Finding The Common Uncommon

In the early the days of my photography I had a long list of places that I wanted to visit with the hopes of creating a famous iconic image. As I studied and read the books of my favourite photographers like Galen Rowell, Frans Lanting and Freeman Patterson I marvelled at the photographs they took in places like Nepal, the Amazon and all over Africa. As the novelty of my home town started to wear off I found myself making a list of places where I wanted to go to create a “one of a kind” masterpiece. I envisioned photos of the Rain Forest, Icebergs, or maybe the Spirit Bear of the Pacific Coast. These places are still on my to-do list, but in recent years I’ve come to realize that there is still so much more to see in my own backyard.

Sleep With One Eye Open

Sleep With One Eye Open

Last Saturday I went out for an early morning trek but I just couldn’t seem to find a subject that inspired me. I was looking for something extraordinary, but the weather wasn’t cooperating and I just couldn’t get focused on exactly what it was I was looking for. Eventually, I decided to drive to a local park called Rockwood Park in the city. I stopped at a lake and spent close to an hour watching and taking photographs of the ducks that live around the pond and the park. The lake that they usually swim in was mostly frozen except for one tiny area. I opened up the hatch of my car and stood under it to protect me from the rain and with my camera on my tripod I took somewhere in the range of a 100 shots of the mallards as they huddled together on the ice and occasionally visited the open water in the lake.

Like Water Off A Ducks Back

Like Water Off A Ducks Back

I’ve likely taken several hundred photographs of ducks over the past 20 years since I bought my first camera. If I were to count my slides and the images on my computer I’m pretty confident that the mallard would be the most popular subject in my portfolio of wildlife. A couple of years ago I took a photograph of two ducks in the Kennebecasis River swimming and bobbing up and down while looking for food. I was fortunate to get a shot while these two birds put their tails in the air and heads in the water. If the Olympic synchronized swimming judges were watching they would have given them a perfect 10. It’s become one of my favourite images of all time. While I took the photographs of the ducks on the lake a few days ago I quickly realized that the common things we see everyday can offer many opportunities for uncommon images.

Synchronized Swimming

Synchronized Swimming

Parents, if you have taken you children to the beach, you have no doubt come home with a pocket (or pockets) full of rocks. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I take my kids down to walk on the beach along the ocean we still come home every time with a pocket full of rocks. Every visit gives them the chance to get down and dirty on hands and knees to study the rocks and sometimes creatures on the ocean floor and beach. To them each visit is unique and provides a new opportunity to find that unique (or uncommon) “treasure”. With each of the new rocks I’m handed I’ll admit, my first thought is “it’s just like all the others.” It’s round AND HEAVY; but not to them, each one is special because they took the time to find it. So just because I visit the same place over again it doesn’t mean that there isn’t some unique to see on each trip. When I look at the collection of rocks on my deck I’m reminded that I need to pay more attention to the details and look a little closer at things like my children do. Perhaps I’ll bring home more treasures like the ones they find.

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Happy New Year

I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and all the best in 2013! I would also like to say thank you for all your kind words, comments and encouragement over the past 12 months.

I thought for my first blog in 2013 I would share a few images that I’ve taken over the past month and include some inspirational quotes to help get your year off to a good start.

Hope you enjoy.

"Surf and Snow" - Saints Rest Beach, Saint John, New Brunswick.

“The cure for anything is salt water – tears, sweat, or the sea.”
― Isak Dinesen

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”― Oscar Wilde

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” Carl Bard

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.Charles R. Swindoll

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.
Charles R. Swindoll

"Can you see God? You haven't seen him? I've never seen the wind. I see the effects of the wind, but I've never seen the wind. There's a mystery to it." Billy Graham
“Can you see God? You haven’t seen him? I’ve never seen the wind. I see the effects of the wind, but I’ve never seen the wind. There’s a mystery to it.” Billy Graham

Go On A Safari At Home

Animals make for interesting subjects and I love to photograph the exotic as much as I enjoy the common neighborhood ones.  There is something intriguing about watching animal behavior, be it the intelligence they display or their instinctive behaviors.  While some seem shy in front of the camera others seem to know when the “camera is rolling” and it’s time to perform.  This unknown in the animal kingdom is what makes it entertaining and what makes for some of the challenge and reward when it comes to creating great animal photographs.

It’s unlikely that I’ll have many opportunities to travel and go on safaris or explore the wild places of polar bears or penguins. My opportunities for travel are limited because it’s expensive and also because I have a wife and three children and leaving them for long periods of time isn’t conducive to my wife’s sanity.  Since I don’t really travel, the best places I’ve found to get great animal shots are local zoos and aquariums. Now, these are not without controversy and the concerns about animal well-being are thoroughly documented and sometimes justified. I would much rather see a wild animal in the wild but not if it means there is a risk of poaching or danger due to habitat loss.  While zoos are not the ideal home for animals they do provide a place for rehabilitation and education and some zoos do participate in captive breeding and reintroduction back into the wild.

One of the horses used for wagon rides at Rockwood Park

You don’t need to live in Florida, California or cities like Vancouver to take advantage of the animals in your hometown.  Rockwood Park is a great urban park where I live and as an added benefit it’s free. Inside of Rockwood are several lakes and ponds that are home to multiple species of ducks such as Mallards and Wigeons.  Besides the waterfowl, there is ample opportunity to see deer, squirrels and chipmunks. Spotting a hawk, eagle or turkey vulture is not unusual either.  Almost every town or city has a park like this. Take some time to get out and enjoy the one near you.

A two hour car ride from the city where I live is Moncton’s Magnetic Hill Zoo .  This zoo is a terrific park with everything from exotic birds and primates to the massive mammals like lions and buffalo. The park is 40 acres so it takes a long, long time to cover the whole place with 3 small kids. I’m not sure what I enjoy more the animals themselves or the reactions from my kids as they travel from each area to the next with anticipation of what they will see next.  Seeing wildlife on a show like Planet Earth or Life is great but nothing compares to seeing animals like a ring-tailed lemur in person.  The visit also makes for great family memories and still creates excitement in the stories my children tell.

Ring-Tailed Lemur - Magnetic Hill Zoo, Moncton, NB

One of the best zoo trips I’ve ever taken, almost twenty years ago, was to the Toronto Metropolitan Zoo and its 710 acres of exhibit area and 10 km of walking trails.  While I was attending college in Peterborough my wife and I took a trip to the “big city” and spent the day walking the trails around this incredible park.  You can literally spend the whole day on the grounds and still not see all of it.  I was also lucky that a friend and co-worker lent me his Nikon F4 and a Nikon 70-200 2.8 for the trip.  This was a huge step up from my first fully manual camera, a Minolta x370.  It was like a going from a Hyundai Accent to a Porsche 911.

Elephants at the Toronto Zoo

Zoos have provided a lot of fun for our family to get outside and enjoy nature and a few amazing creatures that we don’t have the opportunity to see in our own little world.  It’s also a little ironic that my wife and I met at the zoo and now three children later it feels a little like … well let’s just say some days I wish we met at the library.