Picture Perfect

Stunning images from the winners of our 2nd annual Ducks Unlimited magazine photo contest

by James Card

2011 DU Magazine Photo Contest "Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again," said Henri Cartier-Bresson, the man considered to be the father of modern photojournalism. Waterfowlers are always witnessing ephemeral scenes. Ducks and geese are only momentary visitors. Wetland landscapes transform and change over time, and hunting dogs, sadly, live much shorter lives than people. 

Photographers refer to the first and last hour of daylight as the "golden hours," when the lighting is warmer and softer and colors take on an added glow. It is a magical time to shoot photographs. As waterfowling is an endeavor undertaken against a backdrop of sunrises and sunsets, duck and goose hunters have the perfect opportunity to capture fleeting images in the finest light available during days spent afield.

Best Overall

Best Overall Winner
Scott J. McWatty

Scott McWatty had a problem. As a waterfowler and amateur nature photographer, he always liked pictures of hunters silhouetted against a rising or setting sun. He wanted to take one of these striking images himself, but he often hunted alone. Ultimately, he had to take one of himself.

He captured this winning image at dawn while duck hunting in his home state of South Carolina. "When the sunlight began to crack the horizon, I began goofing around with my camera, trying to get a good shot of the scene and then it hit me! I had my tripod and remote wireless shutter release, so I set up the camera to attempt the shot I have always wanted to capture, me and my decoys silhouetted against the rising sun." 

The photograph required a long exposure, and McWatty remained perfectly still as the camera absorbed the scene's faint light. "I ended up with a pair of drake buffleheads and a wigeon that morning, but the real prize was this image," he says. 

Best Overall Runner-Up

Best Overall Runner-Up: Chris Knight


Waterfowl Winner
Robert Whitney Jr.

Last spring, Rob Whitney waded chest-deep through a flooded slough on CRP land near Devil's Lake, North Dakota. He stowed his camera in a waterproof plastic container. Wearing a camo ghillie suit over his chest waders, he hid among a stand of bulrushes with the sun and wind at his back. 

"Waterfowl photography is very much like hunting. I will scan the horizon to pick up ducks flying toward my position. Since the ghillie suit gives me great camouflage, I get my camera up and try to focus on an incoming duck as soon as I can. I then follow the duck until it gets close enough to photograph. I locked onto this redhead at about 50 yards and took a series of shots as he flew right past me," Whitney says.

Waterfowll Runner-Up

Waterfowl Runner-Up: Larry Hitchens

Waterfowl Hunting

Waterfowl Hunting Winner
C. Edmund Connelly

Ed Connelly has been a Ducks Unlimited member for the past 38 years. He is also a member of a group of duck-hunting buddies who call themselves the "Worn-Out Waterfowlers." While hunting in southern Saskatchewan last fall, Connelly captured this image of his friend Tim Conaway just after sunrise. "As he stepped out from the grass, I told him to slow down while I grabbed my trusty pocket camera to snap some shots," he says.

Waterfowll Runner-Up

Waterfowl Hunting Runner-Up: Mark Brendemuehl


Retrievers Winner
Joe Pope

Pintails are Joe Pope's favorite duck. In fact, he was once nicknamed "Pintail Pope" by his hunting partners. While duck hunting last season in South Carolina at a place he calls Hay Hill, he was accompanied by Pearl, a four-year-old yellow Lab that belongs to one of his good friends. He and a hunting partner had already taken a nice mixed bag of wigeon and gadwalls when a pair of pintails suddenly cruised into the decoys. 

"My friend shot the drake and I grabbed my camera as Pearl went racing out to get the duck. I knew the light and angle were going to be just right for a good picture. She made a great retrieve pounding through the water. She isn't big enough to clear a coffee table with her tail, but she has the motor to get after it. She is really coming into her own," Pope says. 

Waterfowll Runner-Up

Retrievers Runner-Up: Justin Tangeman

See More: To view an extensive collection of honorable mentions in our photo contest, go to the DU website at www.ducks.org/photocontest.