For our 5th birthday, 500px hosted a massive contest where we asked you to tell us, “all about the memories you’ve made over the years as a photographer and 500px community member!”

The grand-prize winner and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd runners up all won awesome prizes and, as a bonus, each gets a feature on 500px ISO.

We already introduced you to the Grand Prize Winner of our birthday contest, Pauly Pholwises, and third runner up Ayie Permata Sari. Our next dose of inspiration comes from wonderful animal portraitist and second runner up Sham Jolimie, the photographer behind this viral photo of an owl in the rain:

Sham’s Q&A was a joy. She introduced us to some of the amazing animals she’s had the pleasure of photographing and interacting with, told us a bit about herself, and spoke eloquently about her love of animals and the desire to do them justice through photography.

500PX: Congrats on the win! Can you briefly tell us the story of how, when, and where you found out about the results?

SHAM JOLIMIE: I found out when I checked my inbox one last time before going to bed. I jumped off my chair with joy. Judging from the sheer number of entries to the competition, I thought mine would just be drowned by other excellent submissions. I was ecstatic to find out that I won this incredible prize.

How did you get started with photography?

SHAM: I’ve always been interested in art in all its forms. Photography seemed a natural choice. It’s the perfect art medium for me to convey ideas that are important to me.

What are your favorite subjects to shoot?

SHAM: My favourite subjects are animals. Whether they are domestic or wild, I love to capture their essence.

What can we find in your camera bag?

SHAM: I mainly use two cameras and two lenses. A Nikon D90 with Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G, and a Fujifilm X-A1 with a Fujinon XF 35mm f1.4.

In 2-3 sentences, can you walk us through each of the photos in your contest entry? Tell us how you planned and shot each photo in your contest entry — from location scouting, to picking the “models,” to getting the shot, to post-processing.

SHAM: Here goes!

This is a portrait of a male baby marmoset. Marmosets are very inquisitive. This one was very shy at first but when I held a small mirror near the lens, he could not resist his curiosity and came closer.

This is a portrait of a Dik-dik, which is a miniature antelope. They have beautiful large eyes, long eyelashes and slender dainty legs. This individual was intrigued by the sound of the shutter. Hence, it’s ears perked up and it looked right into the lens.

Sarah is an orphan orangutan who lives at a sanctuary in Malaysia. Interacting with her was a magical moment. Her eyes are so kind, honest and authentic.

This is a pair of meerkats who were standing guard. It was not hard to attract their attention as they are very alert. Unlike some animals, they do no hesitate to make eye contact with people.

This was shot on a rainy monsoon day. The owl and I looked at each other for a long while. I took the portrait to capture that moment of precious connection between us.

Even though this Mandrill looked intimidating, I was determined to take his portrait. I could not pass the chance to show the world how hauntingly beautiful primates can be. I sat outside his enclosure at the zoo and waited until he felt comfortable to approach, then shot this award-winning image.

JK was bought on the illegal pet trade and abandoned in a hotel room as a baby. He was rescued and is now thriving. Upon meeting me, he shoved my entire hand in this mouth and then nibbled on it with his impressive canines.

This portrait was shot at a tiny patch of forest in the middle of the city. The trick with these monkeys was to use the live view feature instead of the viewfinder because it scared them when my face was obstructed.

This is portrait of Hiroshi the orphan baby orangutan. Hiroshi was very playful and we instantly became friends. What I like about this photo is that my own reflection can be seen in his eyes.

This is a portrait of Fred Melot aka Frederic Melotte who is a very talented photographer and is mostly known for this portraiture and landscape photography. We had the idea of using two of his vintage fixed Nikkor lenses in this shot.

We just turned 5, and we’ve gone through a lot of pivots and changes over the years. How about you? What were you like as a photographer 5 five years ago, and how have you grown in your craft today?

SHAM: My photography has evolved tremendously in the past few years. I started out feeling a bit inadequate and trying out all the different areas of photography. I was gradually drawn towards portraiture and finally realized that my specialty would be fine art portraiture of animals.

I felt that I had a responsibility to use my art to inspire positive changes, with regards to our perception of animals. I made it my purpose to portray animals with the elegance and dignity that they deserve. I had finally found my calling and it is safe to say that a large part of that was thanks to 500px.

500px gave me the encouragement and exposure I needed to really come into my own as an artist.

Out of all the photos on your 500px profile, which one is your favorite and why?

SHAM: The portrait of Little Sarah is my favorite because it portrays how gentle and resilient orangutans are. Not to mention, her undeniable cuteness:

SHAM (continued): Despite the hardships that she has been through, Sarah still smiles. Losing their mother can prove fatal to orangutan babies but it seems like Sarah is determined to live a long and happy life. Every time I look at her portrait, I smile too.

What’s next for you in 2015? Any upcoming projects, exhibitions, workshops, etc?

SHAM: In 2015, I would very much like to participate in an art gallery show and publish a coffee table book with my animal portraits. Those are still ideas right now, but I hope that I will find some passionate collaborators to make them concrete. I would also like to be more involved in awareness campaigns revolving around animal welfare and conservation.

To see more of Sham’s mesmerizing animal portraits, be sure to follow her on 500px, visit her website, or give her a follow on Facebook. You can also read her 500px Prime success story, or license any of her animal portraits by clicking here.