Not many people get to view a sopping wet grizzly bear emerging from the waters of Bathurst Inlet.
But Gary Vizniowski did – and he was able to photograph the bear with his 50-500-millimetre lens and send the image to Canadian Geographic.
In the magazine’s annual Canadian wildlife photography of the year contest in 2011, the image received an honourable mention for capturing the grizzly’s candid just-out-of the-shower expression.
It was among 30 photos from the contest displayed at the Museum of Nature in Ottawa from June until the end of August.
The photos are judged on composition, content, originality, technical quality and visual impact.
“When we have (the entries) down to 100 per category, three judges vote on the images and keep voting, kind of like American Idol until they are down to 10 photos,” said Canadian Geographic new media editor Samia Madwar. “It depends on how striking the pictures are and what kind of impression they make.”
Vizniowski’s photo was taken a few years ago. He and a group of other nature and wildlife enthusiasts were on a boat tour and spotted what they first thought was a harbour seal. On closer look, they realized the furry ears were that of a large grizzly, not a harmless little seal.
“He didn’t want anything to do with us,” said Vizniowski. “I was lucky we were just bobbing in the boat and I was able to get so many clear shots.”
Vizniowski wasn’t always an avid photographer. Although he’s maintained a health interest and always had a camera nearby, he didn’t have enough time to devote to the art.
Once he retired, he became involved in bird watching, and then took up photography to help him identify species more easily.
“Usually they don’t sit there and let you take a bunch of pictures of them,” said Vizniowski. “They’re there for a minute and then they’re gone. At least by photographing them I can use photos to identify them.”
So far his interest in photography has taken him to Africa, Europe, Central America and, more recently, the Yukon and Alaska on a seven-week trip where he took nearly 10,000 photos. He tries to photograph as many birds as he can in the summer – in Hay River alone there are seven types of woodpecker. He’s also made it his personal mission to capture the territorial flower, the mountain aven, as it is a rare sight in Hay River.
Aside from his work on display in Ottawa, it’s all over Hay River, too – from the wildlife banners found on the lampposts in the downtown core featuring two different kinds of sandpiper, a bufflehead and a herring gull, to images in offices and on cloth enviro-bags.
Vizniowski has also submitted 10 photos for the 2012 photo contest at Canadian Geographic.
Right now, he’s started photographing later at night with the commencement of the aurora season.
“It keeps me busy and out of trouble,” laughed Vizniowski. “And it’s a picnic going out right now. One of my shots of the northern lights was taken two years ago when it was 30 below. That’s a lot more challenging. You have to make sure the camera doesn’t freeze up and your batteries don’t die. But I think, and other photographers might agree, that the best lights are out when it’s the coldest.”