The 2023 ExploreSask photography contest has concluded with local photographer Michael St. Laurent scoring first in his category.
Launched earlier in June, the competition drew in more than 4,200 entries prior to the Sept. 15 deadline.
The ExploreSask photo contest is a yearly competition where amateur and professional photographers submit some of their most striking content and winners receive a $500 Visa gift card. Sponsored by Tourism Saskatchewan, it helps showcase the provinces’ natural wonders while telling the story of its people.
Submissions can’t have watermarks and they must have minimal editing. Judges disqualify any photos using artificial intelligence (AI), which is increasingly prevalent as AI software becomes more widespread.
St. Laurent never uses AI in any of his photographs, and although he isn’t bothered by the technology, he believes photographers should clearly state when they use artificial rendering. “Don’t take an AI shot and say, ‘look at the picture I shot!’ You need to have some integrity,” he said.
As an example of the tight rules regarding the use of AI and editing, St. Laurent mentioned a few instances where photographs – some of them first-place winners – were later disqualified after something as simple as a garbage bag in an otherwise well-shot landscape was cropped out. In another instance, a beautiful picture of a wolf jumping over a fence got disqualified after discovering the photographer shot a trained wolf being passed off as a wild animal.
For his photos, St. Laurent believes in taking the time and effort required to capture that perfect shot.
“I don’t really consider that lucky. I’ve been going out every chance I can for the last 15 years, spending thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, and thousands of kilometres to get that one shot – so is that lucky?” he said. “It might be a one in five thousand chance, but if I try it out five thousand times, I’m going to get one.”
For his award-winning photograph, St. Laurent went the extra mile.
“I was up at the Exhibition Grounds here, and it was for (their yearly) Roughstock rodeo school,” he explained. The students are either new to rodeo or haven’t been out for a considerable amount of time, and it’s open to men and women of all ages.
“It’s just kind of a neat event to go up to every year; it’s constant action, and you can get a lot of nice bucking bronco shots,” he said.
Despite his winning category – people and places – appearing to be out of place, he found a way to connect his passion with the competition’s parameters.
When the rider gets bucked off, the horse runs wild while the pickup men struggle to corral it. “So, as they’re trying to catch up to these horses… it’s running right by in front of me usually and running fast,” he said.
St. Laurent got down at ground level and held the camera up through the fence. “I had to shoot blind, as they come flying by and missed me by about half a foot and are shooting dirt and crud at my face as they come running by.”
The picture gives a whole new perspective on the rodeo. “I was happy with the shots, because that was a rodeo shot you typically won’t see – nobody takes those shots,” he said.
The shot was taken with an ultra wide-angle lens, and St. Laurent said he worked diligently from 11 a.m. until around 4 p.m. on each day of the two-day rodeo to land that perfect shot.
What sets his photograph apart is the unique low angle shot.
“Most people say, ‘how... did you get that? It looks like you’re about to get ran over,’” he said, noting that the wide-angle lens distorts the subject to make it appear further away. “If the fence wasn’t there, then yeah – I probably would have gotten run over.”
St. Laurent said he was honoured, albeit somewhat surprised, to learn that he won in his category.
“Well, it’s a humbling experience, that somebody else appreciated my thought or my artistic ideas that I came up with,” he said.
St. Laurent has always been a nature enthusiast. After purchasing his first professional camera in 2007, he felt a sense of peace. “It’s almost like if I don’t get out there, I get withdrawal symptoms,” he added.
Using the available time he has on weekends, he usually stays close to home seeking an opportunity to shoot. His favourite shots are of the rarer finds, such as large moose or a bull elk. “If I come back with one (good) shot (that day), I’m happy,” he said.
St. Laurent makes a yearly calendar featuring shots he’s taken throughout the previous year. His calendars go for $35 apiece and feature breathtaking views around Saskatchewan. The best way to reach out to St. Laurent is through his Facebook page, ‘Michael St.Laurent (Flatlanders Photography).’
He can also be reached through email at StLaurent66@hotmail.com.
For a full list of contest winners, visit TourismSaskatchewan.com/en/photo-contest-winners.
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