Showcase 2021 Winner: Dawn Wilson

The processed legs of a bison (Bison bison) sit in a cart after being slaughtered outside of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming for wandering outside of the park boundaries. 2021 Showcase, First Runner-Up, Conservation © Dawn Wilson
The processed legs of a bison (Bison bison) sit in a cart after being slaughtered outside of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming for wandering outside of the park boundaries. 2021 Showcase, First Runner-Up, Conservation © Dawn Wilson

Artist’s statement

Back in the early days of the pandemic, I had just received notification that my home state of Colorado was considering putting stay-at-home orders in place. I was visiting Yellowstone National Park when I heard the news, so I scrambled to pack up and head home. As I left the hotel, I found a trailer of bison parts—heads on the bottom, legs missing hooves in the center, and these plastic-wrapped legs tied to the sides. It was so disturbing, yet I couldn’t help but ponder what I was seeing. In the winter, when bison leave the safety of the park and venture into the surrounding ranches, they can be slaughtered because they may transmit brucellosis to domesticated cows. It seems such a horrid thing to do to animals just looking for food away from the deep snows of Yellowstone. Seeing the fresh carcasses made my gut wrench in pain and sadness.

How I got the shot

I had difficulty looking at this subject to but wanted to capture something eye catching. It was gruesome, yet I wanted to find a way to show where the animals were located and how they were displayed. The first couple of frames were wider angles and I found the messy downtown area of Gardiner, Montana, with the hotels, buildings, and power lines, was distracting. I eventually got down to a lower angle to frame the legs against the distant mountains, keeping just a small portion of the trailer in the frame to “anchor” the legs to something on the ground.

What I used

This was a hand-held shot taken with my Nikon D4s and Nikon Nikkor 80-400mm lens. The settings were 1/5000 sec at f6.3, 310mm, and ISO 1000.

About me

I am a full-time nature photographer, writer, and business owner based in Estes Park, Colo. I attended Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey for communications where I had my first formal training in photography after many years of instruction on my own and from my mom. I also attended the University of the Arts and the Art Institute of Colorado for computer graphics and photography, respectively. After a move to Colorado in 2002, I focused my photography on nature subjects, and specifically into wildlife around 2010. Although I enjoy photographing all animals and many landscapes, I especially enjoy photographing bald eagles, elk, bighorn sheep, fox and moose.

After a difficult year in 2012 , with being laid off, my mom spending a month in the hospital after a brush with death, unexpectedly losing my boyfriend of 15 years in October, and then my father just as unexpectedly three months later, I dove into nature photography as a way to heal (or deal) with my pain. In nature I found that I focused on the beauty around me and not the pain I was experiencing. That led me to buying an RV in 2015 and hitting the road solo to photograph what I called my priority list of subjects. I spent 15 months on the road and barely skimmed the surface of that list but loved the adventure.

My photographic journey

As a child, I always wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved being around animals and wanted to find a way to help them. But I also enjoyed communications—advertising, public relations, graphic design, photography, journalism—and decided to follow that path for my education. After visiting veterinary schools, I discovered I could combine my communications and animal interests into telling stories about animals, and that could help them as well through conservation and awareness.

NANPA and me

I joined NANPA in 2014 as I searched for an organization where I could take advantage of industry discounts, network with other nature photographers, and improve my skills. I have served on the marketing committee for several years, volunteered as a photographer at Summits and Celebration, and currently serve on the Board of Directors, filling the role of President for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. I have had several images make it to the semi-final rounds of Showcase over the years, including a few images in the top 250 and two images make it to first runner-up.

Learn more

Website:  DawnWilsonPhotography.com
Facebook:  @DawnWilsonPhotography
Instagram: @DawnWilsonPhoto

See more of Dawn’s images

  • Processed Legs of a Bison Sit in a Cart after Being Slaughtered, image by Dawn Wilson Photography
    Processed Legs of a Bison Sit in a Cart after Being Slaughtered, Gardiner, Montana, 2021 Showcase Runner-up, Conservation © Dawn Wilson Photography