Photographer Spotlight: Sarah Johnson

Minnesota National Guard veteran excels at sports photography

Sarah Johnson, 31, is earning her Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Professional Photography as well as her Small Business Entrepreneur certificate at Dakota County Technical College. Sarah has a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Spanish & Global Studies from the University of Minnesota.

Originally from Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, Sarah served as a logistics officer in the Minnesota National Guard from 2009–2018. As a 1st lieutenant, she spent a good chunk of her years with the Second Battalion, 147th Assault Helicopter Battalion out of St. Paul, Minnesota. She deployed with that unit to the Camp Buehring in Kuwait from 2014–2015, serving as a commander overseeing the training and welfare of 100 soldiers across five different bases.

“I deployed to Kuwait with my husband, Reid, who served as a 1st lieutenant in the 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade [CAB],” Sarah said. “Reid is currently with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division out of Rosemount, Minnesota. We met during officer training.”

Sarah was recently accepted into the Vocational Rehabilitation Program through the VA. That allows her to attend DCTC full-time with her complete focus on becoming a pro photographer.

View more of Sarah’s photos on her Flickr site:

Sarah Smile Photography

Green Heron | Sarah Smile Photography

Green Heron | Sarah Smile Photography

Sarah has been working with her photography instructor, Lisa Cline, on developing her skill set as a sports photographer. Sarah has photographed a myriad of athletic events from DCTC NJCAA soccer to Rosemount High School football to youth swimming and volleyball.

Lisa and Sarah at Vikings game

Lisa and Sarah at Vikings game

Lisa reported that Sarah has shown focus, drive and great creative talent during her two semesters at DCTC.

“As Sarah may pursue a career in sports photography, we created an Independent Study class last semester to explore action photography,” Lisa said. “The culmination was photographing the Minnesota Vikings vs Philadelphia Eagles game from the field at U.S. Bank Stadium, Sunday, October 13. Her work from the game was top-notch!” [The Vikings won 38–20.]

“Shooting the Vikings game was an incredible experience,” Sarah said. “From getting credentials, entering the stadium, going through security, checking out the field, meeting other photographers and, of course, the game was all part of learning how a big game like that works. Basically, controlled chaos is how I would describe it.”

Sarah added that one-on-one time with Lisa was great. “Lisa helped me fix a couple settings on my camera and lens that I had issues with,” she said. “The whole experience was awesome!”

Sarah is seeking to make professional photography her new career. “Someday, I would like to own my own photography business,” she said. “I am gravitating toward sports photography, and my dream would be to shoot for one or more professional sports teams or for a stadium.”

Sarah’s Vikings game gallery

New Professional Photography A.A.S.

The Photography program at DCTC has a NEW Professional Photography Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree. The degree not only gives students fundamental photographic training, but also includes the necessary business and marketing skills to be successful in today’s creative market.

Opportunities to fine-tune skills in a specific genre are available through Independent Study experiences.

Sarah shooting Vikes game | Photo by Lisa Cline, CPP

Sarah shooting Vikes game | Photo by Lisa Cline, CPP

More about Sarah…

A graduate of Brooklyn Center High School, Class of 2007, Sarah has been married to her husband, Reid, for seven years. Reid is part of the Cyber Security Team at MoneyGram International. Sarah and her husband have two dogs, Kiera, a 9-year-old black Lab/border collie, and Kaci, 4-year-old pit bull/beagle. They have a cat, too, a 7-year-old American shorthair named Oscar Meowscawitz.

Sarah has always had a passion for photography, but she also loves taking her two dogs on hikes. She enjoys gardening and painting and basically anything that allows her to be creative.

Sarah will graduate from DCTC in fall 2020. She and her family reside in Savage, Minnesota.

Sarah family gallery

More about Photography at DCTC…

Photography is a creative, visual industry that requires highly trained professionals. As a student in the college’s Photograph program, you will learn all major aspects of photography through hands-on application of image capture, lighting, computer software, portraiture and print production. Courses in design skills, video and color management round out your experience.

