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Burnaby man wins prestigious wildlife photography award
North Burnaby resident Connor Stefanison may have only taken up nature photography as a hobby five years ago, but he's already made it to the top.
Earlier this month, Stefanison, 22, achieved what he's been working towards the last couple of years when he won the Eric Hosking Portfolio Award for aspiring photographers aged 18 to 26, part of the international Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
In its 49th year, the competition is co-owned by BBC Worldwide and the Natural History Museum in London, UK and widely regarded as "the Oscars of nature photography," said Stefanison.
He attended the black-tie awards ceremony held at the museum, where attendees mingled and ate in the shadow of a massive dinosaur skeleton. It's also where his winning portfolio of six photos is currently on display—the exhibition of winning works is also touring the world, including to the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, from Nov. 29 to April 6.
"It's crazy, I didn't think it would get publicized as much as it was," he said. "It's really cool knowing that an image from Burnaby and some other images from B.C. that I took are now kind of widely recognized."
Stefanison, an avid mountain biker, started out in photography with friends, taking photos of each other doing jumps. Then a friend's father introduced him to nature photography and a camera club where he attended a talk on the subject.
Having grown up hunting, fishing and camping with his family, it seemed a natural fit.
He stressed that he hunts only for food and mainly for moose and deer, but while he'd be out doing that he'd notice all sorts of other wildlife he'd want to shoot with his camera, including lynx and bears.
At Moscrop secondary, he took photography with teacher Kent Robinson, who he still visits and credits with teaching him the fundamentals of the art.
As for the one photo in the portfolio that was shot in Burnaby, of a barred owl swooping in towards its prey, Stefanison declined to reveal the location where it was taken.
But that image was itself about two years in the making.
The past two winters he'd been taking enough photos of that particular female owl and her mate that it got used to his presence, even responding when Stefanison produces a barred owl call with his voice.
When he decided on the exact composition he wanted to create, Stefanison had to orchestrate it down to the last detail.
It had to be shot at dusk to capture the deep blue sky, which meant he only had one hour each day to work with. He set up multiple flashes and a wireless remote shutter.
Then came the carrot, in this case, a dead mouse waiting to be eaten. Stefanison said they're available frozen at pet stores as food for certain animals, and even online.
Luckily for him he had a steady source of mice because he went through two to three mice a night over at least 10 nights of trying to get the perfect shot.
"Generally you're out there waiting for things to happen but for that specific shot I couldn't think of any other way to get it rather than using the mouse," he said, noting it does portray a typical owl behaviour, swooping down to hunt.
Once everything was set up, it all came down to timing the shot.
"Just clicking the button at the right time was really hard because they're going so fast," he said. "If I clicked it when the bird was like a foot back, it would look really small, and if it was a foot forward, then it cuts off a bunch of the bird and you don't see it all in the frame."
There was no concern about the owl becoming dependent on him for food, he said, noting he doesn't do it often enough for that to happen. One incident confirmed that for him—when the owl swooped down to catch a live mouse on the ground next to him, rather than the dead mouse he was offering.
"It knows I'm going to feed it but it goes for a wild one anyway."
The other images in the winning portfolio, including a white ptarmigan camouflaged in the snow in Jasper National Park and the swirling mist produced by hot springs at Yellowstone National Park, are just as impressive. He noted that contest organizers require the original raw files be submitted to ensure there is no digital manipulation involved.
After enjoying the accolades of the award, Stefanison has since gone back to being a biology student at Simon Fraser University and working as a bicycle and ski mechanic and occasional wedding photographer to fund his passion for photography.
He hopes to work in the wildlife management field as he pursues his dream of a full-time career in nature photography.
Meanwhile, he hopes his images will help people gain a better appreciation for nature and the environment and realize what's around them.
"Whenever I show people pictures of wildlife in the city they're always surprised that it's so close to them."