After hundreds of thousands of shutter snaps, countless hours on the road and a lifetime pursuing a passion, Joe Desjardins can call himself a master photographer.
The Strathmore resident had earned a master photographer in nature from Master Photographers International (MPIO), giving him an elite status among his peers.
It came about through years of work and then finding a niche shooting nature, wildlife and landscapes. The 47-year-old has put in more than 30 years as a photographer, and this honour is a crowning achievement.
“The designation is huge for me,” Desjardins said. “It’s quite difficult to get a designation through the PPOC or the MPIO. I’ve been really fortunate through the (Professional Photographers of Canada). I got six accreditations in those genres. That was submitting 60 images. I scored 90% or better on all 60 on my first go.
“I achieved all six accreditations my first go. Same with the MPIO. Right now I’m working on my masters in portraiture and fine art. When you achieve three master designations, then you get the ultimate grand master designation in the photography field. It’s something to work for absolutely.”
When you view Desjardins’ work, it’s obvious he’s at one with the outdoors, and that he has a knack for finding and getting up close and personal with animals.
In reality, he’s keeping a safe distance and shooting with extensions on a 500 mm lens, something that is extremely tricky to use, especially when trying to get tight on a bear or moose from 80 to 100 yards away. From his vast experience, Desjardins has learned enough tricks to capture the image of a grizzly bear’s snarl or an eagle swooping into its nest.
The illusion is there that he’s snapping the image from 10 feet away, which he would be if he was using an smartphone. The reality is he’s using patience and preparation to get a photo that appears as if he’s standing right in front of the bear, even when he’s nowhere near it.
“My primary lens is a 500 F4. I use teleconverters on there. Most times I’m shooting 1100 millimetres,” Desjardins said. “I’m a very safe distance from these animals. Some of the close-up stuff is shot from a vehicle.
“Nobody is crazy enough to get out. I get a lot of people asking how I get so close. I have to remind them it was done safely and there was no threat to the animal. It’s all about the wildlife first.”
By no means is Desjardins resting on his vast portfolio. He’s out in the country as often as he can to find the next great shot. A couple of weeks ago, that meant he was on the lookout for bears around Jasper.
“I did quite well,” Desjardins said. “A lot of it was roadside stuff, mainly for safety. A lot of hiking the pipelines. You are up on the grid and there’s nothing between you and the grizzlies but you learn bear behaviour. If you are at ease, the animals can sense you are at ease. That comes from a lot of years in the field and getting a sense when the animal is stressed and when they want you to leave.
“I’ve only had one incident with a black bear. It was a sow with two cubs. She cut the distance by about three quarters. She bluff-charged. She was walking out of the meadow with her cubs. I just stepped into the meadow. She was a far distance with her cubs. She turned and came charging down. We still don’t know why. That’s the only incident I’ve had with a bear. I’ve had more incidents with moose.”
Desjardins has tried to carve out as much shooting time as possible but over the last three years he’s held a day job at SMS Equipment. He holds seminars and workshops to teach aspiring photographers some of the trade secrets he’s learned over the years.
To him, there is just as much joy in helping someone learn the ins and outs of photography as there is capturing a wild animal in his lens.
“Almost more,” he said with a laugh. “After the first 30 seconds of calming down and getting into it, I’m just lost in it. You can see the enthusiasm from people.
“I’ve had 50 or 60 of those surveys and it’s great to hear the feedback. They see my passion and enthusiasm. I see the same with them. That’s what makes the job great.
“It’s not like they are showing up for a chemistry class they have to take in high school. They are there because they want to learn. After the seminars, everyone comes up to the front because they have more questions. That’s what really drives me. That’s why I’m looking to do more of that.”