Jo-Anne Oucharek is one of two Cochrane professional photographers who will be representing Canada in the World Photographic Cup in the nature and wildlife category.
After going through three rounds of elimination by Canadian curators, last week it was announced she's one of three Canadian photographers to advance from hundreds of entries. Images of Cochrane's Jacquie Matechuk and Kristian Bogner, of Canmore, were also selected in this category. Both have previously been part of Team Canada
It's the first time Oucharek has entered this competition and was first attracted by the rule that required entries to basically be out of the camera.
"That was one of my triggers to enter the competition this year because my goal was to learn a little bit and grow and enter competitions. The competition I typically enter is something where it's out of the camera, there is some raw editing imaging, but it's basically the image captured."
She submitted five images and is thrilled to have one selected.
"I'm over the moon, actually, because I know there were some big photographers that entered, and so to be selected I'm ecstatic, I'm humbled, I'm proud, all of the above."
All images selected to represent Canada are being kept under wraps while they are being judged internationally and won't be revealed until sometime in December.
She says an aggressive campaign was launched to attract Canadian photographers to the competition.
"Canada was seventh in the world last year, so they're wanting to improve that, just like all events, and they went out to try and recruit the best-of-the-best in Canada."
Oucharek is passionate about capturing images of wildlife behaving naturally in their environment. That takes patience, time, knowledge of the wildlife you're photographing, and knowing your equipment.
To that end, she took her bear guide certification this year.
"I wanted to understand the bears, understand their behaviour, understand if I impacted them in any way because when we went to Alaska this year, we wanted to ensure we were not causing any stress or having them alter their behavior. It really does change the way you look at wildlife because you're in their world and if they let you be part of their world it's pretty special," she says.
"Being behind the camera and dialing that in to be able to capture those movements has been a huge learning curb and an accomplishment when you look at what's coming out the other end."
There are misses along the way, and sometimes you just get to enjoy the moment, but that's OK, too.
"It's not about the shot, it's about being in nature and having that connection and sometimes it gives you a gift."
Now she's taking an ornithology course to better understand birds. Capturing images of birds in her backyard was where it all started several years ago.
"I have these birds in my backyard and I was like, how hard can it be to take a picture of a bird? I mean, can freeze a hockey puck in mid-air. All of a sudden, it's like, okay, they're a little harder to take than a hockey puck," she laughs.
"And so it's always growing and learning and the biggest part of this journey is being around like-minded photographers who believe that nature comes first because that's the important piece."
She says being involved with camera clubs, the Route 22 Artist Collective Gallery, and being in the field have helped her enhance her work.
"My goal this year was entering competitions, looking at who won that competition and examining the details. Then you look back at your images, and go, alright, I need to learn something. I need to learn how to use my camera better."
"Every week, I go out and play with my camera and I spend time with my good friends out on trips and it's improving my craft. That was my goal, and to have this happen, I guess is a little bit of recognition for the hard work that I've put in this year."
Jacquie Matechuck had two images selected in the 2021 world cup and won a bronze medal in the commercial category. This year, she has images in both the Nature/Wildlife and Reportage/Photojournalism categories.