Showcase 2021 Winner: Samantha Stephens

Nature’s Pitfall: Carnivorous Northern Pitcher Plant with Captured Juvenile Spotted Salamanders, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada, Macro/Micro/All Other, 2021 Showcase Best in Category, Macro/Micro/All Other ©  Samantha Stephens
Nature’s Pitfall: Carnivorous Northern Pitcher Plant with Captured Juvenile Spotted Salamanders, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada, Macro/Micro/All Other, 2021 Showcase Best in Category, Macro/Micro/All Other © Samantha Stephens

Artist’s statement

Northern pitcher plants grow on bog mats where there is no nutrient-rich soil to feed them. As a result, they have evolved to be carnivorous, obtaining nutrients instead through a diet of insects. But researchers at the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station recently discovered that a population of these plants are also regularly capturing a vertebrate prey: juvenile spotted salamanders. Salamanders have long been recognized as important nutrient cyclers that move between aquatic and forest ecosystems, and this discovery reveals that they might be a large source of nutrients for these plants.  I was working at the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station in 2019 as a photojournalist-in-residence when I was able to make this image that visualizes this scientific discovery.

How I got the shot

Being in the presence of this moment was possible because of the access researchers at the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station gave me to photograph their work. I was lucky to be living at the Station in 2019 as the photojournalist-in-residence and join the researchers daily on their various surveys. At the time I made this image I had become very familiar with what the salamanders looked like when they were caught, and the characteristics of the pitcher plant. Although some pitchers do catch multiple salamanders, they’re not typically both floating like this, in the same stage of decomposition, at the same time. When I saw the two salamanders on this day in a pitcher that also happened to have quite a wide opening, and was positioned in a way that was easy to access with the camera, I recognized that it was a special photographic opportunity that would probably only happen once! The next day both salamanders had sunk to the bottom of the pitcher.

What I used

I made this image on a Canon 5D Mark III using the Laowa 15mm wide angle macro lens. I lit the pitcher from behind with one headlamp and also from the front with another!

About me

I use photography paired with compelling written narratives to communicate scientific research, especially when that research is relevant to conservation issues. Through my work, I hope to foster appreciation for the natural world and the people working to understand and protect our shared planet. I’m trained as a biologist but have been working as a full-time photographer and science communicator since I graduated from the Environmental Visual Communication program in 2016. When I’m not following researchers in the field with my camera, I’m based in Ottawa, Ontario.

Pressing the shutter button is just one part of what it means to me to be a photographer. I spend the majority of my time and effort researching important stories, building relationships, and strategizing how my images can be used to advocate for conservation or scientific literacy.  

My photographic journey

I started out my career as a scientist. I was studying biology and conducting graduate research when I began to recognize the need for more effective science communication and the power that visual storytelling has to help people understand and care about science and conservation. So, I left a career in research and enrolled in the Environmental Visual Communication program at Fleming College. Since graduating from that program there have been a number of learning opportunities that have been critical to my growth as a photographer including the National Geographic Explorers community, an internship in video editing with SeaLegacy, Morgan Heim and Jaymi Heimbuch’s Conservation Photojournalism 7-Day Intensive Workshop, the Summit Conservation Workshop and the Girls Who Click Ambassador Program.

NANPA and me

I’ve been a NANPA member since 2016, when I started photographing. I have enjoyed attending the past two Summits, during which I learned new skills and met other photographers with a conservation focus that have become friends and mentors. This is my first time entering the annual Showcase.

Learn more

Website: stephenssamantha.com
Instagram: @samanthastephens_
Twitter: samsteph_

See more of Samantha’s images

  • Carnivorous Northern Pitcher Plant with Captured Juvenile Spotted Salamanders, image by Samantha Stephens
    Carnivorous Northern Pitcher Plant with Captured Juvenile Spotted Salamanders, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada, 2021 Showcase Best in Category, Macro/Micro/All Other Wildlife © Samantha Stephens