Tag Archives: Birds

Geese Over Canada Malting Silos

At the beginning of this year, I was standing at the foot of the Canada Malting Silos and saw a flock of geese approaching from the southeast. They were flying from the water and heading straight for me. I’d been shooting with a monopod and there wasn’t time to unscrew it so I abandoned the idea of shooting the geese. But they kept approaching and, looking up, I realized they’d be passing directly over the silos. Maybe I’d be able to capture the geese in some relation with the top of the silos …

I pointed my camera straight up with the monopod sticking out in a vaguely phallic pose. The geese flew overhead. They were really moving! I tilted back and back and … I fell over. Sure, I looked like an idiot, but I got this photo which (I think) exemplifies one of my photographic aims.

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I want to explore the intersection of the human and natural worlds. We humans are, I believe, at a pivotal moment in our relationship to the natural world. Since the rise of early modernism, we have defined ourselves out of nature. We have conceptualized ourselves as other and apart. We are master; it is subject. Maybe it’s time to reinsert ourselves into the world we left. Maybe it’s time to give up the master fantasy and to resume our place as humble participant. We may have no choice.

The silos are crumbling. There’s a fence around them, and signs warn of the danger. The geese continue overhead on their trek to the northwest. These silos could be here or not here. Either way, it would make no difference to the geese.

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Wildlife As Street Photography Training

I forgot to post some images from my recent trip to Florida. I don’t regard myself as a nature or wildlife photographer. For one thing, I don’t have the proper equipment for it, namely a fast long lens. Maybe one day when I have an extra couple of mil to drop, I’ll pick up that 1600 mm lens I’ve been hankering for. In the meantime, I make do with my 70-200 mm lens with 2X extender. For another thing, I live in downtown Toronto and so most of my photo opportunities (and my love) belong to urban spaces. Nevertheless, one kind of photography doesn’t preclude the other. And skills applied in one are transferable to the other.

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For example, in the cases of both wildlife and street photography, the aim is to capture a dramatic moment, something in process, a narrative. It isn’t good enough to shoot a bird on a branch and offer it as an instance of a pretty bird on a branch. The pretty bird on the branch has to be doing something. In the same way, it isn’t good enough to shoot a static picture of a person staring at the lens like the subject of a 19th century portrait. The person has to be engaged (and engage us) in something more.

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In both kinds of photography, capturing that dramatic moment means that you have to be on edge. At any second, the drama may present itself and you have to be ready for it. The heron may lunge. The man may shake his fist.

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As a corollary, both kinds of photography produce a lot of garbage. Wildlife and people (especially children) move around a lot. They’re unpredictable. You may shoot a series in continuous mode, a rapid burst that gives you nothing, one decent shot if you’re lucky. You have to reconcile yourself to the fact that your one success will be ushered in on a thousand failures.

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There are differences, of course. In street photography, there are conventions that, for practical reasons, haven’t caught hold with wildlife. One is the tendency to work exclusively in black and white. In wildlife photography, colour is often the point and converting to black and white would only undermine the work. Also, street purists frown on those who use anything longer than a 50 mm lens; you have to get in close and personal. In wildlife photography, that simply isn’t possible, especially if you’re shooting alligators or rattle snakes. Well, it’s possible, if you don’t mind putting an abrupt end to your career.

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The many faces of Great Blue Heron

First up is classic great blue. He (she?) just stands there doing nothing. Classic great blue is vaguely narcissistic, hoping passers-by will say “Ooo, awww, isn’t he (she?) beautiful?”

Great Blue Heron

Next up is reflective great blue. This is a little bit like classic great blue in that he (she?) is doing that narcissistic posing thing. But don’t be fooled. Great blue has one eye on the water, hoping to catch sight of food.

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Victoria – Animals

The 7th in a series of 10 posts featuring photos of Victoria, B.C. This time: animals. (It was too wet for whale watching. Maybe next time.)

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Birds Migrating South

This fall, I observe different species of birds passing through the Toronto Brickworks. First, I saw finches:

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Then the American tree sparrows:

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Birds: Pretty/Disturbing

Photos of birds are supposed to be pretty, right? The bird sits on a perch, soft light, blurred background. We sigh at the beauty. We say: awww. Take, fr’instance, this American tree sparrow I shot in Toronto’s Evergreen Brickworks:

American Tree Sparrow

But sometimes the natural world defies our expectations. Certainly that was the lesson from a hike through Tommy Thompson Park when I saw something hanging high in a tree. Zooming in, I discovered that it was a cormorant, neck broken, head wedged in a forked branch.

Dead Cormorant

How does something like this even happen? Does the bird get depressed and decide one day to end it all? Life’s such a puzzle.

 

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