinement of more intensive training.

He investigated photography programs elsewhere in Colorado before deciding to attend CMC. “It made sense not to put myself in any more debt,” he said, “so that was one factor. Plus, I liked the curriculum better at CMC.”

He threw himself into the program and earned an Associate of Applied Science in 2008. “All the big names I’ve worked with have been a result of my being here at CMC,” Andersen said.

When asked about his recent photo of Mount Sopris, Andersen distinctly remembers the moment he took the shot. “It was just one of those mornings,” he said. “I always keep my camera in my car. I was driving, and the light on Sopris was incredible, so I literally pulled off at that little kiosk right off of Highway 82 outside of Carbondale.”

CMC’s photo program helps graduates ‘go pro’

Among many other noted students and alumni from the CMC photography program are wedding and portrait photographers Jeremy Hess, Nathan Abplanalp and Bianca McCarty, who’s also an equestrian photographer with a recent profile in “Equestrian Culture.”

Peter and Kelley Gibeon, who met while studying at CMC, have ventured into the world of architectural photography with many published photos to their credit, including shots in “Architectural Digest” and “American Cowboy.” Alum Gabe Rogel has established himself as a multimedia entrepreneur and adventure photographer, and 2009 graduate Copi Vojta serves as the photo editor for “The Flyfish Journal.”

The goal of the Colorado Mountain College photography program, according to Johnston, is to prepare students to succeed in a competitive field. “If you can make a living as a photographer,” he said, “I call that a success.”

For more information about Colorado Mountain College and the professional photography program, which is part of the college’s Isaacson School for New Media, visit