Image of Expressive River Otter Takes Grand Prize in 2021 Photo Contest

Release Date:
January 12, 2022

LINCOLN, MA.—Was it the wide-eyed look of surprise? The irreverent, stuck-out tongue? Whatever, the facial expression on a river otter at a west-of-Boston pond was enough to earn the image top honors in Mass Audubon’s annual statewide photography contest, Picture This: Your Great Outdoors.

The Grand Prize-winning photo in the 2021 competition was taken at Mass Audubon’s Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary in Hopkinton by Ian Barton of Framingham. Barton works in User Experience Design, but is a serious photographer by avocation, with a love of nature.

The photo came about after Barton, 35, heard from a friend that there was a family of otters at the Metro West wildlife sanctuary, where a modest pond serves as a centerpiece.

“Waseeka is only about 20 minutes from where I live, so I decided to take a trip over,” he recalled. “Luckily, the otters were out and very active when I got there, so I got as low as I could and waited. They swam toward me, at which point this otter decided to take a break from play, shake off some water, and look around.” 

He got the shot when his subject climbed atop a semi-submerged log.

“It was a wonderful moment and I feel very lucky to have had this experience,” said Barton, a Mass Audubon member.

Connections to both his avocation and the natural world run deep. “My parents are avid photographers, so photography has always been a part of my life,” he noted.  “However, my love of photography was sparked by a trip to the Galapagos, where wildlife was literally all around you.”

While the biodiversity-rich islands off  the northwest coast of South America may be a bit more than 20 minutes from Barton’s home, Waseeka is close enough, as is Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary in Natick, another favorite. And he expects to visit more Mass Audubon sanctuaries this year.

“Nature has always been a part of my life,” Barton said. “Being in nature allows me to take a step back, slow down, and reflect, while also allowing me space to relax and get some exercise.”

The 2021 Picture This: competition drew more than 8,000 submissions, entered by hundreds of photographers of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.

Participants could enter in their appropriate age groups: 18-and-Older or Under-18. Photo subject categories included People in Nature, Birds, Mammals, Other Animals, Landscapes, and Plants and Fungi.

All images—photographers could submit up to 10—must have been shot in Massachusetts or at Mass Audubon’s Wildwood Camp in Rindge, NH, but may have been taken any time prior to or during the 2021 contest period.

Barton will be awarded a $250 gift card of his Grand Prize-winning photo, in addition to being featured in Mass Audubon’s member newsletter, Explore. The 11 other Category winners will receive $100 gift cards, and eight Honorable Mentions will receive $50 gift cards. They can be redeemed at a Mass Audubon shop or wildlife sanctuary.

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Mass Audubon is the largest nature-based conservation organization in New England. Founded in 1896 by two women who fought for the protection of birds, Mass Audubon carries on their legacy by focusing on the greatest challenges facing the environment today: the loss of biodiversity, inequitable access to nature, and climate change. With the help of our 140,000 members and supporters, we protect wildlife, conserve and restore resilient land, advocate for impactful environmental policies, offer nationally recognized education programs for adults and children, and provide endless opportunities to experience the outdoors at our wildlife sanctuaries. Explore, find inspiration, and take action at www.massaudubon.org.