In one week, it will be one year since we finished packing our bags, squeezed Brando in the back seat and pulled out of Cochrane with our red-and-white Trillium trailer in tow. We were heading off on our Creative Sabbatical, venturing forth into unknown territory with a goal of evaluating our business, our lifestyle and our roles as creatives on this wobbly globe called Earth. So, a look back at our year wherein we try and tackle the big question that many of you might be wondering: But Did They Learn Anything?
Artists in Residence
For the first half of the year, we were stationed out of Aurum Lodge, an eco-lodge in the Canadian Rockies. We have partnered with and supported Aurum Lodge and its owners and proprietors, Alan and Madeleine Ernst, for years. We believe it is important to have hospitality-based businesses in the national and federal parks that emphasize low-impact enjoyment of nature, and this eco-lodge certainly conveys that message. We rounded out over ten years of tours and workshops at Aurum with a full slate of private mentorship and workshops last fall, meeting many keen photographers eager to refine their ability to make images from the world around them. Despite a tough summer of hot, dry, smoke-filled weather, our time spent in this natural region was, as ever, magical. The Kootenay Plains will always have a special place in both our hearts.
Brando Goes to His Happy Hunting Grounds
As many of you who follow oopoomoo adventures know, our beloved companion, film star and chowhound Brando passed away last August at Aurum Lodge. Many people ask us if we are planning on getting a new dog, but we feel that there is not room yet in our hearts for a new friend. Brando was not replaceable. Maybe in the future a furry friend will pick us, but for right now, we think about him often. He must have touched the hearts of others, especially in the instructional videos he starred in on our YouTube channel, because when we played the Lens Choice video during this past April’s Toronto photo workshop, Brando received a spontaneous round of applause at the end of it. He was a special dude. Read our tribute here (with Darwin’s original music – but turn up your speakers because the recording is low volume) for lessons in how to be your own dog.
Penguins and Polar Landings
Next up – the bottom of the Earth! We traveled to Antarctica on a photo symposium expedition and visited the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and spent a brief time on Antarctica. One of the perks of being photography instructors is that sometimes you get to travel to exciting destinations to teach others photography – something we wouldn’t be able to afford ourselves. The south pole does everything large – instead of a handful of penguins, let’s have thousands! Grass grows on South Georgia in giant clumps creating weird mazes that are hard to navigate. On the continent itself, craggy mountains crowd a skimpy, fur seal-coated beach making landings a challenge. Building-sized icebergs sail serenely past. Antarctica is an incredibly fragile place, protected for most of human history by its inaccessibility. That has now changed, and the region now features on many photographers’ bucket lists. Here on oopoomoo, we strive to teach ethical photography. So please, if you find yourself somewhere beautiful, either Antarctica or a small urban park, join us and set the level of care high for our vulnerable and shrinking natural areas.
Adventures in House Sitting
The final leg of our journey has found us house sitting in various homes across Alberta. A sort of ‘try it on for size’, our house sitting has allowed us to discover new communities and ponder the question of what makes a great community, and how do you build one? We did learn a couple of valuable lessons, including ‘more’ is not better, and always turn off the power when testing a shock collar (newsletter subscribers will know what we’re talking about here). During this time, we also embarked across Canada teaching multiple workshops to eager learners in, among other places, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. The support and positive feedback from participants from these events had been almost overwhelming and definitely very gratifying! We are happy that so many of believe in yourself and your creativity.
Some of you have noticed that we don’t have any workshops lined up for the fall or winter. Or spring, for that matter. Some of you have made requests for special workshops which we have turned down. This is very strange behaviour for a photo education-based business like oopoomoo. The truth is, our Creative Sabbatical was an incredible success in so many ways. We made new friends. We ended toxic relationships. We refined our business focus and our priorities. We inspired photographers to be true to their own creative vision. We sold a slate of highly successful workshops and increased our eBook sales. We traveled Canada from British Columbia to Quebec and to the bottom of the world. In short, business is booming.
