Monday, September 19, 2016

Photographing furry friends

Chronicle Herald - Sept 19, 2016

When you spend 17 years of your career in financial services and your job disappears, you are faced with a decision. Do you buckle down, and head out, and try to find yourself another job in the same field? Or do you step outside the corporate box and try something new? 
 
I faced that decision 18 years ago. I could say it was a tough decision, but it wasnt. The decision to try something new wasn't tough. But becoming the master of my own destiny was totally different from the white collar background I was raised in.

To the disbelief of many people who knew me at the time, I decided to start my own business. Not only my own business, but a dog biscuit business. Its fairly common now to see dog biscuits packaged by small companies, but 18 years ago it was not. I grew the business for ten years and then it was time for a new dream. We sold the company and decided to move to Nova Scotia.

I left the dog biscuit business behind, but I wanted to continue working with my love for animals. I created the Paws For Charity Art Book Project and for six years I compiled fund raising coffee table books using donated art and photography from artists around the world. I learned a lot about animal photography while working together with those generous people.  
 
Animals are very special to many of us. As we get older, some of us spend more time with our pets than we do with our kids. Similar to people portraits, animal portraits are best taken without a distracting background. Make sure you have a plain backdrop, or that you blur the background to keep only your pet in focus. If you cant keep the whole face in focus, make sure you keep the eyes sharp. Similar to the "candid versus posed" article I wrote a couple of months ago, its up to you to decide whether to pose your pet for a portrait or whether youd like a candid action shot.
Phantom and his shadow were perfectly framed by the shadow of our screen door
One of my favourite photos of our pets was totally unplanned. Our 18 year old cat Phantom was sitting in our screened in porch. Both he and his shadow was framed by the shadow of the screen door. I ran to get my camera and took the photo without him noticing.

After his death, we were without a cat for a couple of years, but finally it was time for a new feline and we headed to SHAID, our local animal shelter. Myrtle joined our family just after Christmas in 2012. Oddly enough, my favourite Myrtle photo was taken in the same screened in porch. Although I dont know a way to pose a cat, sometimes you can capture them in a pose of their own choosing. This example has a blurred background and Myrtle looking directly into the camera.
Myrtle strikes a pose
Dogs are much more obliging and are happy to work for praise or treats. Try to get down on their level. You will miss some great body language and expressions by requiring them to look up at you. Remember, although we often think it, dogs are not human. We cant tell them what to do. You need to be patient and creative. If you are trying to photograph a dog with a person, try dabbing a bit of peanut butter on the persons cheek (with their permission of course!) or have the person hold a treat to capture the dogs attention. Making strange sounds can also grab their interest, and supply some funny expressions.

When we are taking pictures of our own pets, its important to remember that we are capturing memories and our love for our animals. The image doesnt have to be perfect, it just has to mean something to us.

If you arent happy with your own pet photography results, or even if you are, there are local charities that photograph pets to fund raise for their cause. Supporting their events are a win-win situation. You end up with a great gift for yourself or a family member. The charity ends up with some much needed funds for their programs. And thats something good to focus on.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Open Your Eyes

Published in the South Shore Breaker - September 14, 2016
I was listening to the radio the other day and heard someone from Newfoundland being interviewed. He said something that caught my attention. He never appreciated the beauty of his province until people from away started to visit and tell him how spectacular the scenery was.

I got to thinking. Maybe that applies to people in other places as well. I live in Nova Scotia, but I wasn't born here. I haven't yet got to the point where I take the beauty of Nova Scotia for granted. I don't need someone to visit me and tell me how spectacular it is here. I know.
Does that apply to everyone who lives here? Do our politicians understand what people love about our province?

I suspect that people who add Nova Scotia to their vacation list of places to see, or people who choose to make this province their new home, appreciate the peace and tranquility that come from the natural beauty of the area. The longer I live here, the stronger I believe that the people in charge don't get it. Maybe they haven't been visited by friends from away who tell them how beautiful our resources are. Maybe they have lived here all their lives and they just don't see anymore. 


I can drive down the road with a friend, glance out the car window, and spot a functioning fishing shed in the bay with red rowboat floating nearby. In the background sails a tall ship filled with tourists. Seeing something like that usually ends up with pulling the car over, grabbing the camera, and capturing the moment.

