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A sure shot
Winning essay lands journey along Amazon
One of the photos Lijah Hanley entered of his sister, Beth. - photo by Lijah Hanley
Some say a picture is worth 1,000 words.

In 13-year-old Lijah Hanley’s case, a picture is worth an all-expenses-paid expedition to Peru.

After entering National Geographic’s Hands-On Explorer photo essay contest, Hanley and 14 other children were chosen from thousands of participants to take part in a guided journey along the Amazon River.

His mother, Jenifer Hanley, will be coming along. They leave in two weeks.

“It’s going to be a whole new experience for us both,” she said. “We’ll have fun together.”

Another perk to winning the contest: He gets a brand-new Nikon D60 SLR digital camera to snap pictures as they travel the river.

“The camera just looks amazing,” he said. “It will be a big upgrade from my old camera.”

The Piney Grove Middle School student became interested in photography several years ago.

“I like it because you can capture emotion,” he said. “If you’re really happy one day, you can show that in the picture.”

The winning series of pictures, taken in a field behind the family’s home, featured his sister, Beth.

“His sister’s a supermodel now,” Jenifer Hanley said. “We’re excited for both of them.”

A career in photography now seems a likely choice.

“I used to want to be in politics, but now I just really want to get into photography,” Lijah Hanley said. “This trip will be good for my resume.”

Father Spencer Hanley thinks his son is cut out for it.

“I haven’t been able to get the camera out of his hands since he started,” he said, adding that when his son learned he’d been chosen as a contest winner he “jumped through the roof.”

Lijah Hanley wasn’t the only one happy to hear the news. When the family’s home phone rang days ago —“National Geographic” appearing on the caller ID — Spencer Hanley said “the house just erupted.”

“They told us that if he wasn’t selected, he’d get a letter in the mail, and if he was chosen, he’d get a phone call,” he said. “We were all thrilled when the call came through.”

The young photographer said he’s excited about the trip.

“Oh my gosh, the farthest I’ve ever been out of the country is Canada,” he said. “It will be cool going through that country with National Geographic. They know all the best spots to take pictures.”

His mother, also a photographer, will be by his side.

“I’m impressed that he’s picked up all this interest, and he’s gone in his own direction,” she said.

E-mail Frank Reddy at