Polar bears in the summer: Vancouver man wins prestigious wildlife photography prize
VANCOUVER -- Green grass, blue skies and polar bears.
It's not a combination many people picture when thinking of the burly creatures in Canada's Arctic, but it's one that was captured by Martin Gregus. His breathtaking and intimate photos of polar bears enjoying the summer sun earned him one of wildlife photography's most prestigious honours.
This week the Vancouver man won the Rising Star Portfolio Award at the Natural History Museum's 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, a prize given to young photographers aged 18 to 26. His work will be featured at the London, U.K., museum and later toured around the world.
"It was just a dream come true," he told CTV National News of winning the award. "I've been doing photography since I was eight years old."
Gregus and his team, which included his assistant and a bear guard, travelled to Hudson Bay for 13 days in 2020 and 20 days in 2021 to get up close and personal with the local wildlife.
"We managed to document some unbelievable behaviours, and it was so exciting just waking up in the morning and seeing these bears right in front of your window," he said.
But it's not just about being in the right place at the right time, according to Gregus. Part of the work involves avoiding interference with the animals and allowing them to get accustomed to your presence -- something that is evident in one of his photos, which features a mother nursing two of her cubs.
"I get goosebumps thinking about it," he said of the photo. "[It was] very intimate, and that's just hours and hours of homework you put in with these bears to sort of introduce them to you."
Other pictures from the winning set included two female polar bears playing in shallow water, along with an adult taking an afternoon nap in the grass with a cub.
Many of the photos were taken with the use of drones, which let Gregus observe the surrounding wildlife while keeping his distance.
It wasn't always so easy, however, keeping the bears at bay. Camping in the wilderness without a bathroom in sight can leave a person rather exposed.
"Every time you need to go, you take a gun with you and you just go out and find a nice area and you hide there and occasionally polar bears go by," Gregus said.
Gregus had to beat out a wide field to win his award.
"Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the world's biggest wildlife photography competition. It's been running for 57 years," Natalie Cooper, competition judge and senior researcher at the Natural History Museum, told CTV National News. "We had over 50,000 entries this year and we had to then narrow those down to just 100."
The competition this year included awards in 19 categories and also offered a number of commendations.
"What we're looking for is technically excellent photographs but really beautiful photographs as well, so things that make you stop and think and want to keep looking at them," she said. "We're also interested in things that have a story behind them, too."
Gregus also wasn't the only Canadian to be recognized for his wildlife photography.
Gil Wizen of Mississauga, Ont., won two awards. One was in the “Behaviour: Invertebrates” category, for his close-up of a spider in the midst of weaving with its webbing. Two more of his photos received commendations under this category.
His second award was in the “Urban Wildlife” category, where he photographed a large Brazilian wandering spider, seemingly guarding its newborn brood, after finding them under the bed he was sleeping on.
Shane Kalyn of Vancouver also won an award in the “Behaviour: Birds” category for his close-up of two courting ravens.
Celina Chien was commended in the “Photojournalism” category for her picture of a Bornean orangutan gripping the bars between enclosures at a zoo, and Nichole Vijayan was commended in the “11-14 Years” category for her photo of an eastern bluebird feeding its chick.