Time well spent
Award-winning wildlife photographer takes time to learn about his subjects
Story by Stephanie Hounsell / Photography by Connor Stefanison
When wildlife photographer Connor Stefanison headed to Jasper National Park, Alberta, to photograph a herd of bighorn sheep, he knew not to focus on just any member of the group. There was a specific male whose temperament made him a prime candidate for great photos.
“That guy was the most photogenic out of the whole herd,” Stefanison recalls; insight the photographer had thanks to prior experience observing the herd. “This was my second winter taking pictures of them and I’ve gotten to know them pretty well somewhat individually. You get to recognize certain ones and sort of what their temperaments are like. That one I know doesn’t mind me being close.”
Know your subject. It’s something the Burnaby, BC photographer holds fast to. Taking the time beforehand to learn about the animals he wants to photograph has served him well. Last fall, Stefanison, 22, became the first North American to win the Eric Hosking Portfolio Award, an award that recognizes the best in wildlife photographers worldwide as part of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
Photo 1 shows the bighorn sheep digging through the snow to get at the grass below. Stefanison likes the photo because of the lighting. He used a warm filter gel on the flash, which cast a golden light on the sheep. Dusk made for a blue background.
Another photo Stefanison enjoyed capturing was that of a white-tailed ptarmigan (Photo 2), also taken in Jasper. Photographing this bird was a lot of fun, Stefanison says, thanks in part to the fact they don’t tend to fly away while being photographed. Once Stefanison and a friend found the bird (they can be elusive), they were able to spend the whole day photographing it. “They’re not very smart,” he says; a comment that again reveals his knowledge of the animal.
What makes it a memorable photo is its camouflage aspect, he says — the way the white bird blends into the snow, with just its black eyes and beak sticking out. It isn’t unusual for people to completely miss the bird, telling Stefanison they like the photo of “the sticks,” he says. The white feathers against the white snow and the bird’s less-than-obvious placement in the frame result in a photo that makes viewers look twice.
Knowing about the environment he’s heading into is also important, Stefanison says.
One of his favourite places to photograph waterfowl in the springtime is Burnaby Lake. “It gets really colourful… Everything is looking its nicest at that time,” he says.
To get Photo 3, Stefanison lay on his stomach about 45 metres from the birds, using a 500-mm lens.
The birds at the park are rather tame, Stefanison says, meaning he was able to take his time, knowing they wouldn’t fly away in a hurry.
To read more of Stephanie’s interview with Connor Stefanison please pick up the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of OPC today!