Lake Tahoe photographer lands cover shot of National Geographic |

Lake Tahoe photographer lands cover shot of National Geographic

Tim Hauserman
Special to the Tribune
Nick Cahill's "Dark Needle" graces the cover of the fall 2015 “Guide to the Night Sky, a Stargazer’s Companion" edition of National Geographic.
Courtesy / National Geographic |

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Visit to learn more about Cahill, to see his photos and to follow his efforts to create a tiny home.

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Visit to learn more about National Geographic. You can purchase its “Guide to the Night Sky, a Stargazer’s Companion” on Amazon and other websites.

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — If you are a photographer, getting your shot on the cover of National Geographic is like a swimsuit model gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated.

It’s big. Really big. Which means Sierra Nevada College graduate and Incline Village resident Nick Cahill was pretty excited, “to, at 27 years old, achieve the best thing I might achieve in my entire career.”

“Only a couple of hundred people have been able to do it in the history of the magazine,” he said.

The cover image, which is called “Dark Needle,” shows Lake Tahoe below the Milky Way. It graces the Fall 2015 National Geographic “Guide to the Night Sky, a Stargazer’s Companion.”

While it was taken on one night, it was the culmination of two years of planning and preparation by Cahill.

To capture the breathtaking image, he needed a night with no moon, wind or clouds. Often, he says, you will only have 15 minutes during that rare night that will meet all the criteria.

“Once you’ve figured it out, it still might take several years to come up with the picture,” Cahill said.

The winning photo was taken off Speedboat Beach near the California/Nevada border and was, “a bit of an experiment for me.” he said.


Cahill shot a series of vertical panoramic images that he then puzzled together. It was taken at 11:30 p.m, when it was totally dark except for the stars.

“As a student, Nick was very talented and had a natural sense of composition and drama,” said Chris Lanier, Professor of Digital Arts at SNC Tahoe, and one of Cahill’s former teachers. “He has a tireless impulse to get out there and capture something unique. He goes at photography as an adventurer who enjoys nature and the outdoors and his photography is an expression of that.”

Cahill’s girlfriend of three years, Jessica Perez says, “It was really exciting. I’ve always seen his potential, but to see it validated is just amazing.

“When he told me, I didn’t really believe him at first.”

She says that he has no qualms about being out in the freezing cold at 4 a.m., trying to capture the perfect shot.

Cahill graduated from SNC Tahoe in 2013 with a degree in business management and digital arts.

While pursuing a career creating visual images that are for sale locally at the Blue Wolf Studios in Kings Beach, he is also the Media Director for, the world’s largest military and outdoor content network on the web.

It’s a job that allows him to work from Tahoe, where he can still pursue his outdoor photography dreams while enjoying his adventurous lifestyle here, including mountain biking, snowboarding, snowmobiling, rock climbing and paddleboarding.

“Lake Tahoe is a place where I can do anything I want to do. Nobody moves here to make six figures — living in Tahoe is more about finding a work/life balance,” he said. “I came here for school and snowboarding and turned a hobby into a profession.”


Now Cahill has a new idea he hopes will allow him to step up his game and create more amazing photographs.

He and Perez bought an old blue school bus. She did the design and he is doing the labor to turn it into a tiny moving home.

For Cahill, it is all about being in the right place at the right time to get the right shot.

“I may need to stay in a place for a month to get the grand slam shot,” he said, adding that he believes his tiny home will allow him to do that.

Next summer and fall, he plans to take his tiny home and travel throughout the West, creating images in all of the National Parks.

Then, the following spring his goal is to spend a month in Alaska snowboarding and capturing photos.

Nick and Jessica took their blue bus for a test cruise to Burning Man this year, and were happy to report it made it back in one — albeit very dusty — piece.

Perez would like to take it to festivals and South America one day.

There’s little doubt — wherever they end up, Cahill will undoubtedly spend countless hours searching for just the right image, hoping to create the next cover of National Geographic.

Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He may be reached at

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