I can also drive down the road and see a seemingly endless stretch of land that has been stripped of it's trees, a waste land denuded of all living things. Whole forests taken down on crown land because the machines that harvest the trees are too big to be selective. Private land desecrated because it's better to get the cash now than leave it for someone else. Agencies that don't enforce laws. Government that abandons the commitment to reduce clearcutting. Biomass power generation that is inefficient and anything but "green". 


My heart aches.

But I can walk the beaches and trails and see skies so blue and so large that it's impossible for my camera to duplicate. 


My spirits soar.


Then I can visit towns where the sky is filled with emissions instead of clouds. The smell in the air is so bad that eating a summer lunch on an outside deck becomes a chore, not a pleasure. Songwriters can sing about the issue. Photography exhibits can illustrate the problems without saying a word. But our government does not enforce the regulations already in place.

Still, my love of this place cannot be broken. 


I can spend a couple of hours in a friend's boat touring the waters around some islands and see seals basking on the rocks. I can hear their strange calls, and glory in the wonders of nature.

Conversely, I can read about hundreds of homes along the rivers and ocean that pump their waste straight into the water. A young student can get thousands of people to rally behind her to press our local government to make token changes. But our provincial government does not enforce the existing environmental laws to eliminate the problem. According to our local MLA, there are not enough resources to do the job that needs to be done. Apparently there is also not enough will.


Our government allocates our resources to give hundreds of millions of dollars to large corporations, companies that often fold up and leave the province without fulfilling their promises.

But we don't have the resources to protect the very thing that brings our tourists. Our environment is beautiful enough to convince people to leave the places they live and move here instead, but not special enough for our government to protect.

And now our politicians have given their okay to spray over 1300 hectares of woodland with glyphosate, a poison that the World Health Organization deemed a probable human carcinogen in 2015.

It's enough to bring the most positive thinker down. 


What will it take for our politicians to open their eyes and see? How much more will it take for our politicians to look into their hearts and do what is right and protect our most valuable resources? For truly, that is what we all need to focus on.
Wounded by Sara Harley

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hiking the High Head Trail

Published in the South Shore Breaker - Sept 7, 2016
One of the things to be thankful for is friendships that lead you to new adventures and discoveries. All of us know about Peggys Cove and the spectacular granite rocks. I was recently introduced to an amazing place that rivals the scenery around that famous cove, but lacks the droves of tourists. A couple of weeks ago I went hiking on the High Head Trail in Prospect with a couple of friends.

Just a 30 minute drive from downtown Halifax, it took us about one and a half hours from the South Shore to arrive at the small parking area. The trail is protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada and is part of the Dr. Bill Freedman Nature Reserve, a 372 acre area of protected coastal barrens and forest. There are no facilities, and no signage. The four kilometre trail is quite easy to follow and I would rate the difficulty as moderate, but I
m not a hiker. There are lots of rocks on the well trodden paths, which meant a lot of looking down for me as I was walking. My bursitis filled hip was talking to me by the end of the afternoon, but the scenery was spectacular and a sore body was a small price to pay.

hikers on the ridge show the proportion of the landscape
It constantly surprises me how often I think to myself that I am so very lucky to live in Nova Scotia.

Oh my. The beauty of the area is amazing. There are two approaches to the trail and we parked at the end near Prospect Village. We hiked up the hill covered in rocks at the beginning of the trail and quickly came to a beautiful ocean view. The constant breeze was a blessing on the hot summer day that we were there. The wind swept barrens were abundant with low growing plants, most of which I didn
t know. There were boggy areas with cranberries that will be ripe for the picking in the fall. Wild irises were everywhere, and I made a note to myself to come back early next summer to see them in bloom.

It seems every time I hike with my friend, I learn something about nature. This trip introduced me to pitcher plants, which I had never seen growing wild before. Carnivorous plants with a single dull reddish flower rising on a leafless stalk, the pitcher holds water to trap insects. We carefully walked over the spongy ground to take a close look at them.

