PaliHi Photographers Capture Life

With smart phones, everyone can take a photo—but there is a big difference between phone images and what a true photographer can capture.

We saw a good example of this in May, when 126 images from 60 students in Rick Steil’s Palisades High School photography classes were on display in the Palisades Library community room.

Steil, a former professional photographer who worked for numerous magazines and agencies, has about 170 teens in his program, from beginning to AP (advanced placement) photography. His classes are among the most sought after at the school.

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“Our seniors are accepted by top schools, like Pratt Institute and Parsons [both in New York], the Art Center [Pasadena] and the UCLA Fine Arts program, which is supposedly more difficult to get into than UCLA itself,” said Steil, who joined the PaliHi faculty in 2008. “Students use their portfolios to get into schools like Bard . . . the portfolios differentiate them. You have to have something, a story, to set yourself apart with these colleges.”

Steil cited former students like Art Cook (class of 2014), who lives near Venice and received a $70,000-a-year scholarship to New York University. Another alumus, Carina Reimers, is now a freshman at the Art Institute of Chicago and had a one-semester internship in New York at Saturday Night Live as a photographer’s assistant. After having worked on the set for 50 hours a week, Reimers told Steil, “I’m not ready to go to work!” Rather, she was eager to return to her school routine. “She’s going to make it—she’s funny, smart, talented,” Steil said.

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Current senior Will Higgins is going to Pratt. “He’s a fabulous photographer—he never stops shooting pictures, he’s serious about his craft and he’s really great kid. I’m impressed by him,” said Steil, who also praised students like Avery Tucker who are opting for Santa Monica College. “I like Avery’s work; he’s very technical, he gets it.”

Steil noted that “SMC has a fabulous photography program and the kids can spend two years there, then transfer, get a scholarship to places like the Art Center, and save two years of tuition.”

Although Steil has just 18 students in his AP class, 28 students submitted AP portfolios. “We average 4.5 AP scores (5.0 scale), which allows the kids to get three credit units at some colleges, and save some money. At Pali, if a student qualifies for the free lunch program, AP submission is free.”


Steil, a native of Iowa who traveled the world as a photographer, savors the student diversity at Pali. “That’s what makes the difference in our program, all these talented kids coming together in the classroom and working as teams on various photography assignments. Westside kids and traveling kids, they share each other’s lives in my classes.”

Luis Velasquez, a senior, lives with his mom Julie Vargas in Inglewood. He started taking pictures five years ago and has studied with Steil for two years. He will attend Cal State Northridge with plans to pursue a career in photography. His favorite shots are landscapes and portraits.

Palisadian Emma Sims has studied with Steil for two years and also shot photos for the yearbook. A junior, she is not sure if photography will be a major in college, but she definitely plans to pursue it. The daughter of Elsie and Todd Sims, her favorite photography subjects are fashion and portraits (sometimes utilizing her younger sister, shown here).

Selene Robertson, who lives in Santa Monica and has been taking photographs for five years, began working with Steil this past school year. She will attend SMC and continue her photography studies, as well as learning more about digital media. The daughter of Jeff and Lillie Robertson, Selene especially enjoys shooting portraits.

Ross Crane, a senior, took his first photography class last semester—and was instantly promoted to Photo 2 this semester. The West Los Angeles native will attend SMC to pursue photography. He said he really enjoys shooting long exposures with urban landscape backgrounds. He is the son of Judith and Steven Crane.

Carter Polhill, a senior, has been shooting photos for six years and has studied with Steil for two. He was accepted into the Art Center and is well on his way to a photography career, having pursued freelance work (and building a website) while still in school. The son of Palisadians Allison Holdorff and Lucius Polhill, his favorite targets are underwater photography and landscapes.

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