General

Announcing the winners of the 2023 Cottage Life Photo Contest

This year, we received over 10,000 entries to our annual photo contest, thanks to eager cottagers and shutterbugs like you! Some photos made us happy, some made us nostalgic, and some made us pause and reflect for a moment. We had three categories to choose from: Landscape, Wildlife, and Life at the Cottage. After sorting through thousands of beautiful submissions, the CL team picked seven winners and three honourable mentions to feature this year. Without further ado, here are the 2023 Photo Contest winners.

Want to see last year’s winners? Check them out here.

Honourable Mention, Landscape

Katy McNabb, Sans Souci, Ont.

How they got the shot

“We always see cottage country from the boat, car, or dock, but hardly ever from the air,” says Katy. “The drone lets me see how cottages fit into the natural landscape.” She uses her drone primarily for site analysis for her work as a designer, but she admits it’s expanded her love of photography. “It shows me a new perspective. The islands seem to line up perfectly—I would never have known that from the ground.”

What makes it a winner

Drone shots are often discounted as an easy way to get a great photo with minimal effort, but they do require technical skill—the angle and focus need to be calculated with precision. This photo makes the viewer feel like they’re leaving the atmosphere, as the water and the sky blur together. But it’s the details of the sunken islands, the cottage roofs, and the boat cutting across the frame that really capture cottage life.

Honourable Mention, Wildlife

Stu McKay, Hecla Island, Lake Winnipeg, Man.

How they got the shot

“I’ve been pursuing this is bird on camera for years,” says Manitoba photographer Stu McKay. Stu waited for several hours to get this winning photo of Manitoba’s provincial bird, the great grey owl, on the eastern shores of Lake Winnipeg. “It’s illegal to bait owls in Manitoba, so I had to be ready to shoot at any moment. A lot of patience and some luck was involved in getting this shot.”

What makes it a winner

This owl is both captivating and frightening, appearing dead centre in the photo with its yellow eyes transfixed on the vole they’re tracking in the snowy meadow. Great grey owls are skilled hunters whose wings move soundlessly, making them exceptionally stealthy predators—and photo subjects. Stu’s patience here is commendable. This image is a strong example of both nature’s primal power and its haunting beauty.

Honourable Mention, Life at the Cottage

Liam Bursey, Fairbank Lake, Ont.

How they got the shot

“I’m obsessed with documenting things,” says Liam, an architecture student and keen photographer. “I go on lots of trips and always bring my camera. I try to record small moments that matter.” He captured this small moment while his brother, Eran, was making breakfast over the fire at their family cottage. Liam took the shot just as the sun was breaking through the trees. “It was simple and fleeting,” he says.

What makes it a winner

The light is the main subject of this photo. Liam used a fast shutter speed and a low exposure so that the viewer can appreciate each individual ray of sun coming through the trees and how the light seems to crown Eran’s head. It’s that sunlight mixed with the smoke rising from the fire and the shadowy trees that make this photo at once mysterious and ordinary. It’s candid, but it’s also full of a quiet intensity.

Second Place, Landscape

Kenneth Moore, Macara Lake, Ont.

How they got the shot

A heavy rain had just passed when Kenneth encountered one of the strangest sunsets of his life. “After the storm, I went for a pontoon boat ride with my wife, and I needed to capture how the sky looked,” says Kenneth. “I had to time things right as we were driving by. I’m not a professional photographer at all. But I think I caught the light perfectly.”

What makes it a winner

It’s hard to believe that Kenneth isn’t a pro given how balanced and well-composed this photo is. It’s even harder to believe this was shot on an Android phone without any special effects. The sky, the silhouetted trees, and the water are all such a mood! The light comes through naturally, and you get so many shades of blue, from the deep hue of the evening sky to the cool tones of the horizon, all rounded out by the red glow of the setting sun. It feels like the remnants of the storm are frozen in this image.

Second Place, Wildlife

Rachelle Mack, Lake Scugog, Ont.

How they got the shot

“He looked like he was smiling—like he wanted me to take his picture,” says Rachelle. She was shooting wildflowers in a nearby meadow when she stumbled upon this grasshopper. Using a Nikon Z6 with a macro lens, Rachelle had to crouch to get the focus sharp enough to capture the insect’s minute features. “It was so intimate,” she says. “I never knew grasshoppers had such cute faces.”

