It all started when she captured a photo of an eagle in flight on her iPhone and it has grown into a passion she cultivates every chance she gets.
Carla Hunt is a regular contributor to The Morning Star, submitting her nature photography of wildlife in the Okanagan.
Armed with only her camera, Hunt will often spend an entire day from sunrise to sunset in the bush, hiking and sitting until the animals and birds become used to her presence.
She moved to Vernon in 1998 from Victoria and fell in love with the Okanagan. She has a successful senior administrative support consulting business called Raven-Hunt Consulting.
Hunt has always enjoyed playing around with photography, but her hobby evolved five years ago, when she returned to Victoria to care for her ailing foster dad.
“It’s how I kept my sanity, because he was struggling with dementia. I would take walks down to the ocean and take pictures. One day I noticed an eagle in a tree and thought I’d take a picture. I caught him just taking off out of the tree and I was hooked,” she says with a smile, remembering the moment.
“It really taught me how to focus and get re-balanced because wildlife, if you really sit and observe them, aren’t worried about things that we’re worried about and stressing over things we stress about, which was really helpful to me.”
Connecting with her dad over her photography in the evenings is a special memory for her.
“I’d take a look over my pictures and he’d be looking at them and he’d pause for a minute and say that’s a bald eagle, deer, or whatever it was, so it was helpful to him, too. Then he would say ‘You took that picture? That’s so cool!’ and it would snap him back into reality…it was really good for both of us.”
Since she has been back in Vernon, the mom of four kids, ranging in age from 14 to 24, is outside taking pictures any chance she gets.
Usually she goes out solo accompanied only by her Nikon D7000 and Sigma 150mm-500mm lens, but sometimes one of her children will tag along and she admits that they are her biggest fans.
The first time one of her photos appeared in The Morning Star she says her daughter came running into the room with it crumpled and clutched in her hand because she was so excited.
Hunt has been tossing around the idea of making a calendar of her photos to sell, but for now she just makes them for her friends and family.
She finds it very peaceful and calming to re-connect with nature.
“Observing wildlife is really cool if you take the time to watch them. The animals are different in each area, the size, the colour, it’s really neat.”
The one animal that has been elusive for Hunt is the cougar.
“I see these stories in the news about a cougar in Coldstream and I think, ‘why doesn’t anyone phone me!’”
For many people the idea of seeing a cougar or bear by themselves in the woods is the stuff of nightmares, but for Hunt that’s the goal.
“I’m hoping to see more bears this year because I just got a bigger lens. It is huge and heavy and I’ve almost had to re-learn how to photograph with it.”
She admits she’s had a few wild experiences. The first time she saw a bobcat up close she had to tell herself to take a deep breath to calm herself because she feels animals can sense a person’s stress and unease.
Once she was caught off guard while taking photos of a sunset. She heard dogs barking in the distance before seeing a large black bear running straight for her, away from the dogs.
“He wasn’t even looking at me, he was just running away from whatever had scared him, the dogs I’m assuming, and he came barrelling towards me, so I just stomped my feet on the ground and yelled and it scared him even more and he took off to the left. I was so scared I couldn’t get a picture off.”
Hunt says she hasn’t got over her fear of some wildlife and she is constantly watching and smelling for danger. She says coyotes have a distinct smell.
A self-taught photographer, she is always experimenting, learning through trial and error, and constantly evolving.
“You have to have patience to wait, especially when photographing eagles, they will fly eventually. I love when I’m out in the field and I can see the photo I want to get and I get home and realize I got it.”
Coming home to Vernon after looking after her dad, she says she sees things from a new perspective.
“I see how much wildlife we have here. I think the biggest thing I noticed was the growth in Vernon…I think that is a big reason why I’m trying to get so much detail in my wildlife photography. I want people to see all this wildlife we have and the habitat destruction going on. The further we develop that, the less space they have to live.”