Life is a series of lessons, some small and some large. We remember those big lessons, but it is the accumulation (I believe) of small moments of learning, that make us who we are, and compose what we know.
My first lessons in nature came as a small boy with a love of wandering and exploring. The love of wandering often got me in trouble with my parents, but the explorer was a student of all things.
The rocky shores of Lake Michigan and its 30 foot high bank were my play ground as a child. My best friend Mike or my buddy Mark were often my companions, although I could explore endlessly by myself. Turn over a rock, and find a crab. It was an alien monster to a young boy. The only birds I was familiar with when I was little, were sparrows (didn’t know one from the other), Robins (our state bird), and gulls, terns and crows. Oh yes, there was also the Bank Swallow. I’ve never met anyone in this area who didn’t say that the first (of our many) swallow they knew was either the Tree Swallow or the Barn Swallow. That thirty foot Lake Michigan bank was the nesting home to hundreds of Bank Swallows every year.
Across the main road two blocks in back of our house sat my first wetland/marsh. The people in this area called it Hansche’s Ponds. Hansche owned the property, and the four little ponds were considered a nasty swamp to most. They were a living organism to me. My first frogs, toads, salamanders and more were discovered here. A large white bird that I now know was an egret fished early on a hot summer’s morning. Those “ponds” have long been filled in with dirt, and today human animals live there.
On summers when a long trip/vacation was impossible, our parents would take my sister and I to Devil’s Lake State Park here in Wisconsin, to camp for up to two weeks. Two weeks of never setting foot in a house sounds like an impossible dream to me now. There were nice little slices of nature to be seen and appreciated, and many lessons to be learned. I thought (back then) that all tree squirrels were that same common Gray Squirrel that we had in our yard. Then I met my first Red Tree Squirrel. One year my buddy Mike came along and as we hiked high into the bluffs surrounding the lake, a fleeting glance at my very first Red Fox was made. I already knew everything about wild canines that was written, so there was no mistaken this guy.
Other trips to farther places brought much discovery about history (everywhere we went), government (two trips to Washington D.C.). and city life (New York, Detroit, Toronto), and along the way, the constantly changing scenery of North America. A trip to the west brought moose, Pronghorn, American Bison and other wild critters into my life. I had already been introduced to Black Bear in Tennessee. Ah the south.
We traveled much through the south in those early days. I enjoyed the scenery and the history of this region of the country. Much of the south was rural and that meant it was just a little wilder (to me). There were however other lessons to be learned.
In the late 1950s my dad pulled our 1955 Plymouth, along with a travel trailer and a roof rack, into a parking space of a small town diner. I believe it was Tennessee or Georgia but I am not sure. We parked straight into a spot right in front the big picture window with the dining room directly in back of it. They saw us coming. There were four or five waitresses and a couple of customers. Nobody suggested where we should sit so we sat down. The wait staff tried to look busy but it was an unconvincing act. They continued to walk back and forth in front of us. No hello, no glasses of water, no menu. Our car with it’s Wisconsin (Yankee) license plate showing clearly from the dining room, and my father’s northern accent when he asked for service, was more than enough for this diner to decide not to serve us. Within a few minutes a near-by factory let out and the diner was now overflowing with noisy patrons. We finally got up and walked out. In retrospect we (or they) may have been lucky that my father took this in stride. I admit I had no idea that the Civil War had not ended. I have thought about that day many times since then. If a white family from Wisconsin was not allowed eat in the diners of this little town, how would it go for a black family from anywhere.
When we traveled the south back in those days, there was of course a substantial black population. It finally occurred to me one day that there were never any blacks patronizing the places that we stopped. Just cooking or cleaning. Once while having lunch at a Tennessee tourist stop (Lookout Mountain) while we were waiting for our food to be served by the black waiters, I had to go to the bathroom. The men’s room was clearly marked and within sight of our table, so I headed in that direction. When I finished and walked out of the restroom door, I looked back down the hallway only to see another men’s room marked “Colored”. The late 1950s were in many ways a kind, civil and magical time that we could learn lessons from today. It does however pay to remember that not all was right back “in the good old days”
Whether it’s nature or culture, little lessons add up to a big education. I am certainly in favor of proper schooling, and higher education. Just the same, if you are perceptive and carry a hunger inside to know about (and understand) the things you see, those little lessons of self-education will teach you the truth like no school ever can.
This blog is supposed to be about photography, so let’s talk photography.
One phenomenon I always looked (and searched) for is storm clouds My goal was to combine them with the light of the rising/setting sun. I have made many a trip to preferred locations to capture this. When you keep trying to put two things together, over and over…..well eventually you just get lucky. The darker the storm clouds, or the blacker they are, the more orange the color of the sunrise or sunset will usually be. The best time to shoot is when the sun is below the horizon, but when there is a path for those sun rays to hit the clouds. The effect simply begins to weaken as the sun has less atmosphere to travel to do its job.
Sunny or cloudy? That’s the flower question. Some people like one and some like the other. My preference is cloudy, but the right sun, at the perfect angle, with the right flower, can be powerful. Another alternative is shade. If there is a lot of blue sky reflecting into that shade, expect a blue cast. If not, shade can be much the same as overcast. Every once in a while a combination of sun and shadows can add a little drama. I made both shade and combo pictures of the flower below and I enjoyed the combo shots very much. Of course we have long established that I love shadows…..some of the time.
Is it real? Most people I know prefer that the wildlife images they view (and create) to be real. I mean they want the animal, the background and anything else in the photo, to have really been there when the picture was made. Every wildlife image I have ever shown has met that criteria. At least to me it has. What about the picture below? Come on Wayne how about that blue? That’s natural? Well…yes…well…sort of. What do you mean by natural I have added no colors, or saturation to this image of a Greater Scaup bursting into flight. I recorded what existed at the time I made the picture. The blue is from a blue tarp covering a boat. Well then that’s not natural. Certainly it is. It’s natural it just isn’t all nature. Have you never shared a picture of a bird on a feeder, or a squirrel doing something comical while on your back porch? If you photo shopped the feeder or the floor of the porch out of the image, would that be natural? It seems we have some gray area.
Everybody makes up their own mind what to do with a wildlife image. Personally if the photographer divulges what they did, I accept that. A wildlife picture created with some rather unique and interpretive techniques which are then shared with the viewers, is more honest than the “Birds as Art” technique of scrubbing every image clean, and inserting more pleasing backgrounds in every single picture you share. For me personally, aside from a few low light motion blurs, I prefer to share images that are natural in the sense of what you see was really there. I believe (see my last article), that the wildlife are the artists and I just share….with a little interpretation. That is my personal philosophy, it needn’t be yours.
God bless, Wayne