What makes it a winner

It takes tremendous skill to capture a clear image of a creature so small. The wide aperture lens blurs the background, letting us concentrate solely on the grasshopper, showing us what it’s like to live in their world. That’s the power of photography—to notice what otherwise might go unnoticed. Even the most insect-averse person couldn’t be turned off by this little guy—he’s got personality!

Second Place, Life at the Cottage

Dorene Hookey, Buck Lake, Ont.

How they got the shot

Her name is Piper, and isn’t she just the cutest dog you ever did see? Dorene slipped into chilly, early-June waters of Buck Lake, Ont., to get this photo. A wide-angle lens makes Piper appear life-size and close to the camera, while in reality she was a few feet away. “I had to crouch down to get the angle,” says Dorene. “Piper is part of the family. She loves to sit on those chairs with us!”

What makes it a winner

At first, this image confused our judges; the lighting mimics a pro’s studio. There’s a sharpness to Piper’s fur, the clouds, and the texture of the chair that Dorene captured by simply adjusting the angle. But it’s the primary colour scheme of the blue sky, the red chair, and the yellow in Piper’s fur that makes this photo shine.

First Place, Landscape

Stu McKay, Lake Winnipeg, Man.

How they got the shot

Stu went to Lake Winnipeg to capture this spectacular aurora on his Canon EOS camera, using a 10–15 second exposure. But a surprising encounter made the experience particularly memorable. “Another car arrived after I got there,” says Stu. “It was a Montreal couple who’d flown in that day after hearing the northern lights were forecasted. Within half an hour, the lights showed up, and the woman just started screaming with delight.”

What makes it a winner

It’s so hard to take good night shots. Here, Stu was able to capture the lights without losing the stars in the sky or the shoreline. The colours appear surreal, like a glowing green curtain that seems to shimmer even in a still image. The smooth curve of the aurora mirrors the curve of the shoreline below, creating a well-balanced photo.

First Place, Wildlife

Alexandra Dzuirban, Long Lake, Ont.

How they got the shot

“I’ve spotted this guy a few times over the last year,” says Alexandra. “At first, I noticed his jaw was damaged, and I worried he’d struggle with hunting, but my worries were put to rest when I continued to see him around.” She got this shot after the fox dashed in front of her car on her cottage road. “You see so many different animals on the drive,” she says. “It’s part of what makes it feel like camp.”

What makes it a winner

An unusual amount of fox photos were submitted to the contest this year, but this one was most striking. The warm colours and the soft, slightly blurry background enhance the beauty of the fox. This is an imperfect animal photographed in a perfect way—the scar along his jaw, the solemn gaze in his eye, and the tufts in his fur add personality to both this creature and this photo.

First Place, Life at the Cottage

Alisha Kirwin, Crystal Lake, Ont.

How they got the shot

Alisha’s son, Isaiah, loves his family’s cottage for many reasons, but the jungle gym is his favourite. “His dad made it out of recycled materials,” says Alisha. “I’m always out taking photos. I want to capture Isaiah’s childhood and enjoyment of the cottage. I noticed the sun setting behind the net, and I thought it was a great, candid moment.”

What makes it a winner

There is nothing quite like being a kid at the lake. There are so many things to notice here: the unique jungle gym, the shapes made by the net, the way Isaiah happily dangles, and even the red bucket peeking out to the right. The colour palette in this photo is full of the rich browns and greens of the forest, but the orange rope across the top and the bucket add some wonderful contrast. Those little details and touches of light and colour enhance the magic of this picture.

Two people sitting in a hammock in a golden sunset, tall trees framing the hammock and a lake in the background
Photo by Stephanie Duncker

Grand Prize

Stephanie Duncker, Buckshot Lake, Ont.

How they got the shot

“My daughter, Bella, doesn’t like having her picture taken,” says Stephanie, who snapped this shot at golden hour. “She and a friend had just finished a day of tubing, and I had to creep up and take the photo from behind a tree. I was so inspired by the sunset, and I upped the exposure on my phone’s camera to get all the light in.”

What makes it a winner

You can practically feel the temperature of this photo—those last few rays of warm sun before the evening cold settles in, the feeling of a long, hot day giving way to night. It’s so inviting and makes you want to jump into that hammock yourself. The gorgeous evening light is this photo’s strongest feature, but we love the contrast with the dark, vertical bands of trees in the foreground. The height of those trees is emphasized by how low the hammock sits, creating a feeling of depth that is hard to achieve when shooting on an iPhone.

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