LAC LA BICHE - Local wildlife photographer Donna Feledichuk is OK when it comes to waiting. She's spent hours waiting for just the right moment, the right lighting and the right angle to snap what have become award-winning images. She's sat in frozen grasslands waiting for frost-tipped moose to enter just the right sunbeam, and she's crawled along riverbeds to capture feeding pelicans floating among the bull-rushes. So waiting to see if her latest submission will win her a Travel Photographer of the Year award is all part of the process.
If she does win, it will be the latest addition to a collection of accolades the Lac La Biche photographer has captured recently.
This past summer, Feledichuk was the winner of a nation-wide photo contest for the Journal of Wildlife Photography. She is the grand prize winner of this year’s Nature Canada’s photo contest, selected out of 7,300 entries, and she has also made it into the top five in the 2023 Nature Photographer of the Year award in the portfolio category, a contest that had more 21,000 entries.
The married mother of three, whose day-job is a senior administrator at Portage College, says her passion for photography is a passion for the environment, for nature and for wildlife.
She uses her images and her experiences to bring awareness to the various types of wildlife living in the Boreal forest, a place that holds a special significance for her.
“It is the last great forest on earth, and it is my home,” she tells Lakeland This Week, explaining that she is outdoors with her cameras as often as possible.
Before and after work on most days from springtime until late fall, Feledichuk can be found trekking through local forests and back-county, finding and photographing the various animals that have made this natural habitat their home. During the winter months, when sunlight is at a premium — and mostly used up during the workday — she usually only gets out on weekends.
Foxes and bears and Owls, oh my
Feledichuk has captured award winning images of bears, elk, foxes — enough foxes that she produces an annual calendar comprised entirely of the animals — birds, elk and just about everything in between. Some of her favourites are of the Great Grey Owls that she finds in the trees near her rural home. Not all of her photo locations are within the region. When the married mother of ... goes on family trips, she brings the camera. On a recent trip to Jasper while she was on an excursion with other photographers, she captured a rare sighting when a pair of bull elk began clashing antlers. While it was a stunning encounter with nature, it quickly became a dangerous one as well.
According to Feledichuk, the fight attracted three more large bull elk. Very quickly, the people she was travelling with found themselves caught between the two clashing animals and the others.
“We slowly backed our way out of that situation,” she said, explaining that how close she gets to an animal depends on the animal and the situation, but as a rule, she's never too close as to disturb their behaviour.
The art of photography involves a lot of planning and thought, she says. Simply having the right equipment — she shoots with a Canon R5 that 90 per cent of the time has an RF 400mm f2.8 lens mounted to it — is only a portion of the craft.
Feledichuk usually visualizes what she is trying to capture in her mind before heading out into the wilderness. If she is looking for moose one day, she will have a "shot list" in mind of the type of photo she wants, as well as the setting. This, she says, is a significant part of the process and dictates where she goes to find those shots.
Feledichuk’s passion for photography was kindled when she picked up her first camera at age 19. At the time, she was primarily into travel photography and documenting her trips abroad with her family. As her kids got older, she began going out more by herself to capture landscapes and sunsets.
It was during one of these nature photo shoots that a deer just happened to come close to where she was standing, causing her to focus her camera at the animal instead of the background.
“I pretty much became hooked on wildlife photography after that,” she explained.
Sharing her skills with others
While Feledichuk still primarily does wildlife photography for her own enjoyment, the award-winning shooter has also turned her hobby into a business, not only selling photos, but also teaching her craft to others.
She offers both in-person and online workshops. There are one-on-one workshops where clients set the agenda on what they want to work on. She also offers the occasional group workshop.
“I have a steady uptake on the one-on-one workshops usually online and have worked with people across Canada and the US,” she said. “Usually, the people I work with enjoy being outdoors and taking wildlife photos but want to level-up their work and are just starting to consider angles, lighting and background.”
Feledichuk is continually improving her craft. She says some of the best photos she has ever taken have usually involved a great amount of patience along with extraordinary light. This includes a series of backlit fox kits she took this past spring as well as a grizzly at sunrise taken a few years ago during a trip to the mountains.
Her work has been featured in various publications in Canada and abroad, both in print and online, including Canadian Geographic, Nature Canada, Canadian Wildlife Federation, BBC Wildlife, the Sunday Times (London), and North American Nature Photographers Association Expression Magazine.
Feledichuk explained that most of the time, her photography finds its way onto the pages of magazines due to an entry in a photo contest that is featured. However, sometimes, editors find her work on social media and then reach out.
Another source is her work as part of the Canadian Conservation Photographers Collective. This group, she says, is comprised of Canadian wildlife photographers and videographers who use their work to highlight conservation efforts.
Feledichuk's work has been featured as part of campaigns organized by this group.
After enjoying photography for almost all of her adult life, and as she now waits for the results of her latest contest submission, Feledichuk says her success in the industry is based on the same fundamentals she uses on each photo shoot.
“I have spent considerable hours sitting in one spot just waiting for the right moment. If you do not have patience, you will not be successful.”
Feledichuk's images and more information about her photography are also featured on her own social media page.