Eco photography wows on Rideau Canal

Skaters gliding along Ottawa's Rideau Canal skateway may find themselves coming to a halt to take in some spectacular nature photos this week.

Nationwide contest challenges young nature photographers to capture photos with environmental message

Skaters gliding along Ottawa’s Rideau Canal skateway may find themselves coming to a halt to take in some spectacular nature photos this week.

The National Capital Commission is displaying the top photos from its Eco Art photo contest — an annual competition that solicits pictures from Canadian photographers ranging in age from 14 to 24 — on the skateway at the Dow's Lake gallery.

The images feature Canadian wildlife, stunning coastlines and macro looks into the natural world, but the competition’s jury selected a serene, green forest scene captured by Ottawa’s Vineeth Sampathkumar, 19, as the winner.

"It was so green ... the towering trees nearly covered up any skylight from entering," Sampathkumar said of his picture, which won him $1,800.

"As soon as we entered the area, I knew I had to stop and take a few shots — something as beautiful as this should never be forgotten."

The jury likely enjoyed the wonderful patten in Sampathkumar’s image. Two dark trees frame the edges of the photo, almost like curtains on a stage, while the vertical tree trunks create alternating light and dark vertical lines in the middle of the picture.

While Sampathkumar’s image is quiet, there are plenty of grandiose pictures as well. For example, skaters braving the cold will welcome a special burst of sunshine captured by Austin Jean, a 24-year-old photographer from Gatineau, Que., in a photo selected as the Henry’s Choice Award.

Jean snapped the image of sun rays bursting through storm clouds while traveling in La Romana, Dominican Republic. Like so many nature photos, it was all about being in the right place at the right time for Jean.

"There are so many opportunities I’ve missed by not having my camera on me … with the sun and clouds things change so rapidly that if you don’t capture it at the right moment, you’ve missed it forever," Jean told the's Multimedia Department.

While Jean’s photo features a fantastic moment, it also benefits from having a foreground that invites the viewer into the image. The picture also has a seemingly endless depth of field, which is a product of shooting at f/16 — a low aperture (picture your eye squinting to see extra far) — which allows a relatively low shutter speed to soak up the rich ocean colours even during the daytime.

It wasn’t just landscapes that made it into the contest. Photographer Amanda Hrabi, 22, from Calgary won the People’s Choice Award for her image of a red panda, and will have her picture on display.

The one theme that encapsulates all the winning photos is a connection to the environment. The photographers were encouraged to use the NCC’s contest to make strong statements in favour of environmental protection.

"Our life on Earth is not permanent, our contribution to the Earth is," Sampathkumar said.

"Remember that your actions and contributions not only impact yourself, but the environment you're in and the people around you — might as well make that impact positive."

For those who can’t make it to Ottawa, the contest’s top 40 photos are posted on the online photo-sharing site Flickr, and judging on the quality of pictures it is safe to say the future of Canadian landscape photography is in good hands.

As 15-year-old contest finalist Gavin Walters wrote in the caption for the picture he submitted: "Nature lacks no beauty, even in the smallest details. It is up to us to focus on it."