Jesse Winter: from skiing the slopes to photographing them… and anything else newsworthy

Jesse Winter spent the first half of his life trying to make it as a ski racer. But after nine years of competitive racing, the sport lost its appeal.

“I got tired of pursuing something that felt selfish,” said Winter. “It felt pointless to be able to ski from point A to point B faster than someone else.”

He found himself drawn to journalism as he loved to write and was raised in a household with strong political opinions. It seemed like the obvious career path. He became interested in photojournalism as he realized it would be a great way to stay out of the newsroom.

“I don’t want to be tied to a desk,” said Winter. “I’d rather be out in the shit.”

Mountain biker Leighton Poidevin racing in the Iron Maidan Classic in Canmore. Photo by Jesse Winter.

Four years ago he got his first journalistic paying job working for the Toronto based ski magazine Ski Trax. He traveled to ski races and sold his photos as a freelance photographer to the magazine.

“Working freelance for a magazine like Ski Trax presented some challenges but I learned a lot from it,” said Winter. “I learned a lot about the business of working for a magazine.”

This past summer he built on his experience while working for Sun Media in Canmore and Banff. Winter had the opportunity to take photos of a prescribed forest fire in Kananaskis Country for a story he was writing. As he flew over the fire in a helicopter, he could see other helicopters spreading the fire using drip torches.

“We were low enough in the helicopter that you could feel the heat from the fire,” said Winter. “That was cool.”

Prescribed forest fire in Kananaskis Country that Winter covered while writing a story this past summer. Photo by Jesse Winter.

the CBC also wrote about the forest fire and mapped where it happened.

Winter is currently in his last year of journalism school at Langara College and ultimately hopes to work for a wire service once he graduates.

“I want to travel and I really want to try my hand at conflict journalism,” he said.

Mark Burnham: taking pictures while rock climbing and snapping weddings on the side

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Taking six months off during high school to backpack around the world was one of the best choices Mark Burnham ever made. With so many fantastic sights to see, he found that he became used to constantly having his camera at his side.

“It was this trip that really fortified the fact that photography would always be a big part of my life,” said Burnham.

The now 21-year-old labels himself as a wedding and commercial outdoor adventure photographer, but outdoor adventure is where his passion really lies. Burnham’s favourite thing to do is rock climbing… and putting a camera in his hands in such a situation, in any weather, pushes his creative limits.

“There are so many aspects and variables to take into account when you’re shooting in horrible conditions, when you’re a couple thousand feet off the ground or just trying to keep up with the athletes,” said Burnham.

Climbing and photography are Burnham’s two passions and he’s combined them to create fantastic adventure shots.

Burnham has won awards in high school and has been recognized by Simon Fraser University’s newspaper for his photography. He is currently working on his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology at SFU, but he doesn’t want to give up photography for anything.

“A future in physiotherapy is a possibility,” said Burnham. “But I’m spending the next few years building up clients and contacts and just seeing where my photography is taking me.”

His dream career would be to work a maximum of five weddings a year and spend the rest of his time climbing around the world and selling his outdoor adventure photography to outfitters like The North Face and Patagonia.

Check out this video featuring Scott Willson, the director of photo and video for The North Face. He discusses what he looks for in adventure photographers and what they have to go through to become the best.

Burnham’s suggestion for success is to shoot what interests you, and shoot a lot of it. With every picture that’s taken, experience is gained. He also says to never be afraid to take photos because you doubt your experience or equipment because that’s how great opportunities are missed.

Burnham’s wedding photography is now a huge part of his business.

Burnham shot his first wedding engagement session a few years ago when a friend approached him about it.

“I had no idea what I was doing but decided to give it a try,” said Burnham. “She hired me for her wedding as soon as the shoot was over and now weddings are a major part of my business. You never know where life will take you if you’re open to new opportunities.”

Connor Stefanison: from hunter to photographer, he’s still shooting

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Only three years ago, Connor Stefanison began his venture into photography. He has come a long way since then as one of his photos of two common loons will be featured in Canadian Geographic Best Wildlife Pictures 2012, Collectors Issue.

Stefanison has been hunting and fishing his whole life so it seemed only natural to document what was all around him. He says that The Lions Gate Camera Club is really what helped him to get started. Belonging to a photo club is a great way to meet other photographers, new and seasoned, and get tips and critiques. Especially for beginners said Stefanison.

“Compose how you think an image should look, instead of conforming to popular photography culture,” suggested Stefanison. “If you can start shooting images that evoke some sort of initial emotion, then you’re on the right track.”

