Lights, Camera, Wildlife!

Polar Bears, © Thomas Cooper“Just because you want the image doesn’t mean you’ll get it.” Wise words from photographer Thomas Cooper, but in this case, it seems he did get the image he wanted. Cooper traveled via plane, train and snow buggy to arrive at Canada’s Wapusk National Park, home to the most southern population of polar bears in the world. Wapusk is said to be one of the best places to photograph cubs with their mothers. After extensively researching every detail of the trip, from appropriate cold weather gear to breathing techniques to avoid fogging up his camera viewfinder, Cooper was fully prepared to take on the tundra. He says he was lucky to be able to find this mama and her cubs nestled together and framed by spruce trees. The angle of this shot doesn’t show it, but there actually are two cubs, one snuggling behind the other. According to Cooper, the temperature that day was 25 degrees F below zero, so it’s no wonder the cubs were snuggling tight.

First Place, Wildlife: Don Henderson

For the past 20 years, Don Henderson has been photographing wildlife, from raptors to sea otters. Now in retirement, Henderson and his wife, Alice, can focus more time on getting to know the animals they are observing. “My kick is to become more of a naturalist and to be quiet and observe their behaviors,” he says. Henderson notes he spends two to three hours photographing and watching the otters each time he visits the Morro Bay estuary near his home in California. He can tell which otters are pups by the way they cling to their mothers and which are the teenagers by the way they swim in and try to disrupt mom. Some photos can immediately tug at your heart, and for Henderson he knew this otter was something special. “I knew right away the image had emotional impact,” Henderson says.

Second Place, Wildlife: Myer Bornstein

When you’re a nature photographer, it pays to be flexible and patient. Myer Bornstein originally traveled to Utah in 2012 to visit Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area to photograph the bald eagles that winter there. Upon arriving, Bornstein was disheartened to find that the birds had left early because of the unseasonably warm winter. He decided to explore the area and eventually happened upon this bison supporting a flurry of avian activity near Antelope Island. His was one of the only cars parked along the side of the road so Bornstein knew the photo would be somewhat of a rarity. “These starlings on the bison reminded me of how cowbirds used to follow bison across the Great Plains hundreds of years ago to eat the insects off their backs,” Bornstein says. “It felt special to be a part of it.”

Third Place, Wildlife: Jan Facinelli

As a practicing veterinarian for 45 years, Jan Facinelli has experience interacting closely with many different species of wildlife. As a nature photographer, she believes in interacting with wildlife as little as possible. Being “one with nature” she says is how she was able to capture such a beautifully composed shot. “It’s about being Zen with nature,” Facinelli says. “That’s when you’ll see wildlife you weren’t expecting.” Facinelli loves photographing at national wildlife refuges across the United States and she believes her years of experience have led her to a newfound appreciation for getting that perfect shot. “I’m starting to think differently about how to capture a photograph,” she says. 

First Place, Wild Lands: Donna Kramer

Donna Kramer’s interest in nature photography started with a safari to Africa in 1984. But it took another 30 years before she really dedicated herself to trying to take the best possible photos. During a week-long cruise in Canada and Greenland to photograph polar bears, Kramer was able to take in the vast landscape these bears call home. She was disappointed to see only nine bears on the trip, but this particular bear made up for that. “He was traveling alone and was so curious he came right up to the boat,” she says. He made quite an impression. Kramer says she is toying with the idea of taking a more extended and up-close trip to Churchill, Manitoba, to photograph bears there.

Second Place, Wild Lands: Debbie Tubridy

Capturing landscape photographs is a challenge for Debby Tubridy. She is usually focused on the details of her subjects, the eye of a bison or the facial expression of a polar bear. “I always try to pull back from capturing one animal and try to capture the environment they are in,” she says. She succeeded with this photo, which allows the viewer to see the entire landscape. One of Tubridy’s goals for her photography is to bring the natural world to people who may not have a chance to travel to see these animals in the wild. “I feel an obligation to educate through my photographs,” she says.

Third Place, Wild Lands: Randy Traynor

Some people might tire of visiting the same place year after year, but Randy Traynor finds it exciting. Each fall Traynor visits the Great Smoky Mountains in hopes of discovering a new angle that will make his photos stand out. To capture this photo, Traynor put on his wading boots and walked into the stream. “I try to create something unique and different,” he says. He believes every photo provides an opportunity for people to see something from a new perspective. “We all have our own moment in time that we can share with the world, he says.”

To see more amazing photos from other top contenders, visit

Photo Credit: © Thomas Cooper






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