Degree Options

The Professional Photography A.A.S. and diploma programs deliver the skills you need to capture excellent images in many different environments. You will also learn how to transform those images into professional-quality prints. The A.A.S. degree includes business courses that provide the knowledge required to manage or own a successful photography business.

You may earn a Technical Management A.A.S. if you’re aiming at entering the workforce after you graduate. You may also earn an Individualized Studies A.S. if you’re looking at transferring to a four-year college or university.


Sarah Johnson Q & A

Sarah Johnson

Sarah Johnson

Why did you choose DCTC?
I decided on DCTC after taking an Intro to Photography class in the spring of this year. Photography was always something I enjoyed and I even did it for the military. I really enjoyed my teacher, Lisa Cline, and I learned so much in just one class. Once I was accepted into the VA Vocational Rehabilitation Program, I was able to quit my job and go to school full-time.

What advice would you give students thinking about making professional photography their career path?
Take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. I am learning as much in class as I am when opportunities come along. I recently photographed the Rosemount Girls Soccer team in their sectionals championship and learned something about lights in the stadium and how they can affect my camera.

Being willing to take random “jobs” or volunteering time to photograph something can teach you so much as well as building rapport with the community and other photographers.

Three words that describe you as a photographer:

What do you like best about photography as an art form?
I love capturing happy and exciting moments for others. Photography also allows me to share the beauty of the world with others. When the person receives my photos and they love them, it is such a great feeling.

What brand of camera do you use and why?
I use a Nikon Z6 and have all Tamron lenses. [Sarah shot the Vikings game using a Tamron 150-600mm F/5-6.3 lens.] My husband, Reid, actually did a lot of the research (he is an IT guy and loves doing research). He wanted me to have a great camera to start with, and I am very happy with the choice. I get such crisp, clear pictures.

Sarah’s photography gallery

What is your favorite type of photography and why?
Right now, my favorite photography is sports photography. I love catching the action and you really get to view the game from a new perspective. In the past, I use to play a lot of sports. I can’t really do that anymore, so this gives me an opportunity to still be somewhat involved. It doesn’t hurt when you get opportunities to shoot the Vikings in U.S. Bank Stadium either!

Who is your favorite photographer?
My favorite photographer is Darcy Sime; she captures incredible images of wildlife.

What is your greatest strength as a photographer?
My greatest strength is that I am a go-getter. Whether it is meeting new photography people, taking on a photography job I have never done before, or just learning something new and running with it, I take advantage of opportunities that are presented to me.

What do you consider the most challenging aspect of sports photography?
Each sport is so different. Some events are inside with bad lighting, some are outside in the dark and rain—each sport and game bring different challenges. By experiencing each sport in different locations, you learn so much about what it takes to be successful in different scenarios.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


Sarah Johnson 12 Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Football: Go Pack Go!
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Fiji
  3. The most exciting thing you’ve ever done: That’s a toss-up; in my military life, I got to be “water rescued” during a training mission by a Blackhawk helicopter in the Middle East; in my normal life, I paraglided off of a mountain in Venezuela.
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Pay off my own and my family’s debt 2) Travel the world 3) Buy my own private island
  5. Favorite TV show you’re watching now: I’m not big into TV shows, especially when football is on.
  6. Best movie you’ve seen lately: I enjoyed the new Alladin live-action movie
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in life: Being happy
  8. Your national bird if you were your own country: Quetzal
  9. Dream occupation: Stay-at-home, rich dog mom
  10. Person you would most like to meet: My grandfather who died before I was born.
  11. Skill you would most like to learn and master: Photography (I am taking the first steps!)
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: The bees are dying; without pollination, we have no food. That will lead to more war, poverty and everything else that we are already dealing with.
Learn more about Professional Photography at DCTC by contacting:

Darrell Tangen
Photography Faculty

Lisa Cline
Adjunct Photography Faculty

¹ I wish I would have decided to come to DCTC and do photography before going to the U of M and getting a degree that I don’t actually use. I never thought that “homework” could be enjoyable. I get to be creative and photograph things I enjoy.

1 Comment

  • Scott Glime says:

    This is such a great story! Your work is amazing Sarah. Best of luck on your continuing adventure.

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