CONSERVATION IS A KEY theme throughout Thomas D. Mangelsen's body of work. By showcasing the beauty of nature, he hopes to encourage others to discover the wonders the natural world has to offer and to care enough to preserve what remains. His conservation activism efforts came of age with a once-in-a-lifetime experience in his hometown of Jackson, Wyoming. A mountain lion mother and her three cubs were discovered at the nearby National Elk Refuge, within range of Tom's lens. Mangelsen was so inspired that he co-founded The Cougar Fund in 2001 to help protect the cougar by educating children and adults on the value of cougars, by funding and promoting the use of sound science, and by monitoring state policies to assure a lasting place for this graceful creature.

While many photographers put on their longest lens to get up-close-and-personal, Tom steps back to include a wider view of the natural world. Sensitivity to his subjects and a deep reverence for their surroundings is a defining mark of Mangelsen's work. "Environment and habitat are so important to the overall scheme of the image," he says. "After all, this is where these animals call home, and without placing them in that habitat, without including the artistry of place, the image would not be complete."

For Mangelsen, meeting the sunrise is a lifelong passion, one that has carried him to the farthest corners of the earth in search of bald eagles, polar bears, tigers, and lions. Knowing the animals being photographed as well as their habits, and learning to see patterns between the two, goes a long way when you spend eight months a year in the field. His understanding of light and weather and how they affect animals' behavior is also key to knowing when to act.

Mangelsen focuses on three main elements to capture the ideal photograph: patience, light, and behavior. These golden rules go back to the days when he would spend hours by his dad's side in a duck blind, observing the abundant waterfowl of the Platte River ecosystem that fed his love for the natural world early on. Those rules, which he still relies on today, are simple and straightforward. Combined with over 30 years of practice, they have earned him the reputation for which he is known today.

When asked what he predicts for the future of his work, Mangelsen expresses the desire to see more people relate to the natural world, to be less afraid of the wild and what it represents. This common bond between the animal world and the human world is what Mangelsen aims to achieve when people experience his Images of Nature Galleries. With several locations throughout the West and Midwest, Tom's work has long been viewed as collectible, and its popularity continues to grow. "I hope my work reminds people of what is beautiful and, if we take care of it, lasting in this world. The natural world somehow has this incredible ability to put things in perspective."

For more about Thomas D. Mangelsen's photography, conservation alliances, and galleries, visit his website.
Learn more about the Conservation Photographer of the Year Award.

Mangelsen on the Walls of the SmithsonianNature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards Exhibit

• "Bear River," McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, Alaska, USA. Each summer, brown bears congregate to feast on salmon as they pass through the shallow waters.

• "Catch of the Day," Brooks Falls, Alaska, USA. A sockeye salmon leaps into the waiting jaws of an Alaskan brown bear. This has remained Mangelsen's most iconic image, photographed in 1988, long before the digital era. Tom previsualized this image and spent an entire week attempting to capture it. He would not know that he had been successful until the film was developed a month later.

• "Reflections of Denali," Denali National Park, Alaska, USA. Mirrored in one of the many ponds on the tundra below the Alaska Range, a moose stands amid the multicolored patchwork of birch, willow, and wild berries in the shadow of Mt. McKinley—a reminder of the grand scale of Denali.

• "Snake River Crossing," Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA. Fog rises off the river and swirls into the half-lit morning, partly obscuring a herd of elk crossing the river. The morning stillness is broken by one of the most chilling sounds in nature—the echoes of bull elk bugling.

• "Windswept - Bison," Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. This bull, along with others of his herd, is seemingly unaffected by the brutal, 30-mile-per-hour winds that sweep through Lamar Valley.

Nature's Best Photography Spring/Summer magazine cover

Nature's Best Photography semi-annual magazine showcases the art of nature photography by professionals, amateur, and young photographers from around the globe. Portfolios by award-winners bring the beauty and inspire the conservation of our natural world. Printed using high-quality paper and inks, Nature's Best Photography magazine continues to win awards for "Best Use of Photography," "Best Design," and "Best Printing."
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