Sidney couple wins nature photo competition two years in a row with grizzly cub shots

A Sidney couple who share a passion for nature photography have won the top prize in a B.C. and Yukon photo competition for the second year in a row, this time for an image of grizzly cubs playing in a river in the Chilcotin.

Steve Smith and Leah Gray are both seasoned photographers with a long history of award- winning images captured in Canada and abroad.

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This year, Smith captured the Best in Show title at the Lions Gate Camera Club’s 2020 Celebration of Nature Photography competition, for his photograph Grizzly Cubs Playfighting.

He took the prize-winning picture of two grizzly clubs romping in the Chilco River during a trip last summer to Tsylos Park Lodge, a wilderness lodge at Chilco Lake in the Chilcotin.

“It was challenging and I had to really work hard to get that perfect shot,” said Smith, who has spent decades shooting nature. “We were on a river on a flat-bottomed boat that was always moving about — then you throw in the weight of those big lenses.”

While Smith was at the bow of the boat capturing the moment, Leah Gray was in the stern, unable to get a clean shot of the playful bruins.

That was not the case in 2019, when she took Siblings, a picture of two grizzly cubs tussling on the shores of Khutzeymateen Inlet, in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary on the province’s north coast.

Her image not only earned her Best in Show at the 2019 Celebration of Nature competition, it went on to take the gold medal in the Photographic Society of America’s nature image of the year.

The couple both belong to the Victoria Camera Club, where they met. They have been together as partners for three years, after the deaths of both of their spouses.

Gray, who first picked up a camera to take pictures of her son playing football almost 15 years ago, says she finds photography therapeutic. “When you pick up a camera, you live for the moment. You can lose a whole day in your own bubble.

“In wildlife photography, you concentrate so much on the subject. Sometimes you need to be able to put down your camera and enjoy your surroundings.”

Although Smith has taken pictures for decades, most of his early work was for business reports as a professional forester. Once he retired — he is shy about giving his age — he started devoting more of his time to nature photography.

Having a shared passion, and a competitive streak, inspires both to devote time and effort to their craft.

“Although I may have been taking pictures longer, I was hesitant in entering my pictures in competitions, as I am more of a private person,” said Smith.

“After I met Leah, I would see her coming home with gold medals. With her encouragement, I began to enter my pictures as well.”

The pair now plan trips with the goal of capturing prize-winning pictures in mind, going over ideas on a daily basis and discussing what they plan to shoot.

“We may be out there together,” said Gray. “But we are both looking to capture our own picture.”

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