“Scotty was very playful. He was probably just as curious about me and my camera as I was about him. And, as it goes with taking photos of children, I had a protective mother (Mikki) looking over my shoulder—only she weighed more than 8,000 pounds!” Bonura laughed. “I probably took 200 pictures of Scotty that day and got three really good ones I liked out of the shoot.”
Now one of his favorite photos taken that day is getting national attention from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the leading accrediting organization for zoos and aquariums dedicated to rigorous standards in animal care, wildlife conservation, education and science.
The AZA recently named Bonura’s photo an “Honorable Mention” in their annual photography contest for 2007. (Bonura was selected as the winner of 2006’s contest.)
“I feel honored,” Bonura said about the recognition. “Getting to do a photo shoot like Scotty’s is why I do what I do. I believe if you shoot enough ordinary stuff, the extraordinary stuff eventually comes along.”
Bonura’s photo was one of 210 entries in the national AZA contest, which is open to all staff and volunteers of AZA-accredited institutions. The photos were judged on a number of factors including subject matter, focus, color and composition. Bonura’s entry—highlighted on a full, color page in AZA’s December 2007 issue of Connect magazine—was an extreme close-up of Scotty’s face and trunk.
“Each animal is a divine work of art,” Bonura said, “and shooting close up gives the viewer a greater sense of texture. It forces the viewer to look at something in a different way. It forces exploration, and it forces people to take a closer look at the world around them and to really see the miracles that God has created.”
The AZA is familiar with Bonura’s work. He took home top honors in 2006 as the winner of the photography contest with his photo of Teak, an orangutan at the Louisville Zoo. Teak graced the cover of the December 2006 Connect issue.
“Both Nick’s portraits—his winner in 2006 of the orangutan and the elephant in 2007—give the viewer the chance to connect with his subjects on an intimate level,” said Tim Lewthwaite, who oversees the contest and serves as Editor of AZA’s Connect magazine. “The subjects fill the frame, and yet their fragile nature is apparent. It’s hard not to look at the orangutan photo that won the 2006 contest and not see a reflection of ourselves. Both of Nick’s photos have wonderful colors and textures and his composition is immaculate. But more importantly, his photos tell a tale—they give us a glimpse into the nature of his subjects that is often missed by many photographers.”
Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak said he feels inspired every time he looks at Bonura’s work.
“He captures each animal’s true, unique essence,” Walczak said. “I am drawn in to the picture and feel a connection with the animal. And that is what the Zoo is all about. Our mission is to better the bond between people and our planet. Nick does just that.”
Although Bonura is excited about the recent recognition, he is not resting on his accolades. He is now on the lookout for the next perfect animal photo.
“It’s hard to stop a passion that began at 8 years old when my father handed me my first 35 mm camera,” Bonura smiled. “So yes, I am already starting to think about next year’s entry.”
NICK BONURA’S TIPS FOR TAKING GOOD ANIMAL PHOTOS
- Don’t shoot through glass with a flash. Use a high ISO setting on your camera.
- Hide the environment such as mesh and fencing by shooting close-up shots.
- Have fun!
- Shoot a lot and throw most of it away. Remember, Bonura took 200 photos of baby Scotty and got three really good ones.