Youth and talent often go hand-in-hand. We may believe that making a mark in any artistic or professional venue requires years of training and maturity, but more and more, young talent proves that age is not always better.
In fact, in the world of nature photography, Sam Kaye, from Radlett, Hertfordshire, is one of many young, talented photographers to compete against the top international photographers and to win. He snapped up the Royal Photographic Society’s top award in 2011. Only twelve years old at the time, Sam competed against veteran photographers much older than him. A photographer since the age of six, Sam also won the Royal Horticultural Society Young Photographer of the Year award in 2010.
Another young virtuoso in the world of nature photography is Connor Stefanison. He is only 22! And yet he has already won a number of prizes and scholarships for his nature photography, and publications such as Nature’s Best Photography and Canadian Geographic have already featured his work.
Connor’s recent awards garnered him international attention. He received the Eric Hosking Portfolio Award for 2013, the first North American photographer to win this prestigious award. He also earned the honor of being one of the 2013 Wildlife Photographers of the Year whose work is on exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the Royal British Columbia Museum.
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Decoded Past welcomes the honor to feature this interview with Connor Stefanison, one of nature photography’s most aspiring young artists.
Interview With Connor Stephanison
Decoded Past: Connor, when did you first show an interest in photography?
CS: I first became interested in photography in around 2006, but only really started in 2008. My friends and I would always take photos of each other when we were mountain biking. I always tried to compose the images thoughtfully and was always interested in looking at the work of the top mountain bike photographers. Having a large background with hunting, fishing, and various other outdoor activities, I very quickly transitioned to nature photography.
Decoded Past: Tell me about your first camera. Was it a digital camera?
CS: My first quality camera was a Canon Rebel XTI (digital). It was more my family’s camera, but I would use it the most. When I was very young, I remember having my own cheap little film cameras which were fun to play around with.
Decoded Past: Who was your inspiration in photography? Have you inherited your love of this art form from someone in the family? Or from a teacher/mentor?
CS: My friend’s dad was into wildlife photography, so I first learned that wildlife photography was a “thing” from him. Other than that there are many people, but not really one specific person. My dad is also interested in photography, and that’s how I first had access to camera gear. As far as photographers whose work I really like, I would say Vincent Munier, Stefano Unterthiner, Steve Winter, Joel Sartore, Jasper Doest, Matthew Studebaker, and Marsel Van Oosten, to name a few.
Decoded Past: Why nature photography? I suppose living in British Columbia, you find a wealth of natural subjects almost at your doorstep. What is it about nature that captures your attention?
CS: Growing up with the large outdoor background really got me interested. I’ve always liked looking at nature photos, so actually being able to take them is really cool. I also really enjoy finding animals and being close to them. With other subjects I can get bored fairly easily, but there are always so many new subjects to shoot with nature.
Decoded Past: You must have to sit for hours to catch that perfect shot. Before digital photography, you would have gone through countless rolls of film before you had captured the right image. How many shots do you take before you’re satisfied with one?
CS: I’m asked this question often, and I really don’t sit around for hours/days to wait for an animal. I know of many great locations where the wildlife is plentiful, so I rarely have to do much waiting. Sometimes I’ll return to a subject many times to perfect an image. For the past 6 weeks I’ve been working on capturing a bobcat with my motion triggered camera trap. I check the camera every 1-2 weeks and then adjust my settings from there to try and improve for the next week’s images. Sometimes the first image is the best and then sometimes it’s the last. It always changes.
Decoded Past: Do you have one favourite shot that truly captures your soul? Can you describe it?
CS: My favourite shot that I’ve taken so far is my Barred Owl image that is in my Eric Hosking Portfolio award. This image took a lot of work to perfect and is the closest photo I’ve taken to home. Taking that photo made me learn new techniques and appreciate the great photo opportunities that can be had in the city.
Decoded Past: Tell me something about your artistic process. Do you alter your photos digitally other than just cropping? I suppose it’s not so different from working in a darkroom and adjusting the exposure on the paper. Do you find this to be part of the artistic production?
CS: If I have to, I’ll crop my images, but I try to keep it as minimal as possible. I use Photoshop to edit my images. As I progress with my photography, I find myself having to edit less and less. All I do now is perhaps a crop and adjust things like brightness, contrast, white balance, and colour vibrancy. I’m now trying to keep these adjustments to a minimum.
Decoded Past: : When did you know that photography would be your life’s work?
CS: I still don’t know if it will be my life’s work. I hope it will be, but it is very tough to make a living off of nature photography. Since the animals can’t pay you, there are limited ways to make money. Many professional photographers have a secondary source of income. Maybe I can answer this question better in a few years and see where I’m at!
Connor Stefanison’s Bright Future
For this talented young photographer, a career in the field of his passion may closely relate to what he’s done so far. Connor is currently working on a Biology degree in Ecology and Conservation. He hopes to work as a biologist once he graduates. Who knows? Perhaps his talent and his love of nature will combine with his academic acumen to create a career of his dreams.