ICF Pro-Tour Photography Competition

Dec 2010

By: Laura Crawford Williams

In April 2010, I participated in the Images for Conservation, Pro-tour Photography Competition. In this competition, twenty professional photographers are chosen and randomly matched with participating ranches for a month long tournament. This year the competition was held in Laredo, Texas. I was paired with Pozo Bueno Ranch, a recreational hunting camp owned by San Antonio residents Bill and Nancy Maloy. Each photographer is allowed one assistant for the duration. My business partner German Ambrosetti was kind enough to come from Argentina to help me.


The Beginning
The first 5 days we spent scouting and learning the ranch. A map and GPS were our very best friends. Once we felt we had a good understanding of the habitat and general animal locations, we began a daily routine: photography in the morning, setting up blinds and camera traps in the middle of the day, and back to photography in the evening. If it was cloudy, we often focused on macro subjects and we were always scouting for new subjects. At night, when we were not too tired, we did night drives or set up for nighttime landscapes. We kept up this routine each day and by the last week of the contest we were exhausted.

What We Learned
I can’t emphasize enough how advantageous it was to have an assistant. We also found it important to remain flexible and have a back-up plan each time we went out for photography. Weather, uncooperative wildlife, or surprising photo opportunities often changed our plans. At night, we kept a list of ideas and a general schedule for the following day. This was in addition to downloading and re-organizing equipment. It seemed that whenever we took a moment to rest, another photo opportunity appeared. The pace was intense and 4 weeks went by in a flash.

The contest rules stated that we needed not less than 10 and not more than 20 images in 4 of 5 divisions. In the 5th division, 25 images were allowed. No photos could appear in more than one division and no photos could be similar. No more than 2 images of any species could be submitted across divisions. This meant that in a portfolio of 75 images we needed to photograph at least 35 species. Our most challenging division was ‘Mammals’. This was a hunting ranch: deer, peccaries, bobcats, and coyotes ran at the sound of a vehicle or a glimpse of a human. Bobcats were invisible, deer could smell you in a blind, and coyotes couldn’t be fooled. In the end, we didn’t have enough great photos for the Mammals division. Still, each image is given points during the judging process, so it’s better to submit a bad photo than to leave one out.

The results were surprising; it’s interesting to see how many points each image receives. Images you love aren’t always so interesting to judges. Third place won $14,000, but part of the prize calculation included $500/photo for the 110 photos receiving top scores. Even if photographer didn’t win 1st, 2nd, or 3rd they could still receive prize money. In the end, we won 3rd place with a prize of $21,500 and had 15 images in the top 110.

Would I do it Again?
I’m not sure if I would do it again. I liked being motivated to push my creativity and myself. In addition, it inspired me to get better at different types of photography I had otherwise ignored.  But, the pressure was intense. We endured 3 flat tires, getting lost on countless occasions, numerous rattlesnakes, frustrating ranch employees, crawling through or sitting on every thorn-laden plant in the area, and plenty of insect bites. We were also given a speech by the Border Patrol warning us about problems that are typically caused by the presence of illegal aliens, and we did find numerous discarded backpacks and food cans around the property. However, in time, I’ll probably forget the difficult moments and begin looking forward to another challenge. If you’re interested in applying, I highly recommend doing it at least once. It was a great experience. Maybe I will do it again, I did return with great stories to tell friends and family.

ICF creates a book of winning images each year. If you’re interested in purchasing the book go to: http://www.imagesforconservation.org/support/purchase.

If you would like more information about ICF go to: http://www.imagesforconservation.org/about