Cochrane photographer, Jacquie Matechuk, has earned the prestigious title of Nature Photographer of the Year 2023.

Her winning photograph features an endangered bear, showcasing both her talent and commitment to capturing the beauty of nature.

Matechuk is just back from a trip to the Netherlands where she accepted the award by Nature Talks. 

The photo, titled, "He Looks to the Heavens" is of a Spectacled bear. She captured the incredible photograph while in the Andean Mountain Range in Ecuador earlier this year. 


Matechuk says she did a lot of research about bears in that area, which is the same type of bear that Paddington Bear was fashioned after.  

"They are a very unusual species compared to what we're used to as far as grizzly bears, black bears, that type of thing. They're very social, very calm, almost bear sloths if you will, they don't move quite that slow, but they love to be up in the trees."

In order to capture the incredible photograph, Matechuk embarked on a challenging journey, hiking over 2,400 meters above sea level through the mountains. She was accompanied by a knowledgeable local guide, who has dedicated decades to studying and safeguarding the Spectacled bears.

Matechuk described the day of the photo as chaotic. Rushing through a canyon in rain with a sudden temperature drop, followed by a rapid temperature rise, fogged her camera, affecting autofocus and requiring adjustment to shutter speed.

As Matechuk clicked away, the bear gazed into sunlight. Despite camera issues, she managed a few shots, resulting in a winning photo resembling a painting.

"Being able to give a subject a voice, that is ultimately the goal as a photographer is to be able to share the world that's so dissociated for people that are literally just, you know, blinders on trying to get through the day to day so hard to appreciate things so far away. And then if we do our jobs, great, we can create I always call it a cause to pause." says Matechuk. 

"You post something on social media, if you can just stop people for that brief second, or two. then maybe they'll read a little more about it, maybe they'll just open their mind,  maybe their heart, maybe even reshare it, who knows but one little step at a time we try and put a reason out there to really absorb the beauty around us."

Chosen by an international panel of five judges, Matechuk's photograph stood out among over 21,000 submissions from 96 countries in the competition.

Next up for Matechuk is a trip to Kenya and Uganda to photograph gorillas and chimpanzees.

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