Reading about the area after I returned from our hike, I learned that the granite barrens purify the ground water prior to its entry into the ocean. Regardless of their role in nature, the rocks are stunning and a joy to climb on, or simply just stand on and take in the endless beauty of the area.

a sailboat in the distance enjoys the area in a different way

They also make good resting spots to stop and eat. If you want nourishment along the way, you have to pack it in and you just couldnt ask for a more beautiful location for dining. We watched a colony of cormorants and a few seagulls while we relaxed. A couple of fishing boats went by, and we saw several sailboats in the distance. A while later we snacked on some wild beach peas, similar to the garden variety but smaller. Theres nothing like freshly picked peas.
scavenged beach peas make a great snack
A small fork in the trail led us between two boulders, one of which was painted with the words "HMS Fantome 18 gun rig sank in storm off this shore Nov 24, 1814". Another internet search when I got home revealed that the ship was originally a French privateer which the British captured and commissioned into service in 1810. The ship saw extensive action in the War of 1812 and was shipwrecked at Prospect in 1814. Not many hikes can provide a history lesson as well as a nature lesson!

We hiked for over four hours and probably didn
t see more than twenty people the whole time. Our hiking included a lot of stopping to gawk and a lot of photography. Not many walked as far as we did, and many people had dogs with them.
lots of photo opportunities, and a great area for dogs
We just couldnt have asked for a better day. Sunshine. Cool breeze. Ocean air. Spectacular scenery.

I hadn
t even finished walking the trail, and my mind was busy thinking about all the times Id like to return to take photographs. Late in the day with the setting sun. Fall for the crimson cranberries. Winter for photographing the area under much different circumstances. And late spring to capture the irises in bloom.

Or maybe I
ll just return with my walking shoes. Ill relax and enjoy. Ill focus on the sights with my eyes, not my camera. And Ill fill my heart. And my soul.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

just another day

a typical Nova Scotia scene
There are not too many places where you can drive down the road, glance out the side window, and see something like this. Feeling grateful.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Photograph like no one's watching

published in the Chronicle Herald (The Nova Scotian section) - August 29, 2016
Im sure weve all seen the wall art - "sing like no ones listening" and "dance like no ones watching". 
 
The truth is, we all start out that way but somehow we lose that as we age and as time goes on some of us become more inhibited than when we started.
"Shy"
A two year old will hear some music and immediately start to dance, and everyone watching thinks it cute and laughs. We clap along, and we share the joy. Its infectious.

If an adult hears music and starts to dance, usually the reaction isnt the same. People seem embarrassed, or think theres a screw loose somewhere.

Sometime along the path of life we are discouraged from public displays of joy and happiness. Maybe its an adult telling us to behave, maybe its the school system that regiments us away from being individuals, or maybe its because a peer makes fun of us.
In public school, I used to love singing. I looked forward to our music classes and always raised my hand to suggest a song to sing. Then we had a class exercise where each student had to sing a note and the other students got to vote on who had to try again. I was the only kid in the class who had to sing my note over again because I was judged not good enough. A year or so later, the school choir conductor told me I should just mouth the words instead of singing them. Then in high school, a friend told me that everyone else in the class used to laugh at the way I sang. Ouch. Its difficult not to feel inhibited after all that. Now my husband is the only one who hears me sing. He keeps telling me hes a lucky guy.
Love
If you have had children and have gone through the teenage years, I think youll agree with me that parents dont even need to work at embarrassing their kids. It comes naturally. Many years ago, I was in a video store with my son. (I think most readers of this column will remember what a video store is). A song from my own teenage years came over the stores speaker system so I started to dance. Not a big performance. Just a little happy dance. And just enough for my teenage son to wish the floor would open up and swallow him whole. I heard the long drawn out "Mo-o-o-m" complete with a groan and slouching shuffle as far away from me as he could go and still get a lift home in the car.
"Nurture"
So. What has all this got to do with photography? Well, lots of photographers can go through these phases too. The first time we get a camera, or start taking photos with our phones, we are happy with the pictures we take. Were excited about the results we achieve and we love to share our experiences.