The truth is, the Creative Sabbatical was a success in all ways but two: it wasn’t creative for us, which means it wasn’t a sabbatical. We worked our cans off. We aren’t complaining! But in twelve months, we delivered over 18 events – a record, even for us. We moved house and office 9 times with one more to go. There was no time for us to pursue our own creative projects and once again another year passed in which we did not do what so many of you do which is invest in your own creative development. So the truth is, we are easing up on the oopoomoo workshop gas pedal and pressing down on the oopoomoo creative publisher pedal. We hope to publish some more of our own photography projects – maybe some new eBooks! – and to continue a dialogue with all of you about what makes your creative life fulfilled. The discussion is hopping on the oopoomoo facebook group where we’d be happy for you to join in, and of course we will continue to publish thoughtful and (hopefully) artful work here on oopoomoo central.
So onwards and upwards to all good things oopoomoo!
At oopoomoo our motto is “Create, Inspire, Educate”. We love to share the creative and inspirational work of talented photographers from around the world. This month we are so happy to share Donna Nielsen’s environmental bird portraits. Donna is an active member of the oopoomoo workshops Facebook group where she constantly inspires all of us with her painterly creative vision. Be sure to visit Donna’s fresh new website for more inspiration! Below is our interview with Donna.
Q – Your images show common birds in an artistic painterly way. Two questions come to mind, how do you get close to the birds and how do you get such clean, simple and elegant compositions?
A – Simplicity is the key element of an elegant composition, but it is not always a simple task. Especially when working with wildlife. It’s the most common birds that are often quite friendly in nature and allow you the chance to get creative with photography. Most of my images are taken in my yard. I feed birds and I landscape for nature. I have a small creek winding through my yard, lined with natural plants like cow-parsnip, that birds like to perch on before going down for a drink. The creek attracts a lot birds species that don’t feed at the feeders. My favourite lens is my 50-500 mm zoom, as it allows me to shoot from a distance that the birds feel comfortable with. I use aperture priority and I like the depth of field that I can get in the 300mm to 500mm range. That provides a nice bokeh that wipes away distracting details from the backgrounds and gives my images a painterly effect. I like the variety of photographs I can capture with a long zoom. I can take close up portrait style shots with great feather detail, or when I find the right conditions, I can back off, give them more space and concentrate on finding more interesting and artistic compositions. When I find an area with a lot of bird activity, I look for interesting perches. I select the outer branches that are far enough away from anything, that I get a pleasing background. And, I am in heaven when I find something out of the ordinary like old wooden or wrought iron garden fixtures.
Q – To get your painterly look do you need to do a fair bit of post-processing work like cloning distracting elements out, vignetting the corners and selective lightening and darkening of areas?
A – I like to get things right, in camera, so I don’t usually do much post-processing, other than the basic contrast, sharpness and saturation tweaks. I’m kinda lazy that way. But once in a while, I will get the urge to play around with an image a bit and maybe add some vignetting. Sometimes, I like to spot meter on birds with bright backgrounds and go for a high key effect. And for those images I will use the dodge and burn tools to get that even, clean white background.
Q – Should we be concerned in wildlife photography if small distractions are removed or does such removal of distractions replicate the way our minds see things (selective vision)?
A – The funny thing is; I wasn’t too worried about small distractions in wildlife images, until I joined up with your oopoomoo workshop group on Facebook. Now I have to admit that I have been going through my photo’s and I’ve found a few “pokeys” here and there, that I have been inspired to remove. And I see absolutely nothing wrong with it. Sometimes with wildlife, you do not have the option of moving to a different spot to avoid the dreaded pokey.
Q – What advice do you have for people who want to do bird photography as art?
A – My advise is; take along plenty of patience and get out there to explore and enjoy nature, and practice. Work your camera and experiment with aperture settings. Find the right depth of field to get as much of your subject in focus as possible, while maintaining a nice background. I look around and find a few spots where I think I may get a nice composition and I will photograph these areas and see how they look and make any adjustments that I think I may need, so that I am more prepared if a bird happens to land in one of my areas of choice. For me it’s a personal challenge and I am not always successful, but the results are worth it. Birds are creatures of habit, landing in the same places in rout to food and water. I have umpteen dozen images of different birds , on different days and different weather conditions, all landing on the same perches, when there were things just a few feet away that would have made awesome compositions, but were never lit upon while I was there. Sometimes I end up leaving an area with a few lovely botanical compositions, which were my test shots, that really didn’t need a bird in them anyways. So another bit of advice for photography in general, would be; Don’t look so hard for one thing, that you miss seeing something else.
