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Q&A: Winner of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine’s 2023 Cover Photo Contest Talks Photography and Bears

This year, Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine held its annual Cover Photo Contest sponsored by Adventures on the Gorge to offer our readers and the talented photographers of our region the chance to land a cover and win an adventure. From views of mountainous sunsets to shots of raging river trips, all outdoor adventure photos taken within the Mid-Atlantic Southeast region were welcome for submission. We received hundreds of submissions and thousands of votes for the fifteen finalists, but one came out on top. 

We are excited to announce the winner of this year’s contest is Jared Kreiss with his stunning photo of a family of bears exploring Cades Cove of Tennessee. The winning photo will be featured on an upcoming cover of Blue Ridge Outdoors. The runner-ups for this year’s contest are Rob Giersch coming in second place with an epic shot of a C-1 paddler running advanced whitewater rapids, and Jay Michaud in third place with a gorgeous sunset of the Blue Ridge Mountains! 

By Rob Giersch
Photo by Jay Michaud

We caught up with Kreiss to get to know the story behind the lens and learn his process in photography and capturing a family of bears in the wild. 

BRO: How does it feel to be this year’s Cover Photo Contest Winner?

Kreiss: It’s exciting to have my work recognized and am I proud to show off this area with my photography. 

BRO: We are dying to know—how did you capture this incredible photo of this bear family?

Kreiss: So, I spent over 60 hours in Cades Cove riding my bike around and relentlessly searching for any activity. I saw this particular family out in the field and just sat there and watched them for about 30 minutes with my camera ready. After a while of waiting, they just happened to pop up out of the grass.  

BRO: Tell us about yourself as a photographer and adventurer—how would you describe your work/process and where do you draw your inspiration from?

Kreiss: As a photographer I like to be able to create a sense of peace and connection to our planet with what I create. I am very dedicated with my work and hold myself to a high standard when it comes to capturing the perfect moment and bringing it to life with post processing. I try to keep my photographic style clean and minimal as well as having it be an accurate representation of how I saw it. I draw my inspiration from the natural beauty that surrounds us, especially the Southern Appalachian region. 

BRO: Where is your favorite place to explore / photograph?

Kreiss: The mountains of North Carolina are most likely my favorite place to explore and photograph. I find a great sense of peace and stillness in these mountains over many other places. 

BRO: What is one of your favorite photos other than this one?

Kreiss:  One of my other favorite photos would probably be a shot over the Na Pali coast in Kauai. I think the memory that photo gives me, hanging out the side of a helicopter while taking the photo is really just hard to top. 

BRO: What advice would you give to someone wanting to photograph wildlife, esp bears?

Kreiss: I am still relatively new to wildlife photography, however some tips I would give to someone starting out would be to familiarize yourself with the animal’s habits, patterns and behaviors. Knowing where they like to hang out, what they like to eat etc. Also be prepared to go days, weeks or even months without seeing anything or getting any good photographs. It takes patience. 

BRO: Where do you see your photography taking you next? Any big projects or ideas for the future?

Kreiss: I would love for my photography to take me to either Alaska or New Zealand in the near future.  As far as big projects or ideas, I would love to take on more commercial work and projects that will be displayed in advertising. Billboards, magazines, travel guides etc. I would like to continue working in the tourism industry while expanding my network of clientele and opportunities. Any project that involves sustainability or environmentalism would also be a project that would get me excited. 

Disclaimer: Wildlife can be unpredictable and dangerous to human life when approached in the wild. We do not reccomend interacting with wildlife without professional supervision or guidance. Kreiss took these photos with a very long lens at a safe distance from these bears. Always consult your local department of wildlife before recreating in the outdoors. 

Cover Photo by Jared Kriess

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