If our love of photography develops into a more serious pass time, we might take a course or join a club. Then we learn the "rules" of photography. We might stop taking photos because its the wrong time of day for the best light, or we think no one else is interested in the same subject matter as us, or were just tired of going to the same locations all the time. The introduction of rules might constrict our free flowing creativity if we become slaves to them. We may lose that sense of joy and wonder that we had when we became interested in the hobby in the first place.

I hit that wall a couple of years ago and lost the feeling that photography used to give me. I wasnt interested in taking photographs and I stopped carrying my camera when we went daytripping and when we got together with family. Then a quick visit with some friends kick started my creative juices again. We dropped by to pick up home grown garlic, and we were shown some decorative gourds. Those gourds mesmerized me. They looked like long necked birds to me and I started visualizing them as a family. We took home three gourds with our garlic and I immediately set up my camera for a photo shoot.
Family
Who would have thought that three little vegetables would get me back on track with my photography? I posted the photos on facebook, and Im sure everyone wondered a little about me. I know my husband did, but after twenty five years together hes used to that. 
 
Now, Im not suggesting that everyone who gets in a rut should run out and find themselves some gourds. But I am recommending that you follow your instincts. If something interests you, go for it. Forget about the rules of convention. Find something that sparks your interest and take a leap of faith. 
 
Dance like no ones watching. Sing like no ones listening. And choose your own thing to focus on.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Summertime and the livin' is easy (Lockeport)

Published in the Chronicle Herald - The Nova Scotian - August 22, 2016

It might be hard to believe that a perfect day ended with me standing on our backyard deck wiping my dogs bum, but it did.

On a very hot sunny Saturday, we found ourselves headed down the south shore, and took a little trip to Lockeport. This was a rare day that we left the dogs at home where we wouldnt have to worry about them in the heat. You may have guessed by now, but we are beach lovers. Not sun worshipping, basking in the sand type people but beach walkers. Our favourite times of the year are any time but the summer. But we toughed it out on a sunny 23 degree day at the shore and walked Crescent Beach. Sad for tourism, but lucky for us, that on a sunny August day we only had to share the lovely sandy beach with a handful of people.

And hundreds of sand pipers.

We had seen the information sign for piping plovers, and were hoping that we were witnessing a resurgence of this endangered bird. But that was only wishful thinking, and the staff at the tourist information centre broke the news to us that we were probably sharing the beach with sandpipers. I had taken my pocket camera on the beach, not my "serious" camera, and spent a lot of time trying to capture the dainty birds both on the beach and in flight.
sandpipers at Crescent Beach in Lockeport
I wasnt the only one enthralled with the birds. A little girl was chasing them down the beach, with a woman following close behind with a camera.

Our walk was near completion when my husband asked if I had found any beach glass. I shook my head no, nothing to be found on this beach. Then within a minute, I had six small pieces in my hand. Apparently its best to look down when searching for glass, not up in the sky at birds.

Keeping to the bird theme, we headed to the White Gull for lunch where we could sit on the deck overlooking the harbour. Bright blue skies, the smell of the ocean air, the call of the gulls, all made for a relaxing spot to sit and enjoy. We had a few potential Mary Poppins moments when a gust of wind lifted our table umbrella, but it was a challenge we were willing to deal with. There are other locations to eat in Lockeport, but our first choice in the summer is always an outdoor deck. After all, we wouldn't have seen the kingfisher fly by and land on the wharf if we were sitting inside.
view of Lockeport's harbour from the White Gull Restaurant

We toured a little around the town. Lockeport was first settled in 1760 by families from the northeastern United States. The town was named after the Locke family and there are some lovely historic homes down toward the South Government Wharf that were built for various Locke family members in the 1800s. 

For me, a visit to Lockeport always includes a side trip down West Head Road. At the end of the road, youll find a gate with "public easement" written on it. In a wooden box beside the gate there is a guest register to sign. A quick glance at a page inside the book for August 2015 showed entries from 2 provinces, 6 states, Germany, and the UK. Walk through the gate and youll find a well trodden trail that leads through a very large field out to a bench at a point of land where you can look back and see Lockeport in the distance. It feels like a magical place to me. A place where I could sit for hours and feel the wind, listen to the waves, and experience a sense of peacefulness that is difficult to describe. Ocean on three sides, no sound but the wind, waves, and shore birds. Fields and rocks. No hustle, no bustle.

public easement on West Head Road
Apparently other visitors have similar feelings. The place is pristine, with none of the ubiquitous fast food cups and wrappers found in most areas available to the public.