One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome as a photographer was me. I was constantly sabotaging my own progress in photography by worrying about how I looked to others. This wasn’t about fashion (I have none) or the gear I owned (I have too much) or whether my hair looked good (when I had hair); it was about my preoccupation with what others might think of my photos.
Whenever I went out shooting with others, I was always watching to see what they were photographing instead of concentrating on my own work. Were they seeing something I was missing? Were they using a lens I had not thought of? “What are those filters they are using?” “That is a weird angle of view, maybe I should try that!” In short my head was full of constant distracting chatter and my insecurities had me watching everyone else instead of concentrating on just making images. I was in a self-imposed competition.
Even when I shot alone, I was still thinking things like, ‘If I do this funky thing with the flash then people will think I am amazing” Or, “This is awesome! I can’t wait to show people this image; they’ll love it”. In short, I was still worried about my audience. I was shooting for other people and not shooting for myself! And of course I never grew as artist.
Only in moments when others were not around, when I was not in ‘trophy’ photography territory (the grand landscape in iconic locations) and when I didn’t have a camera with me did I start to notice things beyond my preconceptions of what a good photograph should be. I started to see the light and shadow patterns of the window blinds, the play of light through a water glass, the brush of light across the carpet. In short, in quiet moments, and in forgetting about how my photos would appear to others, I started to see.
In my nature photography, I still searched for the grand landscape and the big light and the rewards of accolades by others, but more and more that pursuit was ringing hollow. I was finding more pleasure in making images that were softer, quieter and more introspective. I found great pleasure in making something from nothing and that pleased my sensibilities the most. As soon as I let go of self I became a better photographer.
Now I just shoot for me and worry little what others will think of my photos. As long as the photos are true to my vision and represent who I am and what I saw, then the photos are a success for me. Letting go of self, competition, and concern for audience is really about letting go of insecurities. Finally, I can fully pursue my creative vision. And in doing so the joy of creation has come back full force.
If like me, you suffer from a bad case of ‘yourself,’ then maybe it’s time to let go and make pictures purely for you and not with others in mind. Stop submitting so many images to online forums, stop hoping that others will love your work and start shooting for you. In the end you’ll be a better artist for it. Happy shooting! (Thanks to Freeman Patterson and Samantha Chrysanthou for valuable lessons in ‘barriers to seeing’.)
It’s hard to believe but it was 10 years ago this week that my guidebook How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies was released!
In 2004, my career as a photographer was suffering because my main source of income, stock photography, had taken a big hit after the market shocks following 9/11 in 2001. I needed something to rejuvenate my career. So I came up with the idea of writing a photographers’ guide book to the Canadian Rockies, a region I knew and loved well. I pitched the idea to a publisher and in April of 2004, with an advance from the publisher in my pocket, I headed to the Rockies to shoot new images and do on-the-ground research for the book. I finished shooting and writing in September of 2004 and turned the manuscript over to publisher who released it in April of 2005. Once the publisher saw the photos I submitted for the guide book, they asked if I would also be willing to do a coffee table book as a companion piece. They called the book Dances with Light – The Canadian Rockies and it was released at the end of April 2005. Both books became Canadian best sellers and each went through three sucessive printings. I’m sure the books would have sold even more copies but the publisher went bankrupt because they expanded too big, too fast. Unfortunately, both books are now out of print. New copies of How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies now sell on Amazon starting at $250.oo! It’s original price was $14.95. Crazy.
Once the publisher went out of business, I bought the remaining copies of How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies (HTPTCR) and sold them through my website – sales were brisk! Once those books were gone, I asked Stephen DesRoches to help me update and design the content as eBooks for specific regions of the Canadian Rockies – we called these eGuides. I took the original content of HTPTCR, added new locations, more photos and updated the descriptions and sold the eGuides by park and by season. Later, when Samantha and I formed our joint company, oopoomoo, we added new locations (the Kootenay Plains) that were not in the original book. And finally, we asked John Marriott, the premier wildlife photographer of the Rockies, to write a title on wildlife photography for the HTPTCR series of eGuides. The result is our eight title library on the Canadian Rockies. Many, many photographers have used our eGuides over the years and our inbox is full of high praise from photographers grateful to us for saving them time and getting them to awesome locations in the right light. In fact, we know of several photographers who have used our eGuides to help them take people on Canadian Rockies photo tours. You know you did a good job when others can take your information and successfully design a photo tour!
