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Candid photo of squirrel goes viral, wins award

BRANDON, Fla. (WFLA) — One of the first things you’ll notice about Mary McGowan when meeting her for the first time – her spirit.

For the Brandon photographer, it’s all about positive attitude and all heart. 

You can actually feel her enthusiasm when she talks about her favorite thing in the world: Taking pictures.

In fact, she loves it so much, she says she doesn’t remember life before her camera. “I love it, I was star struck from the start,” she said, followed by a hearty laugh.

Her happiness is palpable.

There’s no doubt she has a deep passion for taking pictures, discovered four years ago in her home state of Florida.

It happened in an instant –  an interest, so swift and so strong, you could call it love at first sight. 

When her hands first held a Canon, she says her world changed.

And she never looked back.  

On that day, her photography career was officially born. It felt a force of nature, which was perfect because that’s exactly what she wanted to capture in photos – nature and wildlife.  “I just knew,” she explained.

Talk about serendipity. 

She says she never thought a fascination with Florida’s favorite “Eagle Cam” would one day make her dreams come true.  It all started in 2014 when Mary joined millions of others in cheering on two Florida eagles, Harriet and M15, now famous themselves.. 

As the birds expanded their family during a 24-hour live feed online, they captured the hearts of people all over the world.

Including Mary.

When she joined friends and countless others in Fort Myers, and finally saw the eagles in person, she was in awe.

She felt inspired.  

After all, she had watched them for months.  

Then as she saw photographers snapping dozens of stunning photos, Mary knew instantly what she wanted to do.  

She was hooked.  

“It’s almost like an addiction,” she said with a wide smile. “I just keep clicking.”  And, she hasn’t stopped since.

Mary would eventually “click” her way to international fame when she snapped one heck of a photo on her own lawn – just feet away from her house.

The photo, like all of her pictures, was completely organic.  

No staging.  

No planning. 

No strategizing. 

She captured life as it was happening and is still stunned by what her camera caught that day as she looked out the window of her Brandon home. 

One thing you should know about Mary.  She takes her camera everywhere. We’re not kidding. She says she won’t leave her house without it. It goes everywhere she does.

And we mean everywhere.

Even in in her own backyard – which is where she met her new buddy. Some say their chance meeting sounds like a popular movie.

Talk about being in the right place at the right tine!  A Tampa woman gets the shock of a lifetime when her impromptu photo session captures a crazy snapshot of a squirrel. Her life changed overnight when her picture made international headlines

When Mary met Stanley.

As it turns out, this squirrel would one day reach stardom with a craziest candid snapshot, changing Mary’s life forever.

Stanley has one spot he loves more than anywhere else in the world.

His favorite place is Mary’s backyard bird-feeder which, as it turns out, is a big part of the back-story on the now-famous photo gone global.

On that day, when Mary was looking out her back window, Stanley was enjoying a tasty treat.

A peanut.

As Stanley devoured his snack, Mary grabbed her camera.

She snapped photo after photo.  

She had no way of knowing one of the frames captured on her Canon would make headlines all over the world and take her on an adventure beyond her wildest dreams.

“I knew it was a crazy picture the minute I shot it. My husband was here, he was on the computer. I said, get off the computer!  I need it right now! I have to download this,” she recalled.

The impromptu photo session was brief, lasting less than 5 seconds. Mary would later discover, she snapped her shot at exactly the right time.

And that picture has been seen by millions of people all over the world. 

The photograph captured Stanley in a stance of shock.

Claws in the air.

Mouth open.

Wide eyes.

The snapshot would later launch endless memes, spark countless conversations and inspire comical imaginary dialogue.  

So why did Stanley look so shocked in the picture?  Turns out, his snack time caught him off-guard.  In fact, the official title of the photo is, “Caught in the Act.”

Stanley had a brief choking fit, brought on by the peanut. A split-second later, he was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – like nothing ever happened.

“I was in the middle of shooting, and he was eating a peanut,” Mary said. “He was coughing, like it went down the wrong pipe or something, it was so quick, and then he was fine. It happened so fast.”

As Stanley steadied himself, he and his new photog friend were both stunned.

They paused for a fraction of a second.

Then Stanley finished his snack.

Mary ran in the house, camera in hand, gripping it tightly.  

Her snapshot was waiting.

That split second in her back yard led to one magical moment – a thrilling, roller-coaster of a journey where her photo would garner global recognition.  

She won a worldwide competition where thousands of photographers, from all over the globe, submitted their photos.

The Stanley photo stole the show, and Mary was flown to London where she was honored in the BBC Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

Mary told us, she’s still in shock.

In her wildest dreams, she never expected anything like this.  

For her, the international popularity of her work is both exciting and humbling. “This is so fun.  I just keep smiling and laughing,” she shared. “I don’t think of myself as an artist. I’m just me.”

Her trip to London was just the beginning.  

Mary will soon embark on another adventure.  

And when she talks about where she’s headed, her face lights up with anticipation.

A safari in Kenya.

Organizers of the photography competition are sending her to Africa, as part of winning the competition. As she talks about the upcoming trip, her smile gets even wider.  

This what joy looks like.

“Just follow your dreams and have fun. Just do what you love, and even if nothing comes of it, you’re still having fun and isn’t that what it’s all about.. It is for me,” Mary said, smiling.  “Have fun with what you’re doing.”

Good advice – straight from the heart.

As for Stanley, he’s alive and well – still hanging out in his all-time favorite spot.

Mary’s backyard.