Amherst resident named winner in Mass Audubon photography contest for image of baby porcupine


For the Gazette

Published: 02-01-2023 8:47 PM

AMHERST — Sometimes patience pays off — at least it certainly did for Amherst photographer Darya Zelentsova, whose image of a baby porcupine at the Quabbin Reservoir last summer recently won top honors from the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

The 43-year-old’s picture, an up-close photograph of a porcupine in a clover field, was named a winner in Mass Audubon’s 2022 “Picture This: Your Great Outdoors” photography contest. The photo won in the 18-and-older division of the Mammals category.

This year, Mass Audubon’s annual photo contest received over 7,000 submissions.

“I’m always happy to see my photographs being published or praised,” Zelentsova said. “It’s always good when you see the result of your work.”

Originally from Kyiv, Ukraine, Zelentsova picked up photography 10 years ago just before moving to the U.S. She has since learned still life, portrait and commercial food photography, but wildlife photography is her greatest passion.

“I love animals; I’m vegetarian; and to tell the truth, I’m not a very patient person. Wildlife photography is a thing that always requires a lot of patience — a lot of silence. So I think maybe that’s how I challenge myself,” Zelentsova said with a chuckle.

She spends much of her time exploring local forests, taking photos at the seashore, and watching wildlife at the Quabbin Reservoir, which is where she snapped her winning porcupine image. After four years of observing the porcupine’s mother — which she fondly named Totoro after the forest spirit from the film “My Neighbor Totoro” — Zelentsova spent around five hours capturing different angles and movements of the baby porcupine.

Before embarking on a wildlife shoot, Zelentsova spends time reading and researching the animals she plans on photographing. For this session, she learned that porcupines eat clover, spend their nights in trees, and have poor sight but a strong sense of smell.

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“I think that almost all nature photographers, they’re also naturalists because they try to learn the habits of the animals,” Zelentsova said. “A lot of people think that you just see the animal, click the button and that’s it. But there are so many conditions.”

The photograph is Zelentsova’s second winning image with Mass Audubon. In 2019, she won the Mammal category with a picture of a beaver.