Looking at life through the lens
SPRUCE PINE – Halley Burleson sees the world differently through the lens of a camera.
She sees the intricate detail of a flower, the contours of a mountain range and the distinct rays of light in a sunrise.
“I just look at everything and think it’s beautiful,” Burleson said. “But the camera lens allows me to see the detail in things and how images frame up well.”
Burleson uses photography to promote causes she cares about and raise money for charity. She’s worked with several nonprofits that focus on the needs of the Appalachian region.
Burleson, 31, got serious about photography in 2012. She was raising money for a mission trip to Peru when her friends suggested she sell pictures from her hiking trips.
“At that time, I just had a little point-and-shoot (camera),” she said. “I wasn’t actually trying to get good photos.”
But she took her friends’ advice and it worked; people bought her pictures. Burleson thought, “Well, if I can raise money for this mission trip I can raise money for a lot of other things.”
The mission trip to Peru was an eye-opener, she said. She helped run a food program at an orphanage and gave out reading glasses.
“We had our own little kits where we would test people’s eyes,” she said. “Putting the world into focus for someone else was a pretty awesome thing.”
That was the moment she realized she could affect someone’s life in a big way. When she returned from the mission trip, Burleson decided to focus on ways to affect the Appalachian region.
“I just saw that there’s a really great need here to help in a lot of different areas,” she said.
She bought a professional camera and later started the website www.appalachianexposures.com, where she sells her pictures and donates most of the profits to charity.
“I decided once I bought that (camera) to just really try to enhance my photography and use it for a better purpose,” she said.
Organizations Burleson has worked with include Mitchell County Animal Rescue, Run for Holland, Special Olympics, Project Healing Waters, NC Blue Ridge and Team River Runner.
Burleson grew up in Spruce Pine – her parents are Tim and Rosalie Burleson – and has always enjoyed the outdoors. Most of her pictures feature landscapes of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“I try to just stick with landscapes,” she said. “I appreciate them. That’s what made me love photography. Luckily, I was born into a very outdoorsy family. So we spent every weekend at the river, camping or hiking and just being outside together. For that kind of lifestyle, this is the perfect area for those things.”
Burleson spent five years in Louisiana in her early 20s studying sugar cane along the Gulf of Mexico for the United States Department of Agriculture.
“But it was in that time that I really just learned to appreciate the Blue Ridge,” she said. “You never really know what you have until it’s gone.”
She moved back home when she was 25.
Burleson isn’t a full-time photographer – she’s currently a job placement specialist – but the quality of her work is unquestioned. She’s enhanced her craft by learning from other photographers in the region.
“Networking with other photographers has been the greatest help for me,” she said.
Burleson loves sunrises and sunsets. She and her dog, Sallie Gator, start most days with a predawn hike to overlooks where she captures the sun above the eastern horizon; and most nights she’s perched on a mountaintop as the sun vanishes in the west.
“To start a day with a sunrise is the most beautiful thing because it sets the tone for the entire day,” Burleson said. “You can get out and watch this beautiful event happen, and it’s just a great way to start the day with a positive attitude and just realize that the world is full of beauty. And then just ending it with a sunset, you know, just affirms everything for the day for me.”
Burleson called her website “Appalachian Exposures” because she wants to expose local charities and people that need help.
She said she plans to continue using her love of photography and nature to serve a better purpose – to put the world in focus for herself and others.