Photography and Art

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Photos of Animals

I enjoy photographing animals, mostly because I've been surrounded with pet dogs and cats since childhood and also because of the lure of capturing images of wild animals in their natural habitat. This must be a carry-over from my hunter ancestors because I really do enjoy stalking my prey and snapping photographs. I can bring home my "kill" on a compact flash card and display my trophies as photos, either on my wall or online.

My friend Mary Taylor recently returned from a holiday in Africa where she participated in a safari and captured some pretty nifty images. I'm jealous as hell. In comparison, I can only claim success in hunting down a mangy moose in Algonquin Park and a beaver swimming in his pond near my cottage. Somehow, that's just not the same as capturing a cheetah eating its kill.

I make do with visits to the zoo and nature preserves. The beauty of these environments is that you can get up close to the animals and, with a suitable lens (e.g. 70-300 mm on an APSC-sensor camera), you can get some good shots. You can also pick your weather and lighting conditions and go back several times to make sure you get the photos you want.

Mouflon - Toronto Zoo

In contrast, a trip to Africa typically lasts 2-3 weeks, the animals are free to come and go as they please and you just might not encounter good weather and lighting conditions at the time your "prey" decides to appear at the watering hole.

One of my favourite places to photograph animals is the Haliburton Wolf Reserve near Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada. There is a typical wolf pack kept in a 75 acre reserve that is very close to their natural habitat. The wolves are fed by humans, but the feeding schedule is kept fairly erratic so that the pack is not allowed to lock into a schedule. When the pack is hungry, the wolves hang out near the food source, conveniently located next door to the viewing gallery. The gallery has thick glass that reflects the people in the gallery, presenting a challenge to the photographer.

Alpha Male watches from the woods

The best time to photograph wolves is in the wintertime where the trees are devoid of leaves, affording a good view of any shy wolves who stay back in the trees.

Strictly from an ecological point of view, zoos and reserves are probably a good thing. A trip to Africa carries a pretty hefty carbon consumption with it. Far better for the environment to bring the animals to the crowds instead of the crowds to the animals. Of course, there are many that argue that animals kept in artificial environments are disadvantaged somehow, but I'm not sure that the animals know or care whether they live in Africa or a suburb of Toronto.

Lion Couple Resting their Eyes

From a photographer's point of view, it is certainly more challenging and exciting to capture animals in their natural habitat. In the case of birds, it requires a great deal of patience and preparation or dumb luck. However, it is certainly possible to capture excellent images of animals in captivity that convey the essence of the beast. I don't think photographers should be ashamed of stalking animals in zoos or reserves and the popularity of the various zoo lover groups on flickr attest to the enjoyment that people get from this passtime. However, it just doesn't seem the same as chasing wild game in a land rover and shooting animals living life in the wild.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Industrial Landscapes

It has been awhile. I've been going through a stressful time of changing jobs (again) and haven't been in the mood to write.

Things are starting to resolve, so here goes a new post:

My daughter has a Scottish boyfriend, Ben, who works at Poscor, Canada's second largest re-cycling company. Ben is an avid amateur photographer, although he is a misguided individual who prefers Nikon to Canon. I guess he just likes soft lenses :-)

Ben was kind enough to invite me to tour the Poscor site. Re-cycling companies have been photographed by some famous photogs, including Edward Burtynsky. If you visit his site, navigate to the urban mines section of his works to see photographs of Poscor. In fact, the one entitled Densified Scrap Metal 3a is hanging on the wall of the Poscor office boardroom.

The day we visited was rather overcast, but it was bright enough to get some nice light on the subject without the harsh glare of direct sunlight. We did a tour of the Poscor yards in a pick-up truck, stopping every now and then to see the big machines at work processing scrap metal.

Poscor is a scrap re-cycling exchange. The company finds sellers of scrap (e.g. junkyards, auto plants) and buyers of scrap (e.g. steel companies). If possible, it merely gathers scrap from the source and re-distributes it to the buyer, collecting a fee in the process. Sometimes, the buyer requires that the scrap metal be processed, usually by chopping it into smaller chunks. This is done using several different techniques, ranging from sophisticated mechanised methods to manual brute force.

The most interesting machine on the lot is the shredder. This behemoth takes flattened car bodies as its raw material and uses a spinning rotor with huge hammers to pound the car bodies into shrapnel. The small pieces are then separated into steel and non-steel, with the steel being shipped to a local mill for re-cycling.

Great photographers don't work by taking a quick trip around the lot in a pick-up truck, getting out occasionally to snap off a few shots like I did. I'm told that Burtynsky spends a week or so in a location scouting out subject matter and shooting angles, then waits for the light to be perfect for realizing his vision.

Nevertheless, I did get a half dozen shots that would pass for Burtynsky photos if you squinted from a distance and didn't look too carefully at the colour balance. Here is a selection:

Large Metal Bales

Assorted Sprockets

Mountain of Junk

Old Parts

Bales of Wire

The Gears