22-Year-Old Defies the Odds With His Wildlife Photography

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When Oliver Hellowell was a toddler, doctors didn't have much hope that he would live a long or productive life. Oliver has Down syndrome, and his mother was told he might never be able to talk in a discernible way. Also, doctors thought he wouldn't be able to handle any physical activity. But by the age of 11, Oliver had begun to prove all the naysayers wrong. That's when he discovered his passion — photography.

Growing up, Oliver was fascinated by wildlife, especially while watching David Attenborough or visiting zoos. Then, he took a keen interest in his stepfather Mike's photography. From there, Oliver quickly learned the tricks of the trade. It was quite obvious to his parents that he had a natural talent for it.

"My mum says I’m brilliant," Oliver told MNN. "My dad gets cross because my pictures are better than his!"

His mother details in his latest book, "Oliver's Birds," that Oliver "can find some situations and environments overwhelming and a camera allows him to filter out the rest and concentrate on just the piece he’s interested in."

Oliver prefers to photograph nature and wildlife near his home in Somerset, England and throughout the United Kingdom. "I like being outside and I’ve got 'the eye' for pictures ... Birds, water (I like the splashes and the light shining on the water), landscapes, everything! Animals, flowers, everything in nature. I don't do pictures of people, that’s not me not 'my eye.'"

Oliver has a keen eye for photographing birds in particular.

"I just like birds. If the bird is small like a nuthatch I want to get the whole bird in, but big birds like birds of prey, I like to get in close and get the eye. I look at them in Photoshop afterwards and make sure the eye is sharp and crisp."

Because of his Down syndrome, Oliver doesn't have as much contrast in his vision and objects can appear misty or foggy. So, he uses Photoshop to enhance the color contrast in each photograph, "encouraging the colors to leap out and have more clarity for him."

While some people may give extra attention to Oliver's work because he has Down syndrome, he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. "They said it was hard but I found it easy. Just do what you want to do. Just get out there and do it."

Regardless of his diagnosis, it's clear that Oliver's photography rivals many professional photographers. "To look closely at a photograph taken by Oliver Hellowell is a study in the miraculous," photographer Ken Jenkins wrote in the book. "From the hour that I met Ollie, I was convinced that I was in the presence of an amazing young man who never looks back and sees no limitations."

"However, Oliver is so much more than just a photographer," wrote conservationist Iolo Williams. "He is a very competent birdwatcher, a funny raconteur, excellent company and a genuinely lovely young man."

Oliver's humorous and light-hearted personality comes to life through the way he describes each image in his book — from the puffin that reminds him of his cat to his excitement over seeing a wren. He wants readers to love all the birds in his book just as much as he does. His passion is so deep that his goal is to travel all over the world to photograph as many of them as possible.

"I want to go to all the countries. I want to go to Iceland and the Rockies in Canada. I want to go to New Zealand. One day we really want to do an amazing road trip all across America. All the landscapes are all different and there’s lots of different birds and animals and everything. I want to go for weeks!"

Oliver has big plans to publish more books. For him, there's no limit on what he can do once he sets his mind on it. "I want to do more books so this one is 'Oliver's Birds' and the next one might be 'Oliver's Landscapes' or water or 'Oliver's Wales' or 'Oliver's America!'"

And his message to people who have Down syndrome: "Sometimes the mums worry their baby won’t be very good at walking or sports or talking or doing stuff and then they see me and they know it's alright cause I'm cool."

And I think that's something we can all agree on.