Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Thou Hypocrite


Do you want some cheese with that whine?

I get criticized a lot for the amount of post-processing that goes into my images. This might be construed as defensive justification, but I'm slowly coming to grips with why. It has to do with accepting my limitations.

I have friends who travel to exotic places and take pictures of awesome things. Penguins and Polar Bears and tracking moose and rare birds, come to mind. Or street photography in New Orleans, the Milky Way from remote hike-in locations in Arizona and Nepal, seascapes from the seat of a kayak, waterfalls from Iceland and the Northern Lights from Alaska.

I'm 70 now. I can't do that stuff (any more). I put "any more" in brackets because I never really did... I'm not a great physical specimen and I never really was. I've gotten old, and very lazy.

As recently as a year or two ago, if I read that the KP was high and there's a likelihood of aurora, or the sky is crisply clear and the stars shine like beacons, I'd be out the door. Admittedly by car, to where I don't have to walk much but I'd go out. Now? I'm chilled. Tired. Achy. I'll just throw another log on the fire and settle down in front of the computer and enjoy editing some pictures. Maybe just because it's February and it hasn't stopped snowing every day for seemingly weeks.

So when I get invited on a photo shoot, my first thought is, "how physically demanding is it"? I have two or three in mind for this year. NOT going is admitting defeat so I'm determined to do at least one. But I have to be careful.

"Thou hypocrite"

On a related topic... baiting animals and birds. I'll tell you how this ties in at the end. There are many arguments against the practice and only a couple of cogent ones in favour. The idea that feeding wildlife will reduce the number of starvation-related deaths in our harsh winter environment seems to me to be contrived. I know people who feed deer and wild turkeys and ducks, and everyone I know has bird feeders hanging. Is that OK?

Why are they here? Why aren't they soaking up the sun on a beach in Miami 

Deer at the landfill. Are they eating our garbage? 

At the landfill. They certainly seem to be healthy and well-fed but is it right? 

We have bears that live in proximity to our landfills (garbage dumps). And crows and turkey vultures and gulls, they all live on our waste. Even herds of deer. I'm not proposing a solution to that issue, if it really needs a solution. I will say that the bald eagle population around here is surging, because the ducks that people are feeding provide easy meals for them, even winter long (remember when ducks and geese flew south for the winter? They are called "migratory birds". Lots of them hang out here all winter, wherever there's open water). That's not really a bad thing, is it? We have a new ecological balance.

Juvenile Bald Eagle returning to his roost overlooking a landfill site. 

But all that stuff is not what I'm leading up to. Foxes and pine martens and snowy owls. That's what I want to address.

In Algonquin Park, there is a family of foxes headed by the old patriarch that many people know as "Papa". You'll know him by the pink markings on his nose. He is so tame that he will walk along beside you like a dog. People feed him constantly and he's smart enough to pose for the cameras and put on a show for the herds of photographers who come to take his picture.

I love photographing him too. I've even printed pictures, tote bags, iPhone covers, etc with Papa's picture. We should really be asking him to sign a model release.  

Papa was waiting for us on a snowbank last time we visited. He knew we were going to have to turn the car around at that point because the road was impassable.  

I don't think he's forgotten how to hunt. But you have to wonder about his kits and his vixen who might have a harder time surviving without human handouts. By the way I'm not disclosing where to find him, although too many people know and it's hard to keep a secret with that many in the know. Is it right to bait him and his ilk, to pose for your pictures?

Yes, that's my car. No, that's not me. 

Pine Martens. Again, I'm not going to say where they hang out, but they live on our waste. And I've heard stories of people who spread cat food on photogenic tree branches to bring them out to pose for the cameras.

Is Algonquin Park just a big zoo without fences?

At the big bird feeder behind the Algonquin visitor's centre. Just some random shots, there were literally hundreds of birds there, from chickadees and blue jays to evening grosbeaks and American goldfinch. 

So is it OK to feed birds but not animals?

Now here's what triggered this essay. Yesterday, Larry and Ron and I trekked out in the aftermath of a huge snow event, in high winds and freezing temperatures, in search of Snowy owls. Again I'm not going to share where. We found some.

Female snowy owl surveying her realm from atop a hydro pole. 

We couldn't get close (except the one on the pole) but these people did:

They were on a guided workshop to shoot (pictures!) Snowy's and they got that close because the workshop leader brought live mice with him to bait the owls. 