To celebrate 10 years of guiding photographers to the right place at the right time either through our eGuides or through our tours and workshops, we are bundling our complete collection of Rockies eGuides into one specially priced package. To buy these eGuides individually costs $80, but now you can buy all eight eGuides for only $60 (basically, you get two eGuides for free). Happy Anniversary!
Stay tuned to this blog because Sam and I will be celebrating this milestone by sharing some of our unpublished Canadian Rockies photos. It’s still a place that makes my heart swell with happiness. We would only add one little plea to this post…please, as Albertans, Canadians and passionate photographers from all over the world, let’s take care of this region and treat it with the respect it deserves.
Darwin and I have been visiting our favourite mountain retreat, Aurum Lodge for the past couple of weeks. The weather has been crazy warm and not even that windy for almost the entire time. We did have one snow squall which meant waking up to a surreal, quiet, white world the next day. Both of us headed out with our cameras, going in different directions, and I was incredibly fortunate to spend a half an hour watching and photographing a raven that was observing the still morning.
Although I could have grabbed a shot and quickly left in search of something new, as soon as that thought entered my mind, I had to laugh at myself. What could possibly be more magical than the light, the sun and this dark creature right in front of me? I’m not a wildlife photographer, but I appreciate the patience it takes to learn the habits of animals in order to better photograph them.
And this raven rewarded my decision to stay and observe by preening, calling to a friend, and taking the scene all in before finally flying away. It was a magical experience, and I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to be part of that snowy spring world.
Here at oopoomoo we love to showcase inspiring portfolios from photographers around the world. This week we want to showcase a local Alberta photographer, Debra Garside, who we got to know well during our recent trip to Antarctica. Not only is Debra a wonderful person, she is also a fantastic photographer of wildlife, landscapes and horses. Debra has been photographing the wild horses of Sable Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia, for years and she just got back from an extreme, adventurous and exciting winter trip to the island. Be sure to check out her Sable Island portfolio! Debra will be giving a video presentation on her adventures in Longview, Alberta on March 28th at 3 PM at the Lost American Art Gallery and Museum. Be sure to come and check out Debra’s fine images!
Here is an excerpt from her January 2015 journal:
“January is a month of incredible extremes and the raw forces of nature are transforming the fragile landscape almost before my eyes. I seek to capture the everyday activities of the animals and how they cope, survive and thrive within this most inhospitable of environments. The co-existence of grey seals and horses seems bizarre and yet at the same time completely natural within the context of this place. As each of these species plays out their life cycles, their struggles for dominance and food, the care of their young and seeks shelter from the elements, I become an honoured observer. “
For a small glimpse of Debra’s experience please check out the video below:
Last week we delved into the first five myths about nature photographers; if you missed it just follow this link to read more.
This week we uncover five more myths about nature photography and nature photographers.
Myth 6: Nature Photographers Document Reality
Most nature photographers think they are documentary photographers. After all they are just capturing what they see in front of them!
The simple truth is that the camera and lens see differently than the human eye. The camera can’t see into the extremes of light and shadow like the human eye sees. How contrast is recorded by the camera is very different from how we see the same scene with our eyes. As well, cameras can see things our eyes can’t perceive. For example, modern digital cameras can record the brilliant colours available in a night landscape but our eyes can’t see any of this colour. Cameras can see time in thousands of a second or record time over many hours in a single exposure. We see the world with our eyes in the equivalent of about 1/60th of a second.
The lenses that we put on our cameras compress and expand perspective unlike what we actually see with our eyes – we don’t see like a wide angle or telephoto lens. What we decide to frame in the viewfinder is more about what we find interesting than what’s available to record. For example, Samantha visited Monument Valley in the western US with her brother. All the photos she saw before she got there were of a majestic pristine landscape. The reality that captured her attention upon visiting was the juxtaposition of the grand landscape with how we humans treat nature as evidenced by the garbage-littered roadside. Everyone has their own reality of a place, we just use cameras to frame our own reality. No two people have the same reality. Simply put, there is no such thing as documentary photography unless we are only speaking of ‘documenting’ our personal feelings! The sooner we let go of the idea that we are documenting an external truth, the better. The only truth we are documenting is our own internal one.
