Rare bear helps Alberta photographer win international contest

An Alberta woman has won a prestigious nature photography contest after traveling to South America to photograph a vulnerable species of bear.

Jacquie Matechuk​, who lives in Cochrane, Alta., won the Nature Photographer of the Year award in a contest run by Nature Talks, a Netherlands-based photography agency.

Her winning image, He Looks to the Heavensfeatures a spectacled bear perched on a fig tree in Ecuador.

The species name comes from the rings of light-colored fur around the eyes, making it look like they’re wearing glasses.

Matechuk​ said that on the day the photo was taken, it seemed like everything was going wrong. She had to rush down a canyon to get to the unique habitat where the bears live, and it started to rain.

“We had so many problems. Hurrying to get down the canyon — massive swing in temperature because it got very cold, pouring rain. Then the sun came out, and I mean it shot up like 12, 13 degrees Celsius,” she said.

That rapid swing in temperature fogged up her camera, which meant she was unable to get autofocus to work, and she had to turn her shutter speed down.

“I was on the borderline of tears when everything started to fog up, because I could see him right there and it was so beautiful,” she said.

WATCH | Jacquie Matechuk explains what happened on the day she took the winning image:

Alberta woman named top nature photographer after snapping rare bear

Jacquie Matechuk​ won Nature Photographer of the Year 2023 for a stunning photo of a bear in the Andean Mountain range in Ecuador.

The bear looked up into the sunlight as Matechuk was snapped away.

She said she was able to take a few photos before the camera completely stopped working, but that combination of factors created the winning photo — which resembles a painting.

“Which I probably would have never gotten to on my own, in complete honesty. So sometimes things just happen for a reason,” Matechuk said.

Until she planned her trip to South America, Matechuk knew very little about spectacled bears.

“They’re very peaceful, gentle type of creature, even though they are the size they are. And I hope it makes people curious enough to ask more questions and to look at our environments and how those animals are part of this beautiful, Biodiverse culture we live in.”

The photograph was selected by an international panel of five judges. The contest received more than 21,000 entries from 96 countries.

“The Spanish moss hanging from this centuries-old fig tree gives an incredible sense of three-dimensionality, while the soft light filtering through the colors highlights the profound connection between species and habitat in this image,” said Nature Talks chairman Marco Gaiotti said in a media release.

“The silhouette of an Andean bear crossing the Spanish moss hanging from an ancient tree is something that goes beyond the most vivid dreams of a nature photographer.”

Matechuk’s photo of the bear also won the Nature Talks competition in the mammals category.

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