Right Place Right Time

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Defenders of Wildlife’s 2014 Photo Contest Winners

By John Yeingst

Sam Parks, Grand Prize

It’s all about wildlife. This is what Sam Parks—grand prize winner of Defenders of Wildlife’s 2014 photo contest—says really drove him to become a nature photographer. “I’ve been watching wildlife for as long as I can remember. It all started when I got my first point-and-shoot camera at 17. I only wanted to progress and master the art of photography from that point on,” Parks says. At only 24, Parks truly has “an eye,” and it shows in this image of a lone wolf at Yellowstone National Park. 

Each winter, Parks heads to Yellowstone for a month-long trip in search of wolves and coyotes. To capture this photo, he spent several mornings waiting—and hoping—in the bitter cold watching the snowfall through his Sigma 300-800mm lens. On the fifth day, he decided to pack up his gear and drive farther into the park. That’s when he spotted a wolf from the Canyon pack. “I noticed that he had a little bit of dried blood around his mouth,” says Parks. “This led me to believe there must have been a carcass nearby and sure enough, there was one on the side of the road.” 

Parks got into position and waited about six hours before the wolf returned to feed. “I looked through my viewfinder to set up the shot and as soon as I did this, he looked back at me,” he says. “That’s when I snapped the shutter and knew I had a great image.”

Parks considers himself a strong advocate of conservation and especially loves the Yellowstone ecosystem. He sees photography as a way of showcasing the beauty of the natural world and an opportunity to show people species they otherwise might not get to see.

Raj das, 1st place, Wildlife

After countless hours of cloudy weather and bad luck, Raj Das wasn’t sure he would get the photograph he had been waiting for on the shores of Ipswich, Massachusetts. “The particular shot I was looking for just wasn’t there but I decided to stay back a little bit longer in hopes that something, mainly the weather, might change,” says Das. Then, lying in the sand, camera in hand, his dedication and perseverance was rewarded. As the sky began to clear, the mother and piping plover chick he had been observing slowly strayed away from the flock into a ray of sunlight. “To become a good photographer, you have to be a good observer and have the patience to watch for those special moments,” Das says. It wasn’t just the contrast and lighting that made such an amazing image, says Das, but more the emotional connection felt between the chick and the mother plover. “What really made me fall in love with this photograph,” he says, “was the overwhelming feeling of safety you could sense between the two.” 

Scott Joshua Dere, 2nd Place, Wildlife

After setting up his tripod in Yellowstone National Park, Scott Joshua Dere faced a common reality of photography: Sometimes you’re a split-second too late. Dere thought, “I just blew it,” as he watched bison disappear into the mountains. But like all photographers know, good things come to those who wait. “The key is to get out there and wait for those wonderful moments because, most of the time, they won’t just come to you,” he says. His persistence paid off as two stragglers, a mother bison and her calf, ran right where he wanted them. With the bright orange sunset illuminating the sky and shadow detail silhouetting the two creatures, he snapped a shot that impressed thousands of voters in this year’s photo contest.

Christina Celano, 3rd Place, WILDLIFE

Christina Celano sold her car to buy her first Nikon and explore the deep and emotional connection she feels between photography and the natural world. “Photography is as much a part of my life as breathing and honestly, I won’t go anywhere without my camera,” Celano says. She specifically likes this photograph, which won 3rd place in the wildlife category, for its originality. “I wanted to get something that people had never seen before, and I believe I was able to do just that,” she says. “Underwater manatee photos are a dime a dozen, but it’s not often you get to observe a manatee out of the water.” This exhausted male was one of the many involved in the dramatic performance manatees put on during mating.

Warren Sander, 1st Place, WILD LANDS

A wedding and portrait photographer for 20 years, Warren Sander knows the skills required for photography. But to take on nature photography, he says, requires a love of nature and a respect for its beauty. “You also need to deliver the image in your head to the camera,” says Sander. He took this photo while camping with his family in Smoky Mountains National Park. “I was scouting by a stream for a good spot for a family portrait when I looked up and saw what I knew would be a great image,” he says. Setting his tripod up on a rock, Saunders’ 12-second exposure gives the water a soft-spun appearance, suitable for the title, “Mountain Stream Tranquility.”

Daniel Cassman, 2nd Place, WILD LANDS

On a stormy summer day in Yosemite National Park, Daniel Cassman had just finished giving a tour of Yosemite Valley—one of his duties as a National Park Service employee—when the clouds began to open up and the fog started to clear. “It was a very rainy day, which is unusual for the California mountains,” recalls Cassman. “I took this picture of Yosemite Falls just as I saw the sun coming over the fog.” The white and gray clouds intermixed and the vibrant green grass all worked together to create beautiful contrast, says Cassman, who finds endless inspiration for his photos in the outdoors. “Nature and wildlife photography have always appealed to me,” he says. “They make me excited about life and being on the planet.”  

Chuck Sale, 3rd Place, WILD LANDS

As one of Los Angeles’ finest, former LAPD officer Chuck Sale learned all about being in the right place at the right time. “The one aspect of photography that really appeals to me is its immediacy,” Sale says. On this warm evening in Tonto National Forest, he set up his tripod as the sun descended in the Arizona desert. “In so many sunset pictures, the actual sunset is the centerpiece of the image,” he says. “In my image, the sunset illuminates the centerpiece of my photograph.” Sale says one thing that is almost imperceptible is the city in the distance. “Here is the wilderness that we have no part in creating and in the distance are human creations.” 

To see more photos from the contest, visit www.defenders.org/photocontest2014.

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