Bart Elder once considered himself lucky to spy a single bighorn sheep in the vicinity of his parents' ranch near Summer Lake.
Then in 2008, Elder witnessed a moment that wildlife photographers dream about — seven bighorns stepped over a ridge, perfectly posed in a V-shaped formation, and seemingly waited for him to take their picture. His image of those seven bighorn sheep won in the Wildlife category of the inaugural Oregon Outdoors Photo Contest, which drew 342 entries.
"It was kind of amazing how they just all lined up there," says the 51-year-old Grants Pass resident.
Following sheep tracks about a half-mile from the nearest road, Elder found himself perched downhill of a steep, rock-strewn ridge.
The spectacle of a sheep emerging from the opposite side almost immediately became two sheep, then three, followed by another and still another.
"This is getting really good," recalls Elder.
By the time Elder had finished snapping shots with his Canon 40D, seven of the spiral-horned grazers were staring down at him. Viewers don't see two more sheep that dawdled on the other side of the ridge.
"I had to sit down and brace myself so I didn't slide the rest of the way down the hill," says Elder.
Wild horses in the Steens Mountain wilderness have been Elder's most recent quarry — and likely his next contest entry barring a more dramatic sighting.
"I'd really like to get a cougar."
People in Nature winner
Liking Oregon has come easily for Bill Anders since moving this year to Ashland from Germany.
The retired U.S. Air Force senior master sergeant says he is more accustomed to shooting the human figure surrounded by architecture in Asia and Europe than he is the outdoors. But paddlers on Sparks Lake inspired him to shoot that locale, which won our contest's People in Nature category.
"I just wanted to sit there and relax for the rest of the day," says Anders, 44.
Driving the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway home from Bend furnished Anders' first view of Sparks Lake, full of nonmotorized watercraft on a Sunday morning in June. Shooting with a Canon 5DII, Anders says he likes the human figure for "perspective" in landscapes and tries to depict "different moods."
The essence of this scene, says Anders, were the revelers on rafts, fishermen and people loading picnic lunches into canoes. Their enjoyment confirmed Anders' reason for relocating to the Rogue Valley.
"There's so much to do year-round," he says. "I haven't found a place in Oregon yet that I wouldn't go back to."
Returning to photograph one of his favorite Portland-area waterfalls in June, Steve Whipple finally got the shot he didn't get last fall.
By wading into the water at Elowah Falls, Whipple also positioned himself to win our Landscape category.
"And the water's cold," he says.
Enhancing the green and yellow tones around the falls emphasizes the area's lushness, says the 61-year-old Central Point resident, who also entered landscapes of the Cascade Range and the Oregon Coast.
Oregon's iconic Multnomah Falls is just a few miles from Elowah, which Whipple says he visited for the first time last year.
"You get isolated very quickly even though you're right off the interstate," he says.
Whipple says he purposely blurred the water and combined three frames from his Canon EOS 5D Mark III into one, taking the best range of light from each.
"I use that extensively," he says. "It more accurately reflects what your eye can see."
People's Choice winner
Another waterfall, this one closer to home, earned 21-year-old Dustin Peters the People's Choice win in our contest.
Hiking with friends in July to National Creek Falls, the Rogue Community College student took a long exposure with his Canon EOS 5D. The image was a favorite of contest judges, as well as online voters, and was a finalist in the Landscape category.
"The slow roar as you're hiking to it was really cool," says Peters. "I enjoy going out in nature."
Peters posted the photo to his Facebook page. More Facebook postings persuaded Peters' friends to vote in the contest to show their support for his pastime, which the Eagle Point resident says he hopes to turn into a career. Readers cast 374 votes overall.
Peters also entered a black-and-white panoramic view of Harris Beach and a composition of three people jumping in the hills of east Medford.
His depiction of the falls near Diamond Lake in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is Peters' first "fully composed" shot of a waterfall.
Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or firstname.lastname@example.org.