This Award-Winning Photographer Befriended Goats, Loons and Owls

By Rebecka Calderwood

“You’re never really done improving, but I think I’m ready to start now. I think I’ve learned enough skills that I can start shooting.”

That’s straight from the mouth of 24-year-old British Columbia photographer, Connor Stefanison. But Stefanison wasn't referring to the wildlife or nature photography he’s known for, instead speaking about his goal of becoming a photojournalist.

“A lot of it is where I live, wanting to preserve all of the nature I’ve grown up with and (maintaining) it for generations to come,” he said.

For the second time, Stefanison was recently named Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Rising Star by the international competition at the Natural History Museum in London, U.K. His first win was in 2013. Additionally, he won this year’s Fritz Pölking Junior Prize for his mountain goat series.

These awards wouldn’t have been possible without Stefanison’s most productive photography trip to a mountain goat habitat in southeastern British Columbia. He admits his photos from this four-day trip weren’t taken to highlight the need of conservation efforts, but because of this, he hopes to return for a second shoot depicting the goats’ dwindling habitat.

Surrounded by stars, a large dominant billy mountain goat rests while the rest of the herd grazes on alpine grasses.  © Connor Stefanison

Surrounded by stars, a large dominant billy mountain goat rests while the rest of the herd grazes on alpine grasses. 

© Connor Stefanison

When asked about his favourite photo, Stefanison reverted to describing his "best" instead; an image taken close to his B.C. roots. 

“A barred owl flying towards the camera at night,” he said.

A female barred owl swoops through an urban forest in Burnaby, B.C, Canada. Subject attracted with a dead mouse.  © Connor Stefanison

A female barred owl swoops through an urban forest in Burnaby, B.C, Canada. Subject attracted with a dead mouse. 

© Connor Stefanison

In fact, it took him two weeks and many attempts to get the shot just right, seeking out this particular owl who lives in the forest near his home.

“She’s always there, and I feed her,” he added. “We’re good friends.”

But Stefanison wasn't finished making connections with nature's wildlife.

“I found this one loon that was amazingly tolerant and really didn’t mind my presence, at all. I was able to go up to it, stay close and spend a few days just sitting beside it,” he said.

A female common loon sits on her nest at sunset in the interior of B.C Canada. © Connor Stefanison

A female common loon sits on her nest at sunset in the interior of B.C Canada.

© Connor Stefanison

There’s sentimental value to this story, and to this loon, for Stefanison. Two years later, he found the same bird just 20 yards away from her original spot. Stefanison's absolute favourite is this wide-angle shot at sunset.

“They all look pretty much the same, but maybe it’s just because I spent so much time with this one that I could immediately recognize her,” he said. “I was still able to get much closer to her than to any other loon.”

This is the same individual common loon as the previous image, except this was taken two years later in 2014. © Connor Stefanison

This is the same individual common loon as the previous image, except this was taken two years later in 2014.

© Connor Stefanison

Stefanison’s first encounter with conservation was with this species of bird. Audubon Magazine sent him to shoot common loon conservation efforts in Wyoming, in June 2014. He left for Wyoming the same day he graduated from Simon Fraser University with a biology degree, specializing in ecology, conservation, and evolution. The Loon Rangers series was the first time Stefanison experimented with photojournalism.

“As the years go on, I’ve learned more about photojournalism and conservation photography. I realized how powerful photography can be,” said Stefanison.

In this series, Stefanison’s knack for photojournalism appears. He shoots the team’s conservation process by telling a story through his photos. One photo in the series shows a researcher holding a common loon at its neck. This act, as Stafanison explains in the caption, helps calm and prevent the loon from injuring herself.

When handling a Common Loon, its head is held to keep it calm and prevent it from injuring itself.  © Connor Stefanison

When handling a Common Loon, its head is held to keep it calm and prevent it from injuring itself. 

© Connor Stefanison

“It was nice knowing that I could help out my favourite bird with photography and get that story out to the public,” said Stefanison.

After winning numerous awards and making a career out of his photography, Stefanison is continuously improving his photography skills, along with the skills of others (through workshops). His ultimate goal is to work as a full-time conservation photojournalist, shooting stories about wildlife and wildlife conflicts for National Geographic.

“I really like my pictures to have some sort of positive impact on people, even if it’s just getting them inspired to get outdoors more and appreciate what they have around them,” he said. “There’s so much to shoot with climate change, with habitat loss and habitat fragmentation -- that’s a big one. I’d like to do work with that.”

You can see more of Stefanison's work at www.connorstefanison.com.

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