By Cassidy Hough
Hari Gopalakrishnan waited six hours for the clouds to clear to grab one award-winning Lake Erie picture.
And he used a drone to grab another of the same subject.
He did so while hiking through East Harbor State park near Sandusky, Ohio—barefoot.
That is how the native of India became the first international contestant to win the Life on Lake Erie Photo Contest.
Gopalakrishnan took his two pictures of the 200-year-old Marblehead Lighthouse, about 20 miles north of Sandusky, while on a solo camping trip to Sandusky, Ohio. He won the judges’ pick and the overall best photo over 30 competitors and 95 other photos in the 2019 contest.
“It brings hope every time I see a lighthouse,” Gopalakrishnan said. “It inspires me to stand up again in life and shine on.”
He took the photo titled “The Lifeline of Lake Erie,” with a drone at sunset, Gopalakrishnan said. He stood by for six hours, waiting for the clouds to clear, to capture his second photo, “The Glow in the Darkness.” He then edited the photos, although he says he’s never taken any professional classes.
Gopalakrishnan received numerous prizes, including a proclamation from Gov. Mike DeWine and a certificate for a one-night stay at Maumee Bay State Park Lodge, said Lynn Garrity, the agency’s Lake Erie program administer.
This is the 27th year of the contest. While the Ohio Lake Erie Commission receives a few non-local entrants almost every year, Gopalakrishnan is the first international visitor who has ever won the contest, said Sandra Kosek, an environmental specialist at the commission.
Inspired by villagers he’s seen while trekking through India, Gopalakrishnan chooses to do all his hiking barefoot.
“It makes your body and soul connect with nature more deeply,” Gopalakrishnan said. “Also, you can trust your feet more than a shoe on slippery surfaces. You will be amazed at how your foot grip adapts to different terrains.”
He also says walking barefoot can help lower blood pressure and increase energy.
“It did hurt, but eventually I got used to it and my body loved it,” he said.
While Gopalakrishnan has hiked in many places throughout India and the United States, he says he’s always been fascinated with the Great Lakes.
“I’ve always wondered about the Great Lakes,” Gopalakrishnan said. “I love how they transform during different seasons.”
He is returning this winter, planning to tour Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.
Although this was Gopalakrishnan’s first time winning awards for his photography, he plans to enter more competitions.
“One day I will quit my job as an engineer and turn into a full-time photographer,” Gopalakrishnan said. “Wish me luck.”