Myth 7: Film is a More Truthful Medium than Digital
The idea here is that film is more ‘honest’ or pure than digital capture because with film there will be no computer wizardry to alter reality after the fact.
First, whether you shoot digital or film all the same ideas from Myth 6 above apply – there is no objective ‘truth’. Cameras, lenses and in this case film do not see and record the world in the same way that humans see the world. Period.
Second, negative film (whether black-n-white or colour) is easily manipulated in the darkroom, and darkroom techniques can change the look and content as much as digital techniques can. Don’t believe us? Well just check out the film/darkroom montage work of Jerry Uelsmann to see what you can do with a negative (or two) in the chemical darkroom – awesome! Even if you shoot negative film and then take it to the lab for ‘standard’ processing and printing the end results may surprise you. Back in the film days I took the same negative (already processed) to 5 different labs to get an 8×10 enlargement from each lab. All five prints had different colour and contrast renditions. Which one is ‘real’ or more accurate? Who’s to say?
And finally, slide film shooters will say that their medium is the most realistic because once the slide is developed that’s the end result. There is no darkroom work at all. The image is completed in the camera. This last fact is true but anyone who has shot slide film will tell you that the colour palette and rendition of Ektachrome, Kodachrome, and Fujichrome Velvia were vastly different. Again which one was the ‘true’ rendition? The answer was none. Film is no more ‘honest’ than digital… they both tell the biased story of the user. We think this is a good thing as it shifts the debate from one of facts to a discussion about art.
Myth 8: To Do Night Photography You Need to Use High ISO
It all depends on what you are trying to do.
Do you want to stop the shimmering curtain of the Northern lights dancing across the sky? Then you’ll need a shorter shutter speed (no longer than 8 to 15 seconds) to stop the action. To get a faster shutter speed in dim light, then you’ll need high ISO settings.
But what if you want to record start trails or just let the camera gather the dim light over a longer period of time (like 8 hours)? In this latter case, a low ISO of 50, 100 or 200 is perfectly fine (as long as you have a tripod to keep the camera steady). So really this is more of a beginner’s myth. Most photographers just starting out think that dim light means you need high ISO. Of course dim light can be captured in many ways, high ISO is just one option. The good news is you are the boss of your camera! Best to take your camera off auto ISO at night so you can decide which ISO you want to use.
Myth 9: Zoom Lenses Offer More Creative Possibilities than Prime Lenses
Most photographers love the convenience of a zoom lens. Not only do they allow you to frame a composition on the fly, but they also cover a whole bevy of prime lenses all in one lens! You could also argue that zoom lenses allow you to make zoom motion blur photos that prime lenses can’t do. For sure, zoom lenses allow for creativity when you know how to use the lens. But the fact of the matter is that most photographers simply do not know how to ‘creatively’ use a zoom lens. Those who do know how to use a zoom lens usually learned photography first by using prime lenses. Prime lenses force the photographer to understand the creative power of focal length but zoom lenses make photographers lazy. To properly use a zoom lens, pick the focal length you want to use for the story you are trying to tell. And then move your feet to get the appropriate framing and composition. To learn more about this approach check out our video below.
Myth 10: Nature Photographers Love and Respect Nature!
Nature photographers got into nature photography because they love nature. What could be more obvious?
But the truth is many nature photographers don’t give a damn about nature and really only care about one thing; getting the shot. We have seen countless examples of wildlife photographers pushing wildlife, getting too close, using questionable techniques, baiting and yelling at the animals – in short putting their photos ahead of the welfare of the wild animal. In our opinion there are only a handful of wildlife photographers that we know who practice ethical nature photography.
And we see similar behaviour in landscape photographers as well. Often there is little respect for park rules: photographers tromp along off-trail, pick grass or flowers that are in their shot, break branches, move logs…all of these seemingly harmless actions disturb tiny ecosystems and make it that much harder for native plants, insects and animals to survive. Sure, if it were just one photographer doing it, the impact would be negligible. But more and more people are taking their cameras to the wilds for their own images and that cumulative effect adds up to denuded and trampled landscapes. We have seen this happen in one of the most fragile landscapes in the Canadian Rockies – our beloved Kootenay Plains.
