AGAWAM — Dave Mason is an amateur photographer who was in the right spot with his camera to capture a stunning photo that recently took top honors in an outdoor photography contest.

The Feeding Hills resident was among several winners announced in January in the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s 2023 “Picture This: Your Great Outdoors” photography contest. Mason won for a spectacular image of a North American mink racing toward him. His photo was entered in the mammals category for ages 18 and older.

“This was the first and only contest I’ve entered so far,” said Mason, 46, whose photography skills are self-taught. He said it took him about two years to begin producing high-quality photos. “I’ve never taken any course or joined any clubs,” he said, but “I learned a lot on the Internet through photography forums and YouTube.”

Amateur photographer Dave Mason stands in front of some framed wildlife photos he’s shot that he displays in his Feeding Hills home.
Reminder Publishing submitted photo

Mason began taking nature photos about five years ago — shortly after he started hiking to relieve anxiety and stress.

“Something about being in nature relieves my stress and anxiety. Around the same time, my grandmother became ill. She loved birds and birdwatching, but she could no longer do it,” he said.

Once he found himself in nature, Mason started seeing a variety of different birds and wildlife. Since his grandmother could no longer leave her house, he decided to take photos of birds he saw and email them to her. 

“The more I started doing that, the more I started to enjoy it. It was making my grandmother very happy. It also made me feel good — not only to connect with nature, but also to succeed at a challenging type of photography,” he said.

Even after his grandmother died, Mason’s love for being in nature with wildlife continued to intensify.

“It’s where I find myself most at peace. I love the challenge of wildlife photography as well as simply observing all the different types of wildlife,” he said.

According to Mass Audubon, its annual statewide photography contest attracts people from all backgrounds and experiences who have been increasingly drawn to the natural world for its solace, beauty and wonder. In addition to mammals, other contest categories included plants and fungi, people in nature, birds and other animals.

All photos — competitors could submit up to 10 — were required to be taken in Massachusetts or at Mass Audubon’s Wildwood Camp in Rindge, New Hampshire. Photos could be taken any time prior to or during the 2023 contest period, July 1 to Sept. 30.

Mason learned about the photo contest when he Googled “New England photo contests.” His photo was among more than 5,000 images submitted by hundreds of photographers of varied abilities from across the state and beyond who documented the Bay State’s natural beauty.

What makes Mason’s winning photo even more amazing is that it was a photo of opportunity. In August 2022, he was walking around Fannie Stebbins Wildlife Refuge in Longmeadow when he heard a slight sound behind him. Turning, he saw a rabbit running toward him.

Dave Mason’s spectacular image of a North American mink racing toward him took top honors in the 2023 Mass Audubon photography contest.
Reminder Publishing submitted photo

“To me, that was weird — and shocking — because they always run away. I looked behind the rabbit and saw the mink chasing it. I quickly lifted my camera and fired off some shots. They both disappeared into the brush on the side. The whole thing happened in a few seconds. It really pays to know your camera inside and out,” said Mason, who used a Nikon D500 with a Nikon 200-500mm lens.

“I was very surprised to learn I had won because on Instagram and Facebook, I’ve seen many good wildlife photos,” he said. “I’m sure there were a lot of very good entries. I submitted 10 photos — nine [of] them were different types of birds. This was the only mammal I entered.”

Mason said he’s printed many of the photos he’s taken. Some of his favorites are framed and displayed on the walls in different rooms at his house.

“I’ve never had any of my photos displayed in public, but I would certainly do that if I was asked,” he said.

For winning in a category, Mason received a $100 gift card, which can be redeemed at a Mass Audubon shop or wildlife sanctuary. He’s not sure what he will do with his prize money, but said he’s thinking about buying a pair of binoculars.

All winning and honorable mention photos can be viewed at massaudubon.org/picturethis.

mlydick@thereminder.com | + posts