Understand, I am NOT sitting in judgement. Nutritionally, the bait is actually good for the owls. Are the owls inured to human presence? You betcha. Do they hang out in those locations because they know they're going to get fed? Sure. Does that hurt their hunting ability? I doubt it. Come spring, these birds are going to migrate back to the far North where they'll subsist on voles and other small game. Just the fact that they come back year after year is proof that their survival is not affected.

Here's about the best I was able to do. But this was shot with a 600mm lens, then cropped, from a few hundred meters away. Ron probably did better with his superior lens but neither one of us would have been able to get our shots without the guy baiting the bird with mice. In fact, would the birds have been there at all? I've shot snowy's in the past in spots where they have not been baited, but not as easily as here.

Do people who judge this controversial practice do so out of jealousy? (it's not illegal, by the way) Or is there some effect on the birds that I have missed? Am I envious? Well I can't afford the workshop prices and somehow having pictures taken this way seem somewhat tainted. As do raptor images taken at the Raptor Conservancy or other guided sanctuary. How much more proud am I of this image of a Ruffed Grouse taken in Algonquin Park in its natural habitat?

Now here's the tie-in I promised you. I don't have the physical ability or stamina to go into the wild and seek out photos of wildlife in their true natural habitat. Or the wherewithal to afford catered first-class expeditions. As much as I want to, I'm not going to Africa any time soon, or in search of Grizzly bears in Alaska or Polar bears in the far North or Penguins in the Antarctic (although it's entirely possible I might be able to return to Newfoundland and shoot Gannets and Puffins and maybe whales and icebergs).

Northern Gannet colony at Cape St. Mary's in Newfoundland 

Atlantic Puffins near Elliston, NF 

So if I'm going to get pictures of wildlife, it's going to be along the Highway 60 corridor in Algonquin or in Carden Plain or at other accessible spots. My view is that if it doesn't hurt the animal or cause long term harm to the species, there's nothing wrong with it. What's your view?

Beef with Micro$oft

I bought Office 365 for Mac because I'm used to Outlook as my email client, ditto Word and Excel and PowerPoint. I'm willing to give the Apple products a shot, but since I have a toe in both worlds, my documents have to work cross-platform.

So after installing it and cleaning all my stuff up, I decided not to bring the email archive over, just use the Mac as a backup and when traveling. After some struggles, I managed to copy my address book over, and my calendar (hint: it won't automatically go in the right places in 365. You have to copy them over then drag them into the built-in contacts and calendars). After all of that was done, I plugged in the iPhone, I had already configured iTunes to sync everything, and started it going.

Guess what? No contacts, no calendar. After some research, I discovered Microsoft Office 365 for Mac does not support syncing with the iPhone. You have to buy the upgraded industrial version for that to work and install an exchange server.

Nowhere on the Micro$oft site does it say that. Useless.

So I re-associated the iPhone with the PC laptop. All good except when I'm traveling: I'm going to have to figure out a workaround. 

That's the second time MS has done it to me. Last time involved upgrading XP to Win7: because I had a professional version of XP and wanted Win7 home, the upgrade I bought didn't work. After fruitless hours and a long conversation with their support, I was told, "there is no upgrade path for that". Fortunately I had bought the software at Costco and they took it back without any questions.

Microsoft is a pain in the royal ass. You can bet my next desktop will be a Mac, when and if I have to do it.

Ben Eby's Pictures

I met Ben Eby back in 2010 up at the Gales of November workshop in Wawa on Lake Superior. We've met and shot together a few times since then. 

You know that I run the Gales of November workshop as facilitator now, right? As I write this, we have only 5 spaces left and there are people on the fence about signing up, so if you're interested, stop procrastinating! A weekend at a first class facility in an outstanding scenic area at a price that you can't beat. Check out www.photography.to/gales.

I remember remarking on how sharp and clear Ben's images were, right from day 1. And his photographer's eye, grasp of lighting and composition were also remarkable. Ben took some images at the Mountsberg Raptor Centre that impressed me so much, I asked him if I could post some here. Without further ado...

Barn Owl 

Great Horned Owl 

Peregrine Falcon 

Ben has traveled extensively (he's just come back from the Antarctic) and he runs workshops here and abroad. If you're as impressed with his images as I am, check out his gallery and site at http://www.benebyinc.ca/. Click on "Events" to see what he's got coming up.

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