B.C. wildlife photographer Connor Stefanison cringed when he realized a bear had been at his photo trap.
Stefanison said it’s common for black bears, with their natural curiosity, to trash the setups. So when he arranged his gear in a forest near Maple Ridge, the last thing he wanted to attract was a bear.
But attract one he did. The resulting picture — a healthy young bear making direct eye contact with the camera — helped earn Stefanison an award in the 51st annual international Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest.
The 24-year-old Burnaby man took the Rising Star award — for a second time — for a portfolio of images that included the bear. He also won in 2013.
His images are part of 100 stunning photographs on display at the Royal B.C. Museum until April 4, 2016.
The pictures and their photographers are from all over the world and are on loan from the Natural History Museum in London, organizer of the contest.
At the Friday opening, Jack Lohman, head of the Royal B.C. Museum, said what struck him about this year’s photographs is the artistry of the images.
Even the pictures with an obvious political message — for example, the ravages of poaching or the questionable confinement of animals — are presented with an artist’s eye for esthetics.
“There is this definite beauty, even when you are learning something from them,” Lohman said.
Stefanison now lives in Burnaby and teaches photography. He became interested in photography at the age of 17.
He was mountain biking nearly every day and started taking pictures of himself and pals going off jumps and performing stunts.
Later, he started taking pictures of wild creatures.
Stefanison was actually trying to capture a picture of western spotted skunks when he snapped the photo of the bear.
The skunk is less known in B.C. than its striped cousin and it was thought a good image might lead to funding for a research project.
But Stefanison also had seen droppings and knew a bear was in the area.
“I absolutely did not want that bear to come by,” he said in an interview.
“Black bears are known to knock over and destroy people’s camera traps just because they are so curious.”
But he knew the photograph was special — the position of the bear’s face and the direct look into the camera lens made it a good image.
Many of his images are captured using photo traps. He arranges the lights, camera angles and then lets the animals click the shutter themselves.
With the exception of the flash, Stefanison doesn’t need to disturb his subjects.
“I’ve got lots of pictures of bobcats, but I’ve only ever seen one once.”