Since then, Stefanison has been awarded various scholarships, including one to Texas to participate in a large nature photography summit where he learned from other photographers. He’s been a finalist in Canadian Geographic and has also appeared in magazine such as Nature’s Best Photography, Canadian Geographic, Canadian Camera, and some government publications.

Stefanison started out photographing mountain bikers on the forested trails they rode. Being a mountain biker himself, he had vested interest in the sport. His lens shifted towards the natural world, specifically wild animals. Stefanison find birds to be the easiest subject to shoot, since they’re abundant. He’s become an expert at tracking their movements and capturing their peak action.

Bald Eagle with a Pacific Herring in its mouth, taken on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Photo by Connor Stephanison.

He’s begun to expand his portfolio and is trying his hand at shooting landscapes and playing with light. With great results, in my humble opinion.

“I try to compose images the way that I feel works, and I try to shoot subject matter that I enjoy shooting,” said Stefanison.

This past month Stefanison went hiking up Needle Peak, B.C., with two friends and  ended up staying fairly late, through gloomy weather. Once the clouds lifted, the last light of the day shone and he snapped this photo at the peak.

Taken during a hike up Needle Peak, B.C. at sunset. Photo by Connor Stefanison.

“The fall is good for landscapes most places in the province,” said Stefanison.

This photo has fantastic depth, something that’s paramount in landscape photography. It is what makes this picture so great, besides the colours. Michael Frye illustrates how much of a difference depth makes in this blog post found on his blog In the Moment: A Landscape Photography Blog.

Stefanison loves his photography hobby and has a lot of fun doing it. He often goes on outdoor adventures that involve camping, canoeing, waking up at ungodly hours, and enduring all kinds of weather. All for that one magnificent shot.

During one of his photography excursions at Owen Lake, B.C. Stefanison took this shot in the early morning mist. It happens to be one of my personal favourites.

Loons in the early morning mist taken at Owen Lake, B.C. Photo by Connor Stefanison.

For tips on landscape photography, here’s a really easy how-to.

Jess Findlay: youth photographer of the year and nature enthusiast

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Since he was very young, Jess Findlay has had a love affair with the wilderness. He spends most of his time outdoors whether he’s biking with friends, birdwatching, hiking, or capturing images with his Canon 50D.  Inspired by his father’s nature photography, the nineteen-year-old began taking pictures as a hobby, but it quickly grew into much more and he now hopes to make it his career.

“The inspiration I get from the natural world and the initial spark of interest taken from my Dad’s images of wildlife have kept me motivated over the last few years of shooting,” said Findlay.

He has already been widely recognized for his work. In 2010, he won his first award when was placed third in North America in Audubon’s Birds in Focus photography competition, youth category. This past month his photo titled “Second Beach Sunset” made the cover for the fall 2011 issue of Canadian Camera Magazine, in which he and a fellow nature photographer also co-wrote an article. Most recently, his long-time dream of being named Youth Photographer of the Year came true when he was awarded the Windland Smith Rice Award by Nature’s Best Photography. His photo will be displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. along with the winners of other categories.

The photo that won Findlay’s title as Youth Photographer of the Year

While Findlay’s favourite subjects to work with are birds, the most memorable photography experience he’s had happened in August when he spent a week hiking the West Coast of Vancouver Island with two friends. They had set out to photograph black bears feeding on the beach during low tide. After finding the bears on the first day, they set their sights on the elusive Coastal Grey Wolf. They didn’t expect to find one but, while shoring their Zodiac boat a few days later, three full grown wolves and five  pups emerged from the treeline. One adult sat on a rock 50 metres away while another sniffed around the boat while the pups scampered alongside. Barely able to contain his excitement, Findlay seized the opportunity and took some great photos.

“[A] completely unexpected and a truly amazing experience,” said Findlay. “No doubt luck played a big part, as this type of thing is once in a lifetime, even for an experienced outdoorsman who spends countless hours in the wilderness.”

Coastal Gray Wolf shot on Vancouver Island’s West Coast, photo by Jess Findlay.

Findlay’s next adventure will be to Washington to see his photo in the Smithsonian. He’s planning to take a detour along the eastern seaboard and into the Appalachian Mountains to photograph some new terrain.

Findlay’s goal is to create unique and artful images that tell a story about the incredible wildlife that surrounds the West Coast. He also wants to raise awareness about conservation efforts in B.C.

“The more people my images and the images of my fellow nature photographers can reach out to, the better,” said Findlay.