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News / Life / Clark County Life

Vancouver doctor wins National Geographic photography contest

Photographer went to extensive depths to capture first place

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter
Published: May 6, 2018, 6:05am
8 Photos
Another diver hangs with a great hammerhead shark in a photo taken by Jim Obester in 20 feet of water off Bimini, in the Bahamas.
Another diver hangs with a great hammerhead shark in a photo taken by Jim Obester in 20 feet of water off Bimini, in the Bahamas. Jim Obester Photo Gallery

Jim Obester sees things that most people don’t.

Most people never take a jaunt to “Jaws”-ville or hang with hammerheads.

But we can enjoy his photographs. And now one of those images has a high-profile showcase, after Obester won a first place award in National Geographic’s 2017 nature photography contest.

The Vancouver physician won for underwater photography, one of four categories in the contest. (The others were wildlife, landscape and aerial.) The winner wasn’t one of his shark photos, even though he submitted a couple of them. He scored with a luminescent portrait of an anemone that was taken in Puget Sound. At first glance, there wasn’t much to see.

“It was clear and bland,” said Obester, who worked with Columbia Anesthesia Group until retiring recently. However, “it glowed green under blue light.”

Obester described the technical aspects of the image in his photo caption: “Blue filtered strobe lights stimulate fluorescent pigments in the clear tentacles of a tube-dwelling anemone.”

First place came with a $2,500 prize.

“I bought a new camera and housing,” Obester said.

He took the winning photograph in about 60 feet of water at Sund Rock, a designated marine conservation area north of Hoodsport on Hood Canal.

It doesn’t have quite the same feeling that comes with swimming with sharks, so Obester does a lot of solo diving on this sort of photo shoot.

“It’s hard to have a buddy wait 20 minutes while you hover over an anemone and take the same photograph over and over and over,” Obester said.

His shark photo shoots don’t involve protective cages, by the way.

“The first time was a little sketchy: a great white off the Mexican coast. Then I was hooked.”

Obester, whose initial college degree was a bachelor’s in marine biology, entered one of his shark photos in the same contest in 2015.

“It didn’t get anything from National Geographic,” he said. But someone at a German magazine saw it on a website.

“They Googled my name, contacted me at the hospital, and published it.”

Karla Obester does not share her husband’s passion for diving, but she recognizes its role in his life.

“I know he’s happy. He has a very stressful job,” she said shortly before his retirement. “This is a creative way for him to decompress.”

And like everybody else, Karla Obester can enjoy his photographs.

“That makes me happy,” she said.

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Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter