Story by Jennifer Nobles | The Union Newspaper

Kial James is self-admittedly living the dream. The founder of and photographer for Nevada City Scenics, James was raised in Nevada County, always knowing he was an artist but not committing to any one medium. Until, that is, he became interested in photography and began to live a life behind the lens.

“I was really inspired by my time working at The Union newspaper,” said James, who worked at the paper as an ad scanner and production artist. “I was inspired by John Hart who was the editorial photographer there, Chris Wakefield who was the ad photographer, and Wayde Carroll who is an excellent photographer and travels around the world doing incredible work. That’s where my inspiration really started.”

James said that days spent in the darkroom, learning the logistics of how film is processed, did much to fuel his photographic inspiration. This was the place where he learned about composition, framing, and how to manipulate the film. It gave him insight and direction as to the process of how photography actually works.

With the creation of Nevada City Scenics, James has taken to showcasing the best and most beautiful images of our county, many of them well-known places and some more obscure. His efforts began as a way to explore his artistic side and eventually became a way to a means.

“I live in downtown Nevada City and I would often venture out (there) and to the Yuba River and take photos and post them on a Facebook page,” James recalled. “I originally started out creating Nevada City Scenics and eventually it kind of caught on.

“Then a local assemblyman — Brian Dahle — liked the page and I thought, whoa, I have a little bit of reach into the Northern California area. This is cool. Once I saw that I thought, I need to keep pushing forward and try to make this happen.”

Happen it did. In addition to his extremely popular Nevada City Scenics Facebook page, James’ work has been featured in numerous local publications including Sierra FoodWineArt, and he regularly serves as event photographer for Wild & Scenic Film Festival as well as Nevada City Film Festival.

“(Kial) beautifully captures the moment and spirit of any event,” said Nevada City Film Festival director Jesse Locks. “I’ve always found with truly professional artists like Kial, if you just get out of their way, they’ll create the most beautiful work, and that’s what he has been able to achieve with his Nevada City Scenics. He’s told the story of our town, our community in a beautiful, thoughtful and creative way. He’s celebrated the best of what we are.”

A history buff, James lives with his wife Katie and their five children who he said are supportive of his art. He finds great solace in stepping out just before sunrise, when he can capture the town itself while it is still sleepy.

“I think it’s the old, kind of historic feel and vibe here,” James said. “I am really into history. I love the old facades of the buildings, different textures, so many different nooks and crannies around Nevada City. I just wanted to capture some of that detail of the city — as well as Grass Valley, too.”

As much as the downtown streets inspire him, it is clear that Kial James’ heart lies at the Yuba River, where some of his most popular Nevada City Scenics photos have been taken, including “Fire In The Sky,” a sunset shot James said is one of his personal favorites.

In February, James will be honored with the Dr. Leland and Sally Lewis Visual Arts Award, presented by the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce.

“I was notified last week and it literally brought me to tears,” James said of the award. “It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized by the Chamber of Commerce for my visual work within the community. Never in a million years did I expect this. I’m in great company with some tremendous artists.”

James said he feels so lucky to do what he loves for a living and is happy to continue living the proverbial dream. He hopes to release a couple of books of his work and currently has items like calendars and prints for sale via his website,

“There’s beauty all around us, especially in this area. I think a lot of us take for granted the area that we live in and the incredible amount of history here.

“I think it’s important just to get out and have some appreciation for the area we live in, and that’s what I try to do with my photography: showcase these different areas that people may take for granted, who don’t see it the way I see it.”

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at or at 530-477-4231.