For us, this myth was further shattered on our recent trip to Antarctica. What happens when one hundred nature photographers get off zodiacs and head out to photograph the nature in Antarctica? Well, instead of the hushed awe and reverence that we expected, we saw a rush to get the best spots, to get as close as possible to nesting wildlife, to totally ignore the rules set out by the guides, to block others’ view by rushing in front of the crowd, to chase the animals to get a photo, and generally to just make photos without any engagement of the wonder of this place. In fact, several of the photography leaders on this trip (world renowned nature and ‘conservation’ photographers) were among the worst offenders of all. The rules apparently did not apply to them. They went where they wanted and got what they wanted; the animals were just collateral damage. This was disheartening enough, but as leaders, these prominent and supposedly respected shooters also taught their students the same behaviours. At the end of the trip, the organizers of the expedition said that they had never seen a group so disrespectful and disengaged with nature as they did with this group of ‘nature photographers’. Hmmmm….
We feel it’s time for nature photographers to redeem ourselves. Luckily, we know many passionate, nature loving photographers who do respectful work in nature. Indeed, if you’re a fan of the oopoomoo blog and in agreement with the message we try to put forth – that of respect for nature – you likely already are part of a crew of photographers who put nature first over getting the shot. What keeps us from hanging up our cameras is you. The photographers we meet on our workshops are creative, caring and awesome. We hope you carry forward these values in your photography work. For those of you new to this blog, welcome, and if you are interested in practicing ethical nature photography we highly recommend the guidelines set out by the Nature Photographers Network.
As many of you know I started a Weekly Walk in January to make a connection with my surroundings. Sam and I have been house sitting in various locations since we left Aurum Lodge in November where we were artists in residence. The weekly walks let me explore the area around the house sitting locations and discover visual surprises by using the ‘gift of paying attention‘ (something that’s hard for guys to do!)
My first weekly walk was with Samantha and Debra Garside to the Turner Valley gas plant. We were supposed to be house sitting for Debra while she went to Sable Island to continue her wild horses photo essay. There was a delay and she could not get to the Island when planned but she let us stay at her place in Turner Valley anyway and she got us permission to visit the plant (thanks Debra!). Below are two of my favourite photos from the cold morning in the abandoned gas plant.
The following week we started a six week house sit on an acreage in Bragg Creek where we also get to hang out with the resident dogs. So for my second weekly walk, I wandered the acreage with the dogs and made a few snap shots of the pooches. For both of the photos below I used my technique of ‘shooting blind’ (holding the camera at knee level and aiming the camera at the dogs). You gotta shoot a lot when using this technique but when you get something that works it is refreshingly different! Sam and I talk more about this technique in our dog photography eBook if anyone is interested in learning more about the technique.
The following week I walked the country road in front of the acreage in Bragg Creek at sunrise. It was a colourful sunrise and I made some standard wide angle foreground, fiery sky background photos but the two images I liked best were the ones below both taken with a slight telephoto lens setting. One was a purposeful in-camera movement to create a painterly effect.
For the last weekly walk of January we had a fresh snowfall in Bragg Creek, so I headed into the aspen forest surrounding the acreage and came up with the two shots below. I used my 300mm lens to make both shots. Telephoto lenses are really great to use for isolating subjects and making graphic abstracts.
There are a number of people doing weekly walks on the oopoomoo workshop group on Facebook. Come and join us and post your photos for feedback and fun (and possible prizes; hint, hint!). Stay tuned for a summary of February weekly walks and to see where my feet take me.
Well, Darwin and I are safely back from Antarctica and catching up on some much needed sleep! We are house sitting in Calgary over the holiday season. Since we are still on our Creative Sabbatical, and away from our own home, we didn’t want to buy a bunch of gifts for each other that we would then have to cart around in our already packed car. Plus, when we couldn’t find parking at the mall, we took that as a sign. Instead, we have followed a tradition we started a couple years ago of making a wreath or table centre piece from natural materials. Here’s our results this year:
It’s a bit nature-nerd, but for us heading outside to a nearby city park and selecting a few twigs or dried grasses to weave into something for our table or door is incredibly fun! We walk slowly, we spend time looking at the small, fine details of nature, and then we get creative back home. This year, rather than make a traditional nativity scene, we made an Earth nativity scene to celebrate the winter solstice and the hope for spring. After the season, we’ll return the materials to the park they came from. We only found a couple of hibernating spiders which we safely re-located outside!