My next visit will include some drinking water and a goal to walk around the coast back to the car. This visit had me on the same path taking a leisurely walk back. When I reached the car, I had to laugh to myself. It seems I cant leave my husband anywhere, not even a remote spot, where he doesnt meet people. He was chatting with a couple who were with their dog and our conversation might just lead to a new friendship.

We headed towards home with some lovely new memories, and ended the day by sitting on our back deck watching the birds and butterflies in our garden.

And thats when I found myself thinking about how ironic life is when I could wash my dogs bum and think about how lucky I am at the same time.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Exploring Abandoned Places

published in the South Shore Breaker - August 17, 2016
One of the reasons I like to take photographs is that I enjoy the challenge of capturing a moment in time. The emotion I felt when taking the image gets wrapped up in the process and becomes part of the image for me. Photographers know we have done our job well if other people can experience part of that emotion when they look at the image we created.

Sometimes the subject matter can convey emotion without much help from the photographer.

Shortly after I moved to Nova Scotia, I stumbled across a blog written by a photographer who specialized in documenting abandoned buildings. She traveled the backroads of Nova Scotia and captured many of the dilapidated structures she encountered. I was intrigued and mesmerized by those haunting photos.

one of the many forgotten homes in rural Nova Scotia
It turns out that many photographers are enthralled with capturing this type of image. There is a page on facebook where people upload photos of abandoned structures from around the province.

Some people think it
s okay to venture onto properties even if there are signs that say no trespassing. I take real issue with this kind of attitude. Why do some people think they are entitled to go anywhere and do anything they want? It is my belief that people and properties deserve respect. Sometimes there are people who do not want their photo taken. Its a photographers job to respect that. Sometimes abandoned properties are posted with signs to keep out. Photographers should respect that as well. My personal rules about taking pictures of abandoned places are simple. No trespassing if the property says no trespassing. No defacing or damaging property. No removal of items. Everything should be left as is, where is. Your photos are your only trophies.

I can tell people what I think, but that doesnt mean they share my opinion. Many, many years ago my five year old son informed me "Youre not the boss of me!". He was mistaken, but he was the only one I was ever the boss of unless you can count my dogs and they test that theory fairly frequently. 
 
My formerly mentioned five year old son is now 29, and he is always willing to model for me when he visits us from the big city of Toronto. A few years ago, I photographed him in front of an abandoned mill that was just a short drive from where we lived. Shortly after that, my husband met the owner of that mill and arrangements were made for me to have a personal tour. The owner allowed me access to the building and told me many stories about the history of the mill, the mill workers, and the local town. It was all fascinating and I was able to spend a couple of hours with my tripod and camera documenting all the interesting details.
the owner of an abandoned mill gave me a tour
Although I have a rule about no defacing of properties, I do enjoy photographing locations where graffiti artists have spent some time. Those properties are a photographers dream. I heard about one location several years ago, and during my sons visit in May I finally got my chance to photograph an old satellite station. I was trying to capture him in a pose that had a lonely feeling.
abandoned places can convey a melancholy feeling
As I mentioned, many photographers enjoy exploring abandoned sites. Friends took us on a tour along the Minas Basin and we stopped at a church that had been falling down for years. I was glad to have someone with me, as it was in rough shape and could be quite dangerous. It was sad to see nature taking over a place that would have very special memories to many families. Births, marriages, and deaths would have all been shared by the community. Seeing the church is such a state reinforced the sense of impermanence of life.
it has been years since a congregation gathered here
There is something melancholy about abandoned places. Sometimes even the furniture remains. Prints on the walls, toys discarded on the floor, peeling wallpaper. You can imagine all kinds of stories when peering through the windows. I am always filled with a quiet kind of sadness when I see buildings that no longer have someone to care for them. To me, it's like they are living things that are waiting for someone to come along and put some life back into them by filling them up with love again, and something good to focus on.