Debbie Crammond has always had a love for the outdoors, and Riding Mountain National Park is no exception.
Having spent more than 20 years photographing the park, Crammond can say she has been charged by a bear, seen a lynx in the winter and had a chance encounter with a wolf.
"The park is just full of abundance — wildlife, flowers, the ecosystem, the trees, everything. It’s beautiful in there," she said.
"There’s lakes, there’s the bison enclosure, it’s gorgeous. If I don’t get a wildlife picture I’m going to definitely get a landscape picture or a sunset picture — and just the thrill of looking for wildlife."
Crammond is among the thousands of members on the Riding Mountain National Park public Facebook page, many of whom have shared their own images to the group, from various species of wildlife to nighttime shots and auroras.
Dauphin resident Craig Taylor is one of those members, having dabbled in photography since high school but becoming more serious about it over the last few years after he retired.
He tries to get to the park a couple of times a week, focusing mostly on taking shots of landscapes, night scapes, starry skies and northern lights.
Occasionally he’ll run into people in the park, especially if there is a good forecast for northern lights.
"More often than not, you don’t really see anybody," he said.
Crammond’s presence in the park and her frequent appearances on the Riding Mountain Facebook page have earned her the nickname, "Riding Mountain lady," a moniker she came across a few years ago.
She doesn’t mind the name. If anything, her more than two-decades worth of visits has made her appreciate the interactions between humans and animals even more, something she hopes more people — whether it’s visitors or other photographers — keep in mind.
"For me, the animal’s safety comes first. If I get hurt taking pictures that’s my own fault. I took that risk and I definitely wouldn’t want something put down because of me, but a lot of people don’t think that way, that that animal is going to be put down because of that."
For Matthew Henry, a 16-year-old photographer from Treherne, understanding an animal’s habitat and patterns of behaviour definitely helps, but most of the time it’s about finding that small fraction of time to capture an incredible moment with an animal.
Henry has been taking photos for approximately four years and despite his age, he doesn’t think about it most of the time. Although he admits it has been a challenge trying to balance his wildlife photography with school, sports and cadets, combined with trying to sell his prints online, in art galleries, and as greeting cards. He has also contributed his images to the South Mountain Press.
"Seeing your work printed is so satisfying, it comes to life, it’s a lot different from the screen, and being able to share that with people means a lot to me," he said.
This past winter, Henry got what he called his first good photos of a wolf in the park, a moment which lasted less than a minute and probably wouldn’t have happened if the person he was with hadn’t pointed it out.
Over the summer, he and a friend came across a young bear that climbed a tree and took a nap in the canopy before coming down and travelling in the opposite direction.
Earlier this year, Henry showcased his photos at the Tiger Hills Arts Association in Holland for an exhibit called "Call of the Wild."
And between July and August of this year his photos will be on display at Wasagaming Community Arts.
But complementing his respect for wildlife is his desire to be an ethical photographer, a point he has made for himself after witnessing uncomfortable situations in the past, including one where he saw someone walk straight towards an owl to try and startle it in order to capture it flying away.
"What we’re trying to do is get pictures of animals displaying natural behaviour and if you have a lot of experience you can recognize when a person has done something they shouldn’t have."
Despite this, Henry said the majority of photographers in the park are extremely ethical. As he gets closer to finishing high school, Henry said he isn’t considering making a career out of photography but wants to become a conservation officer instead.
"A part of the reason why I’m in photography — not just watching the animal — is spreading awareness of issues of wildlife and get people interested," he said.
"Some people, they just want to be by themselves out there, and that’s totally cool. But I get a lot of enjoyment from sharing it with others, because the more people that are interested in wildlife the more people that are going to fight for them."
After years of shooting photos in Riding Mountain, Crammond opened her first exhibit last summer at the Watson Art Centre in Dauphin, where she sold 25 of the 40 photos she had.
"They do have a fun attitude," she said of the animals she encounters. "Sometimes they’re mad, sometimes they’re happy, sometimes they don’t want anything to do with you, and sometimes they’ll sit there and pose and they’re just as intrigued by you as you are by them."
She too tries to be as respectful of the wildlife as she can, choosing to remain calm and not make the animal feel like it’s being threatened.
"I just get rid of all that energy, you change your energy and you walk slowly and just act like you’re not there. I don’t want to scare them because sometimes if you scare them, eventually they’re going to run out in front of a vehicle and get hit because they’re scared," she said.
"There’s consequences to your actions in wildlife and a lot of people don’t understand."
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