The National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole is known for vast gatherings of ungulates. But one foggy day when Jackson High School student Gage Graus visited the refuge with his camera, what caught his eye was not a crowd, but a lone bighorn ram in the distance.
Graus snuck up on the animal. When he got close enough to photograph it, he said, he was struck by the way the dense fog added dimension and drama to the scene.
The image he captured, a portrait of a formidable-looking creature against a backdrop of winter fog, snagged Graus first place in the “Wyoming Wildlife” category of The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming’s 2019 student photo contest. As part of a special Photo Friday series, WyoFile will highlight first-place winners from all four categories.
Graus, 18, shot the portrait on a Canon 80D. The portrait is defined enough to show the ram’s battle scars and chipped horns that tell of previous scrums. The imposing animal stands in stark contrast to its background.
“I like the mystical feeling the fog gave the image,” Graus, 18, told WyoFile.
Now in its tenth year, the Nature Conservancy of Wyoming’s student photo contest is open to photographers between the ages of 14-19 who attend high school in Wyoming. Students are urged to submit images of Wyoming nature that convey their connection to conservation of the state’s land, water and wildlife. The 2019 contest drew more than 500 entries, according to TNC.
Graus said living in Jackson gives him a unique opportunity to discover wild places and their inhabitants.
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“I think it is very important to document wildlife in their natural habitat to raise awareness and show people who their actions affect,” he wrote to WyoFile. “If I go out and document a beautiful ram, hopefully people will see the image and see its natural beauty and help to fight against forms of poaching and other environmental destruction.”
More information on the photo contest, along with entries and winning images, can be seen here.