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contest

Photographing Winter: an Interview with Cai Priestley

In October Where Canadian Rockies held a photo contest for our Winter magazine cover. For several weeks, we were overwhelmed by the number of quality submissions sent to us by photographers from all over the world. After much deliberation and debate, we chose Cai Priestley’s photograph of a red fox, taken on the Bow Valley Parkway, as our winner. The fox captured our attention because we couldn’t help but think it was looking right at us, demanding that it become our selection (we hope you feel the same way)!

Cai’s skills as a photographer extend well-beyond the fiery fox in the snowy landscape; his website (www.caipriestley.co.uk) offers stunning wildlife photography from Asia, North America, Europe, and Africa—we really think you should buy one of his calendars (!)

We wanted to know more about Cai, and he took the time to answer our questions about his bucket list, his training as a photographer, and the craziest thing he’s ever experienced while out photographing. Have a read below to learn more about the man behind the Winter 2017/18 cover:

WHERE ROCKIES: You are from Wales, but you specialize in Canadian wildlife photography; what brought you to Canada?

CAI PRIESTLEY: Back in 2008 I decided to do some traveling, with the intention of finding and photographing some wildlife along the way. I spent a couple of months in Africa and then came to Canada to meet some friends who were living in Banff.

My plan was to keep traveling around Canada for six months, but after seeing the mountains and some local wildlife, I decided to stay in Bow Valley for as long as I could. I’ve run out of work visas now, but I was able to live and work in Banff for five of the last ten years, and I hope to call it home again someday soon.

WR: You capture what seem to be really intimate moments with animals (a bear cub looking back at you while walking with her mom and siblings, the peek from a pine marten, the fox…!); how are you able to capture them so perfectly?

CP: I put in a lot of time looking for wildlife. I try to get out as often as I can, and by doing so, I’m always increasing my chances of having an incredible encounter with something really cool. When it comes to capturing an image that I’m happy with, it’s a whole other story. It’s not always glorious wildlife and great photos. There are a lot more failed attempts and missed opportunities.

WR: Were you formally trained in photography or are you mostly self-taught?

CP: I’m mostly self-taught, but I did do a short photography course as part of my art foundation in college. That was mainly working in the darkroom learning film processing and developing though. I’ve also had some great mentors along the way who have taught me lots, especially since arriving in Canada. John Marriott and Peter Dettling were both instrumental in helping me learn the ropes when it came to Canadian wildlife.

WR: On your website, you note that you came home because you’d reached the end of your working visa; do you want to come back to the Canadian Rockies anytime soon?

CP: I’d love to make the Rockies my permanent home someday, but in the meantime I’m visiting for a couple of months every year. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best I can do at the moment until I’m in a better position to be able to move back for good.

WR: Is there anything that you haven’t captured on camera that still remains on your bucket list?

CP: The holy grail of Canadian wildlife for me would be a wolverine, a cougar or a fisher. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for wolverine but the chances of ever seeing one let alone photographing one, are incredibly small.

WR: How do you describe your photography style?

CP: I’ve never really pinned down a particular style as far as I can tell. I like shooting very wide scenes that show a subject in its environment or habitat, but I equally like a nice intimate portrait where fur or feather detail can be easily seen.

WR: Where is your favourite non-Canadian place to shoot?

CP: I love photographing on home soil here in Wales, but most of my photography is done abroad these days. I visited Alaska very briefly a few years ago and it’s somewhere I’d love to return to someday.

WR: In a landscape with sublime mountains (the Rockies), why animal photographs?

CP: I love the mountains, and I can’t say no to a good sunrise or sunset, but I’ve been obsessed with wildlife from a very young age, so wild animals will always take priority over landscape images for me. Every time I stop to shoot a sunrise, I can’t help but thinking there could be a pack of wolves waiting patiently for me in a meadow somewhere, and that’s all it takes for me to turn my back on the scene and keep searching.

WR: Can you tell me about some of your Rocky Mountain Favourites (best places to dine, visit, etc.)?

CP: I used to be a huge Barpa Bill’s fan, and I still recommend it to anyone looking for the best burger in town, but since turning vegetarian my favourite dining experience has got to be Nourish.
When it comes to my favourite places to visit or spend time at in Banff, I’d have to say the Cave and Basin or the Banff Springs Golf Course. Both places are seriously beautiful and great for a stroll close to town.

WR: What is the craziest thing that’s happened to you while photographing?

CP: Luckily I’ve not had many crazy moments when I’m out taking photos. I try my best not to put myself in those situations, or in scenarios that could potentially turn ‘crazy’. Sometimes though, things happen that are unforeseen, and there’s been a couple of times where things could have turned sour.
One that comes to mind was not long after I moved to Canada, and I got fairly close to a cow moose in a meadow in Kananaskis. I had made quite a long silent approach towards her, and I was fully visible so that I didn’t spook her. She was comfortable enough with me to carry on doing what she was doing, as I’d shown her that I wasn’t a threat.

What I hadn’t seen though, was the big bull moose that had emerged from the trees behind me and was making his way towards her. I got quite a shock when I eventually heard him thrashing his antlers in the willows just a few yards away. My exit was now blocked, and I had a river to my right that was way too deep and fast flowing to try and cross, especially with my tripod and camera. What ensued was a very intense twenty minutes where I stood still right in between the cow and bull, as the bull slowly closed the gap with his approach. Luckily, I didn’t have to get wet to make my escape in the end, as the cow decided to walk off in a different direction, which drew the bull away from my exit. As soon as I had enough room, I snuck out of there with a huge sigh of relief, and let him continue his advances alone.

Do yourself a favour and follow Cai on social media, @caipriestleyphotography + Cai Priestley Photography, you’ll be happy that you did.

The Winter 2017/18 issue of Where Canadian Rockies can be read here: http://rmvpublications.com/whererockiesdigital/

The Winter Issue of Where Canadian Rockies, featuring the photography of Cai Priestley