I don’t often call myself a wildlife photographer. Of course there’s wildlife all around when I’m outdoors. I love identifying the birds I see and trying to learn the birdcalls. I enjoy the few times I notice the white-tail deer before they notice me and start bounding away. I’ve appreciated the blasé indifference of all the bears I’ve run into while hiking. And I get really excited when I see a pine marten, otter, or mink—which is infrequent enough!
I think the main reason I’ve never considered myself a wildlife photographer is the gear. It sounds ridiculous now that I say it, but it feels like it’s hard to compete with photographers who have the multi-thousand dollar lenses and who take regular month-long trips to famous wildlife destinations. It can seem like wildlife photography is a hobby for the wealthy (although I don’t mean to dismiss the extremely hard working and definitely not-rich wildlife photographers out there—I know you exist too).
Yet somehow over the years I’ve managed to take quite a few pictures of animals. Some of them I even like quite a lot. It’s rewarding to think that I can rely on thoughtful composition and patience to get beautiful photos instead of relying on expensive gear. If I was outdoors purely for the wildlife photos I’m sure I’d be disappointed, but because I thoroughly enjoy the whole experience, I find that the wildlife experiences I do have are that much more special.
The photo above is a baby bighorn sheep in Kananaskis.
270mm, f5.6, 1/800 of a second
I just got back from learning to sport climb near Canmore. Despite the rainy forecast we actually got a fair bit of nice weather and had a great time! We climbed near Grassi Lakes, Heart Creek, and Wasootch. I can’t wait to get out again and try some lead climbing, as well as some more creative photography. It’s hard to concentrate on photography while I’m learning another thing entirely, but as I get more comfortable with climbing the quality of the photos should go up. Which probably means I should go to the climbing gym, but that’s not nearly as fun as climbing outdoors. Here are a few photos I did manage to get on our trip.
Being belayed down after a successful climb.
Reg belaying as Seb leads one of the routes near Grassi Lakes.
Mike climbing near Grassi.
Seb rappelling down after cleaning the route.
Enjoying a snack break.
I get to meet a lot of photographers. I know photographers who shoot weddings for $400, and I know photographers who shoot weddings for $4000. I know people who only shoot one kind of event or subject, and I know people who will shoot anything. There are a lot of people out there clamoring for any shoot they can get.
I often describe myself as a photographer. I don’t make my entire income from photography, but it is a significant portion. I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and there’s a lot of hard work ahead of me. It might seem strange that this month I’ve been turning down paid shoots.
Shoots are bragging rights. Shoots are proof that you really are a photographer. If you have a client, you are a professional. There are a lot of people who want to be a Photographer with a capital P. Photographers, by definition, take photographs for a living. This is so general that it hardly describes any successful photographer I know, but some people seem to want to do anything that involves clicking that shutter. More often, photographers like interacting with people and making them feel good about themselves. Some photographers want to help people remember important events. Some photographers want to travel and share their discoveries with others. Some photographers want to be well known as artists, and photography is their way in. There might be some photographers who just love turning those dials and pressing that button, but that’s not me, and it’s probably not you.
It’s a lot of work figuring out what you love. It takes a lot of experimenting, and a lot of going down the wrong path. Once you find what you love, it takes a lot of work to articulate it. Once you’ve done that, it takes a lot of work and courage to pursue it. I’ve tried a lot of things over the years and a few things have become clear. I love being outdoors. I love playing one color off another, finding a line that curves just the right amount, that leads into the just the right amount of confusion. Creating beauty and adding to the beauty in the world, these are things I care about. (my constantly changing definition of beauty could be another blog post entirely, and I suppose it’s hinted at in every photo I post) I want to find natural scenes that abstractly resonate with our human condition. These goals change over time as I discover more about myself and the world, but they don’t change dramatically. And by knowing these few things, I can continue to enjoy life and photography. And I don’t go chasing after every shoot – I leave them to people who want to make a living doing what they love.
A willow leaf, still green in October, when only the last few yellow poplar leaves are left.
This was a 20 second exposure on a clear, still, moonless night in Dillberry Lake Provincial Park. This took some accurate esimating of the distance from me to the tree and a focus distance indicator on my lens. I’m not sure if some modern SLRs could autofocus in this kind of darkness, but mine certainly can’t.
I’m starting to enjoy night photography more all the time. It forces me to slow down — once it’s dark there’s really no rushing necessary. Sunsets and sunrises can be a little more stressful as they’re very time-limited. Finding the balance between enjoying the outdoors and becoming a professional photographer can sometimes be hard. There’s always pressure to get a better shot, a different composition. But coming up with something new is also extremely rewarding.
If you’ve ever seen bears going about their lives, you have to respect them. The ease with which they turn over massive stones to search for grubs, the speed at which they can get across a mountain valley, the length of their claws — it all inspires respect. But they are not the fearsome predators they’re often made out to be. In fact, they pretty much ignore people when possible. They’re very focused on eating, much of which turns out to be grass and leaves.
I got the privilege of watching a few bear families on this trip, and though I’m not normally a wildlife photographer, I have to admit there’s a certain thrill to observing and photographing animals. Here’s a black bear mother and cub.
While hiking in Elk Island this week, I happened across this suspicious fellow. There were actually a pair of them, and of course the trail went right in between them. Between two moose didn’t seem like the safest place to be, so I stopped before I got too close. The one on the right ran off out of view, but I could still see the one on the left. It stopped, sniffed, eyed me, and the stalemate began. I stayed completely still, waiting for the moose to make its move. On the right, I saw some ears appear over the alders, and then disappear just as silently. I had no idea moose could be so sneaky in thick brush.
After about five minutes, the moose on the left started to move—tentatively at first, and then more confidently, chewing on a few available twigs. As it stepped out on the trail it looked me over and then moved off to do moose-type things. I was very happy with this development. Although moose are not generally agressive, the moose was very close, and I was very alone. And though I like to think that if I don’t bother animals, they won’t bother me, this only holds true until the first time it doesn’t. And that’s a little scary.
I’ve always taken texture photos. At first my excuse was that the texture would be useable in a design, as I was working as a designer at the time. I kept up this delusion for quite a while, meanwhile never using these photos in a design. Now I have no excuse. I just like taking texture photos. They rarely turn into something I’m happy with, but I take the photo regardless. Maybe it’s finding the pattern—the hunt for it that I enjoy. Maybe it’s finding the randomness in every pattern. I don’t know.
Here’s a rock I found on my hike to the Saskatchewan Glacier. I couldn’t resist the bright orange lines.
For the next couple of days I’ll be finding some new photos in the mountains. I’m pretty excited – I got some new crampons with a MEC giftcard I got from Uncle Jack for Christmas, so I should be coming back with ice photos of one sort or another. I’ve never used crampons before, and I don’t have an ice axe, so don’t expect anything too extreme, but I’m slowly expanding the places I can get to and photograph.
I’ve scheduled this to post automatically for today, and another for tomorrow, so for those of you who look forward to your daily fix – never fear.
Frost on spruce branches by Cave and Basin in Banff.
Taken at the Cave and Basin around sunset.
I pick the worst times for vacations. The roads were as bad as they’ve been in recent memory and in Banff it was either close to -30 or snowing the whole time. I think I got some good shots though – this was from yesterday, a frigid night on Lake Louise.