For many cultures, the dead of winter is laden with traditions. Do you have a special way to celebrate this time of year? Share your favourite holiday traditions with us in a comment! And wishing you a very Happy Holiday season!
We were very fortunate to have been invited on an 18-day cruise with One Ocean Expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula with stops at the Falkland Islands and South Georgia as part of a Photographic Symposium. We thought we would share with you some lessons learned from this adventure to the bottom of the world.
Nature is Awe-Inspiring!
We all need nature in our lives and the more we connect with nature, the more we feel whole. We could see the impact that this wilderness had on people… many were moved to tears by the overwhelming enormity of the place or by the interaction they had with the wildlife. While we were not to approach wildlife, if we were quiet and still, it would eventually pass close by. Even the most hardened among us will melt when a penguin waddles up for a face-to-face encounter or an elephant seal pup snuggles near your leg. For most people, Antarctica is one of the most intense direct encounters with nature they will ever have. This place leaves its mark!
Yet the World is Smaller than We Think
For modern humans, traveling to the end of the world is really no big deal. What used to be epic and dangerous and scary is now just a little inconvenient. The hardest part of the journey is waiting in lines at airports and deciding what movies to choose while you jet across the stratosphere at 600 MPH. Even in Antarctica, where one might think travel is extreme, our toughest choices were whether we should skip the bacon for breakfast and eat the healthy selection of fruit instead. Excursions ashore were safely negotiated in zodiacs with rarely a drop of water splashing us in our expedition wetsuits. The only danger we really faced was that of our own making when we got so carried away with photography that we forgot to watch our step and slipped in some penguin guano. We were impressed (or depressed) by just how accessible the Antarctic wilderness is. Humans are everywhere on this small planet and you can see our ‘footprint’ no matter where you go. Can this wilderness survive the sheer demands and impact that humans have on this planet?
When it Comes to Gear, Less is More
Big cameras, big lenses and travel just don’t mix. This trip was full of photographers with the latest full-frame dSLRs and large, fast telephoto lenses. The amount of camera gear weighing down the zodiacs was astounding. Giant bags of gear and bulky expedition wetskins meant most photographers’ walks on shore maxed out at 100 meters. Hauling all that gear made people tired and soon they had no energy to be creative. Some of the best photos we saw on the trip were made by the spouses of more ‘serious’ photographers: with just a point-n-shoot in hand, the spouses could be more spontaneous in the changing conditions and grabbed great photos while their gear-laden partner fiddled with their equipment. A small lightweight and responsive kit is the way to go. It wasn’t long into the trip when photographers with two systems (e.g. dSLR versus small mirrorless camera or a point-n-shoot) were leaving the big guns behind in the boat for the joy of a small camera.
Speaking of Cameras, They Sometimes Get in the Way
This trip was full of photographers. They take pictures, constantly. A camera is always in front of their face. Some photographers never really saw Antarctica except through the filter of the camera. They interacted more with the box than the environment. In fact several of the staff who have done dozens of trips to Antarctica told us that this group was the most disconnected from nature of any group they have ever seen. Nature photographers disconnected from nature? But it was true – to really appreciate this place, we learned that you had put the camera down and just look and be in the moment. In our busy lives, we have forgotten how to just take things in… we are so programmed to do and to produce. Some of our favorite memories are not the photos but the quiet moments of observation.
Speaking of Observation, Fur Seals are Scary!
We admit it’s hard to concentrate on photos or quiet nature observation when you are fearing for your life! Fur seals love to charge and bite humans. We can’t blame them, we are passing through their territory and they want to chase us out. But dodging fur seals can be stressful. Take us back and put us in the Canadian Rockies with a few grizzly bears and we’ll feel much safer!
Being Offline was Awesome!
We were offline for over three weeks and we loved it. The constant barrage of email and social media is just so much noise in the modern world. Being disconnected so we could fully connect with nature was just so great! We highly recommend at least one sabbatical away from the internet per year!
And Finally…You Don’t Have to Travel Far to be Inspired
For us, our trip to Antarctica reinforced something we already know. Here in Canada we live in a country of awesome natural beauty. There is a lifetime of inspiration here… let’s not take what we have for granted. No matter where you live there is little need to travel far if inspiration is what you crave.