Nebraska’s beauty shared with nearly 100,000 photo fans
Amateur photographer Steve Evans of Holdrege started a public Facebook group in June 2013 so he and a few friends could share their scenic Nebraska photos. Two years later, the Nebraska Through the Lens Facebook page boasts more than 99,600 members, on its way to 100,000. It has launched photography careers, served as a statewide news source, promoted Nebraska tourism, and connected people across the world who have one thing in common – their love of Nebraska.
“It just continues to grow,” Evans said. “It’s mind boggling to all of us. I thought we were doing good when we hit 5,000 members.”
The Nebraska Through the Lens Facebook page invites anyone to share their photos of Nebraska. Every day, professional and amateur photographers share photos of the landscapes, storms, sunsets, people and events that knit the state together.
A community of support and sharing
Sometimes, the page serves as a news source when members post photos of events, fires or up-to-the-minute storm photos alerting residents in neighboring counties of impending danger. Other times, it ties the state together as members share glimpses of the same spectacular sunrise as it peeks across the horizon from Omaha to Scottsbluff. It celebrates the beauty of Nebraska’s traditional seasons – spring, summer, fall and winter – and its many other “seasons” – eagle and crane-watching season, prom season, pivot season, football season, harvest season and hunting season, just to name a few.
“I tell people that we have more seasons than just four,” Evans said. “You can open up our page anytime and know what season it is.”
In October 2015, Nebraska Through the Lens received the 2015 Friend of Tourism award from the Nebraska Department of Tourism. The award celebrates a business or organization that is not directly involved in the tourism industry but has been supportive of local, regional or statewide efforts to promote and develop tourism.
Nebraska Department of Tourism Director Kathy McKillip said Nebraska Through the Lens received the award because of its widespread reach to thousands of Nebraskans and visitors.
“Nebraska Through the Lens helps to expose Nebraska to residents and out-of-state visitors, which in turn makes these Facebook viewers want to visit Nebraska,” McKillip said.
Also, many of the page’s members grant photo permissions for use by those in the Nebraska tourism industry.
“Numerous colleagues throughout the Nebraska tourism industry have been able to build their photo libraries,” she said, “to an extent that they would never have had the time or budget to do by utilizing the amazing work of these generous photographers.”
Evans, a paramedic who works in North Platte, hails from Kansas and enjoys photography as a hobby. In addition to his full-time job, he spends about 30 hours a week managing the Nebraska Through the Lens page. He is one of 12 administrators across the state who police the page. They donate their time as there is no financial incentive or fees generated yet from Nebraska Through the Lens.
Their pay is knowing how much good the site is doing for people and for the state they love.
“Takes me back home”
“One of the things that really kind of drives me is the comments we get from military members or their families that are stationed out of state,” Evans said, “and they talk about how the site brings home to wherever they are. They can always go to the site, and it reminds them of Nebraska.”
Evans said he hears similar comments all the time from the site’s members across the globe. “’I get so lonesome for Nebraska, and it takes me back home’,” Evans said members tells him. “That’s something pretty amazing when you think about it.”
Members have developed theme days – Tractor Tuesday, Windmill Wednesday and Flower Friday – that encourage photographers to seek new photo opportunities. Evans also posts a monthly challenge, such as the recent black and white photo challenge, to encourage more creativity.
While photographers in other states have contacted Evans to start similar sites in their states, none have anywhere near the number of fans as Nebraska’s site. In fact, the Facebook page Snapshot Kansas, which sparked Evans’ idea to create a Nebraska page, has just less than 7,000 members. As many as 15 other states (including Iowa, Kansas and Colorado) have contacted Evans and asked to use the “Through the Lens” name and the site’s rules, but those sites still have less than 10,000 fans.
Nebraska Through the Lens has averaged 100.2 new members each day during its first 883 days. Major events, such as the Pilger tornado and other storms, generate thousands of new members in a single day.
Diverse viewpoints from all corners of Nebraska
Evans said he believes the key to the page’s success is that members can post whatever photos they want as long as they fit within the rules. And, he believes Nebraskans are proud of the diverse beauty of their beloved state.
“People from Nebraska have a lot of pride in Nebraska,” he said. “I think people get a little offended when people talk about Nebraska being a flyover state, and they want to show what’s out there. And it’s opened eyes to a lot of people. We get comments from people in Omaha who say, ‘I had no idea there was that much beauty in the western part of the state.’”
The site is not without controversy as it was reported for animal cruelty after a member posted cattle branding photos, and some members abhor the hunting photos posted.
The administrators think carefully about the site’s rules and try to be as lenient as possible.
“Truly, we are trying to show life in Nebraska, and deer hunting is a huge part of Nebraska life for so many people,” Evans said.
However, they have had to ban as many as 2,500 members from the site for rule violations.
“We don’t tolerate being rude to members,” he said. “Foul language will get you removed very quickly. You don’t have to agree, but you don’t have to make a rude comment either.”
A photographer’s online showcase
In addition to showing the state’s beauty, the Facebook page has also served as a showcase for the talented photographers across the state, boosting photography careers for many.
“I don’t think people realize the high-quality photography that’s out there in the state,” Evans said.
“We’ve given people a place to show off their artwork.”
One photographer made a calendar of his photographs after positive comments from Nebraska Through the Lens members. A photograph of a Wilcox tornado received 10,000 likes and was featured in a national weather photo contest. Other Nebraska Through the Lens photos end up in newspapers or other publications across the state.
“It’s really fun to see things covered by the news media two days after it appears in Nebraska Through the Lens,” Evans said.
The future of Nebraska Through the Lens may include a book or a calendar. A website, nebraskathroughthelens.com, was just launched where photographers can advertise their services. Evans said revenue from these projects could generate scholarship funds for a Nebraska student.
Evans said the Facebook page has opened his eyes to the beauty of the state, and he hopes to have time someday to explore all the places Nebraska Through the Lens members have photographed and shared.
“It’s our members who have made the site what it is,” Evans said. “It could still be 20 of us going out and taking photos and it wouldn’t be anything. But, we have people from every corner of the state and from out of state who are taking photos, sharing them and they are the ones who are encouraging people to go out and visit parts of the state that people never knew about.”