By: Noella Ovid The 2015 Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPY) exhibition featured three Canadian photographers – grand title-holder Don Gutoski, Rising Star Portfolio winner Connor Stefanison, and 10 Years and Under finalist Josiah Launstein.
Presented by Quark Expeditions, the WPY was on tour from the Natural History Museum of London, England, at the Royal Ontario Museum from Nov. 18 to March 20.
The exhibition is now in its 51st year and made its third appearance at the ROM, remaining to be the most prestigious wildlife photography competition in the world.
Attracting more than 42,000 entries, the display showcased 100 images from amateur and professional photographers of 96 countries.
“The exhibit is one of the nicest photo displays I’ve ever seen,” said Stefanison. “Even if there are people that aren’t too interested in nature and wildlife, I would still highly recommend going to see it just because it’s really quite an interesting display.”
Stefanison started pursuing photography in 2008 and this is his second time winning the Rising Star Portfolio award. Growing up in Vancouver, most of his photos have been taken locally in British Columbia.
“I think when you’re starting out, good things to do are just shoot locally because shooting locally allows you to really work the area that you’re in,” he said. “Also you’ll know the most about your area and you’ll be able to visit those spots frequently.”
Prior to doing photography, Stefanison said he had a large nature background and got interesting in taking photos after joining a nature-based camera club with his friend and his dad.
“My family’s always done a lot of things like camping and fishing and so I knew a lot about the outdoors,” he said. “So just from taking pictures of my friends going off jumps and stuff while we were mountain biking, that kind of got my interest started.”
Stefanison’s most memorable photograph is a wide-angle sunset picture of a loon on its nest, featured in 2013.
“That one I’m proud of just because I was able to find a loon that was tolerant enough to allow an image like that and I just got to spend so much time with the animal, kind of right beside the bird for so long,” he said.
This year, Stefanison has six images included at the exhibition including one called “Night of the mountain goats.” The image frames a mountain goat with a clear, starry night sky. In order to capture the perfect photograph, Stefanison camped outside for three days to allow the goats to get used to his presence.
His advice for young photographers is “not to worry too much about gear and focus more on technique and just learning photography. And also just shooting what you like to shoot instead of shooting what you think others want to see.”
The exhibition itself was displayed in a back lit room with hallways leading visitors through different categories. These included earth’s environments, earth’s design, first shoots, documentary and portfolio.
The tour ended with the two leading winners, Don Gutoski and Ondřej Pelánek. Gutoski visited the ROM to give visitors a tour of the exhibition himself.
“I just really like animals. I came two years ago,” said Morgan Cullen, a visitor who first came to the exhibition for a college assignment two years ago. “I really love it. There are some great shots here.”
Another visitor, Barry Hart, visited the exhibition with his wife and two grandchildren. “We’re nature people,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll eventually be as interested as us. But we’re not photographers, we’re lookers.”