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Winners of the Earth Explorer Photo Contest share their views on work life, photography and where they get their inspiration
By Carmi Levy
We asked explorers worldwide to send us their best photos, and received over 150 entries for our three photo contest categories: In the field, Exploration Technology, and Exploration sites and landscapes.
Without exception, all entries reflected a deep appreciation for the beauty and adventure of exploring rugged, often wild and wide open spaces. Carrying a camera to the worksite gave many of our contest winners a chance to capture and remember an experience – breathtaking landscapes, interesting people and moments in time they didn't want to forget.
"Pictures make great memories," says grand prize winner Claudia Rueda Ruiz. "When taking a picture, you capture more than what you see at first. So often I discover details on pictures that I didn't or couldn't see when I shot it."
Capturing the spontaneous spirit of the Yukon
Claudia's winning photo, Exploration team in action, reflects the kind of spontaneous spirit that typifies the Yukon environment where it was captured. She says she didn't follow a formal process to grab the shot. It just happened to work out that way. While having a camera at the ready and taking the time to shoot can be challenging for explorers, Claudia says it's always worth the effort – on the job or off.
"It's not always easy to make the shots just like I want them while I am out doing fieldwork," she says. "Often there is no time or the conditions are not ideal. But on a nice evening, I like to go for a short hike around camp and take pictures of the scenery, fauna and flora."
It's a sentiment echoed by our other winners, too. Jelle De Bruyckere category winner for In the field: real life earth explorers exploring, says he feels lucky to have the opportunity.
"When I am out on the field, I drag that thing everywhere with me," he says with a laugh. "Sometimes it's a pain, but when I do make that perfect shot, it makes it all worth it. My work as an explorer brings me to places where most people will never go to in their lives. Therefore I feel lucky."
Sharing experiences with family and friends in Belgium
Jelle agrees that photography can freeze time – and shrink distances.
"Pictures keep my memories alive," he says. "Whenever I can, I try to capture unique, inspiring moments in my life on film. When combined with stunning, breathtaking scenery, it makes not only a great picture for me, but also for everyone else who appreciates the beauty of nature."
He adds photography helps him share his experiences with family and friends back in Belgium, which makes his living and working overseas a bit easier on everyone.
The quality of this year's winning photos defies the equipment used to capture some of them. It doesn't always demand high-end equipment.
"To be honest my winning photo was somewhat ironic. I had bought a serious digital SLR and hadn't skimped on the lenses," says Rob Heaslop, who won the Exploration Technology: exploration field projects, technology, and equipment category. "But then I snapped this photo with my small compact digital! Quite a few people enjoyed the photo but enjoyed it more when I told them my cheap camera caught it."
Rob, who says the natural landscape inspires him, says he "greatly enjoys being able to experience many wild and lonely places," and uses his photography to try to "capture different perspectives than what I see with my eyes."
It's a natural fit for the explorer in him.
"Photography and work tie in very well together," he says. "The past two years, I have spent a large portion of my time living in tents or swags in the Pilbara region of Western Australia exploring for Fe ore. The scenery is stunning and so photo opportunities are always there. While I prefer landscape photography, it is interesting to capture human presence within areas of wide openness."
Ready when the right time and place presents itself
For Alaska native Ron Gile, whose photo captured the Exploration sites and landscapes category prize, his photo equipment always comes with him.
"You never know when you will find a new area, and some places are so hard to get into that I never will attempt to go back," he says. "Capturing the area with photography allows me to visit anytime without the struggle."
"We live in a beautiful world and it cannot be experienced through a TV," he adds. "I love being outdoors and ready with my equipment when the right time and place presents itself."
Knowing the right time and place comes easily to Ron, as he's been shooting since he was a teenager.
"Southeast Alaska has some of the most beautiful primeval landscape I have yet to see and I always been in awe of its rugged landscapes," he says. "My dad was a geologist and we were always heading out to look for crystals on some tip from somebody. It was his excuse to get out and share time with us kids. Photographing the landscape helps me to capture the memories and moments that I have growing up here."
His father's lessons are now being passed on to the next generation, as Ron now heads out, camera in hand, with his own kids.
"It is a great way to spend time with them and pass on values of this world taught to me by my dad," he says. "I have taught them to not be afraid to turn around. When the obvious focus point is in front of you, turn around and look behind you. People miss some beautiful landscapes when they are focused on the one thing in front of them."
He adds, with a chuckle, that turning around is also a great way to check that a bear isn't walking up behind you.