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Monday 15 October 2007

The Waiting Game

You know the old saying, “I have all the patience in the world, I just don’t have time to use it”. Nature photography is often a waiting game. Sometimes it’s worth waiting and sometimes it’s not. Do you have trouble with this? I know I do. If the light is good and nothing is happening in front of my eyes, I often want to cut and run to the next location. But sometimes if you just sit tight and wait, you can get that extra special image. In the first example (above right), I was shooting in Southern Saskatchewan and spotted this Richardson’s ground squirrel at the side of the road. I used a 500 mm lens and shot from the window of the van using a bean bag for support. The light was still good but it was nearing the end of the morning shoot. I had taken what I thought were good images when I noticed another ground squirrel coming out of the same hole. After about 10 minutes I was able to take the next image (left). Now that’s a little more interesting. The voices in my head start to speak a little louder now. “That’s enough, I’m hungry, and the light is getting harsh…..”.

But wait there is a third head poking up, so I keep shooting. Finally the second and third squirrels are up and they form a nice grouping (right). Now I would love to say this always happens when I force myself to sit quietly somewhere and wait but it doesn’t. Nine times out of ten nothing interesting happens at all and I’m left wondering what I missed down the road.

What about that other side of the coin? What if there is something better down the road? It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it. Sometimes you just have to listen to your gut and go with it. For example, I was in Brockville, Ontario during last year's Thanksgiving weekend and got up early to shoot some scenes in this picturesque town on the St. Lawrence River.
I was in the old section of town and was shooting just as the sky and city lights start to blend together. It was okay, some good stock shots but nothing dramatic. I could see the sun was just about to clear the horizon and the voices in my head started to speak. “Look there’s mist. This could be interesting”. I decide to listen to the voices and head down to the river. As the sun came through the mist it was quite dramatic. I shot a few frames and checked the histogram for exposure. (image below)
I could hear a boat coming and got myself ready to shoot as it passed the highlight in the water. (see image below)
But when I heard the rowers coming I really got excited. (see image below) So sometimes you are rewarded by staying put and sometimes you are rewarded by moving on.
How many times have you run into a photographer and they say “you should have been here 5 minutes ago”? I hear it all the time. I guess you can’t get them all. A lot of your decisions will be based on a number of factors such as how long do you have (an hour, week or month?) and how well do you know the area? This is where research and scouting locations ahead of time becomes very important. If you know where to be when the light hits, you know your options and can make more informed decisions. The more informed you are, the more you can trust those nagging voices in your head.

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Wednesday 3 October 2007

Remembering Dad

It’s rarely good news when the phone rings after midnight. As soon as I heard Mom’s voice, I knew. I was numb. My Dad was 82 years old. He lived a good full life. I knew the day was coming but it’s still hard when the call comes.
Dad was born in 1925. He grew up on the Danforth in Toronto. Life was hard for a family with 9 kids in the depression. We didn’t hear much about those early days. Dad was the oldest and he went off to war at the age of 16½. He didn’t talk much about it when he was younger but in his later years he would often reminisce about his Navy days. He told some great tales about his many adventures while he was stationed on the East Coast. He often told us about how the destroyer he was due to be shipped out on, the HMCS St. Croix, was torpedoed and sunk in the North Atlantic in September of 1943. Dad was in the dentist chair having a tooth removed and the ship and all his buddies had sailed without him. 81 men were rescued by the Itchen but it too was torpedoed and sunk two days later. There were only three survivors from that ship, one of which was from the St Croix. I guess I’m here but only for an abscessed tooth. Funny how events as small as a trip to the dentist can ripple through the generations.

After the war, Dad came back to Toronto and got a job at Carswell, a printing firm on Adelaide. He met my Mom shortly after. Mom said that after their first date, Dad was standing at the bus stop with my future Uncle. He said Dad was trying to light the wrong end of his cigarette. He was obviously hopelessly in love. From the pictures of Mom in those days it’s no wonder. She was a knockout!
Dad worked hard, a workaholic really. He was never out of work his entire life. He always provided for us. We didn’t have much, but we had what we needed and we had each other.
I fondly remember our family camping trips although I don’t remember my first time; I was only 6 months old. We would go for a week or two every year. It was a big production. Mom would bake and cook for a week before we left - butter tarts, “hunks of junk”, cookies and bread. She would make a big pot of chili and would pack all this stuff and head out. We had so much fun swimming and eating till our heart’s content.
When I was around 13, Dad was offered a partnership in a company in Smith’s Falls. His old friend Sam wanted Dad to help run the bookbinding company Sam had started a few years before. It was a very tough decision for Mom and Dad. It meant that they would have to sell their home and move leaving my oldest brothers, John and Rob, behind in Toronto. Dad never ever felt comfortable with this decision but we all know this was the right thing to do. His lifestyle improved a lot and he got to show the world how really gifted he was as a manager and a businessman.
I worked in the plant after school and summers. It was physical, hard and hot work. I remember one day, he came down to the machine I was operating. He yelled and said some things to me and about me I knew I didn’t deserve. He was angry and yelling and swearing at me. This went on for about 5 minutes. When he was done, he put his hand gently on my shoulder and winked at me. He walked away. We never talked about this day. But I understood what he was doing. I was the boss’s son and he knew this was a tough position for me. After that day, I was just one of the workers and they all accepted me as one of them.
Dad didn’t show his emotions much. He had a hard outer shell. I watched him wrestle with his demons. Sometimes he won those battles, sometimes he didn’t but I always knew he cared and I knew he loved us all, he just had a funny way of showing it sometimes. I don’t remember my oldest brother having a nickname, he was just called “John”. My brother Rob was called “Robbie” and of course Bill was always “Willy”. For some reason, Dad didn’t think “Ronnie” quite cut it for me. His favorite term of endearment for me was “the little fat fella” or on many occasions, he would refer to me as “Lard Ass”. My friends would be horrified; even they didn’t tease me about it. They thought this was way beyond funny. But you know, it never, ever bothered me. I just knew that was Dad’s way of saying, you’re ok, you’re one of us.
In his later years, he slowed down but he remained a friend and mentor to all of us. I would often call him for advice and guidance. I’m sure there will be a few times over the next few months that I will pick up the phone to call him to ask him something about a car or a plumbing question. It’s hard to accept that he won’t be there to answer the phone.
It was wonderful to watch my brothers and their families rally around each other and my Mother. As my brother Bill said as he spoke about Dad at a private family service, “I’m sure my Dad would be proud of us all”.
So we shed a few tears, and we laughed and remembered him. We raised a glass and said goodbye. I will miss him always!

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