Skip to main content
How I got the shotShowcase

Showcase 2020 Winner Profile – Emma Balunek

By June 1, 2020No Comments
Photo of prairie dog in front of construction. Showcase 2020 Judges’ Choice, Conservation: "New Neighbors in Town” © Emma Balunek.
Showcase 2020 Judges’ Choice, Conservation: “New Neighbors in Town” © Emma Balunek.

How I Got the Shot

An urban prairie dog colony near downtown Fort Collins was scheduled for relocation. Construction of new apartments had begun. I knew an excavator would be coming to dig up part of the colony. I drove to the site every day to check on the excavator because I wanted to make a picture of a prairie dog with the excavator in the background to tell the story of development and urban prairie dogs. Finally, the excavator was in the perfect spot. I identified a burrow, set out my camera with a remote trigger, and waited until a prairie dog stood on that burrow.

What I Used

I used a Nikon D500 with 70-200mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens. I set the camera out remotely with a Vello Wireless ShutterBoss III. Image was shot at ISO 640, f/6.7, 1/500 sec.

About Me

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, I am a senior at Colorado State University completing a degree in Ecosystem Science and Sustainability. I started photography when I was 12. My photography is focused on telling important wildlife and conservation stories to make people care about the issue. My favorite subjects are prairie dogs because they are charismatic, entertaining, and are vital to the grassland ecosystem. There is a simplistic beauty and balance in the grasslands that I really enjoy. I hope to use the power of photography to shine a light on “underdog” species like the prairie dog.

My Photographic Journey

I watched my dad take photos on family trips and decided I wanted to try it. I was one of the ten NANPA High School Program participants in 2016, when I met Karine Aigner. The following summer I went to Ecuador with Karine Aigner and Lucas Bustamante for their Kids Conservation Photography Workshop. This was a pivotal moment in my photography career because I realized I could combine my two favorite things – photography and wildlife conservation. My Ecuador group was invited to speak at the International League of Conservation Photographer’s annual conference, WildSpeak, in November 2017. I was inspired by the presenters, and decided I wanted to tell my own conservation photography story about prairie dogs. The power of photographs and the emotions they evoke is what keeps me interested in photography.

NANPA and Me

I have been a NANPA member since 2016. I have had one photo selected for the top 250 in both 2019 and 2020, in addition to winning Judge’s Choice in 2020.

Learn More About Me

My NANPA portfolio is: or find her at and on Instagram @EmmaBalunek.