By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Cody photographer Meg Sommers wasn’t on the lookout for an award-winning image when she went on an African photography safari last year.
But that’s exactly what she captured.
Sommers, an attorney and judge who has lived in Cody since 1977, picked up wildlife photography as a hobby more than 20 years ago. Her photographs of Yellowstone, which can be found on her website megsommers.com, capture the colorful, quiet, expansive and awesome details of nature in all its glory.
But the image that caught the attention of editors at Outdoor Photographer magazine was not taken at one of Sommers’ usual haunts. The photo she submitted was one of a lion cub and his mother perched on a tree branch in Kenya.
“I call the image ‘Reassurance,’” said Sommers, describing the photograph that won the grand prize in the magazine’s 2022 wildlife photo competition. “One minute you are happily playing on a tree limb … and the next minute you hear a constant whirl of cameras clicking.
“Mom, an old hand at being a star, knows you are there without even looking. She reaches out and gives you that reassuring touch that says, ‘It’s OK, I’m here.’”
Sommers and two of her friends were on a three-week photo safari in Kenya in October 2021 when their guide happened upon the mama lion and her cub on a tree branch.
She said the guides are experts at recognizing photo opportunities then positioning the vehicle – which the photographers never had to get out of – for maximum effect.
Sommers said the group watched the lions for around 10 minutes before the perfect photo opportunity presented itself, and she took the shot.
“The tree branch was eye level to the safari vehicle, from where we were shooting,” Sommers told Cowboy State Daily. “And mom was just perched on the tree branch, and (the cub) was just playing behind her.”
‘That’s A Winner’
Sommers said when the group returned to their lodging that evening and compared their photographs, one of the guides, Mamai John, took a quick look at the back of Sommers’ camera.
“And he said something like, ‘Wow, that’s a winner,’” Sommers said.
So, she said she decided to test that theory, submitting the photo to one of her favorite magazines, Outdoor Photographer.
“It’s a magazine that I’ve had a subscription to for many years,” said Sommers. “I read it cover to cover when it comes.”
She said she had no expectations of even making it as a finalist for the magazine’s annual wildlife photo contest, because of the quality of images that are submitted every year.
“When I looked at (the other) photographs, I thought, some of them are jaw dropping,” said Sommers. “And some of them, I thought mine was better.”
Sommers said she submitted the image in October and was notified in November that she was a finalist, along with 23 others.
“It really doesn’t sink in,” she said of winning the grand prize. “It’s really very special.”
As the grand prize winner, Sommers doesn’t just get the glory, she gets a significant amount of cash ($1,000) and equipment to go along with the title: computer monitors, lenses and filters, photo editing software, a flash kit, vouchers for photography classes and, of course, publication of her photograph in Outdoor Photographer magazine and its associated media.
“I think they total it up to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,300,” Sommers said. “As my brother said, that’s a lot of swag.”
Hooked On Safaris
Sommers said that although she didn’t have high hopes for an enjoyable experience when she planned her first safari to Botswana in 2019, she soon found herself having the time of her life.
“I was very reluctant ahead of time, they had to really persuade me because I didn’t think it would be much fun shooting out of a vehicle, and what do you do with images that nobody recognizes over here, and all sorts of excuses in my head,” Sommers said. “But the first day we were over there, I was hooked, because there’s so much wildlife out there.”
Teaching Others To Succeed
Now that she’s won the Outdoor Photographer grand prize, Sommers is by no means resting on her laurels.
Although still an active district court judge – “All I really do is marry people now,” she said – Sommers spends much of her time taking photos and teaching others how to do the same. She is a nature photography instructor for the Yellowstone National Park foundation Yellowstone Forever, as well as for the tour group Road Scholars.
“I love to see that enthusiasm for wildlife photography spark,” she said, “and help people learn the cameras.”
Sommers said that in both her basic and advanced wildlife photography classes, she tries to teach students how to tell a story with their images.
“I’m particularly pleased with this particular image, because it has such a story to it,” she said. “When I was practicing (law) full time, and started taking pictures, I just fell in love with animal behavior and animal interaction within their own species or other species.
“It’s just fascinating to watch – and that applies in Yellowstone as well as Africa.”