Tag Archives: hobbies

Why I Love Nature Photography

PhotographyOn my last day off, I couldn’t have asked for a better day weather-wise. The sun was shining, the sky was a stunning shade of blue, there was a gentle breeze and the temperature was a picture-perfect 20 degrees Celsius.

When deciding how I was going to spend this precious day off, I knew that grabbing the camera and spending an hour or so around a nearby creek was at the top of my list.

Upon my arrival, it took less than five minutes to get completely absorbed into the creative bubble of this enchanted forest, focused on a world of tiny subjects in their intricate detail.

Thoughts of the real world had completely suspended. It was like I had jumped into vacation mode, yet was still just minutes from my house.

On this quiet morning, I appreciated the peace and solitude of the moment, even though I was surrounded by many species of wildlife pursuing their business of the day. I marveled at the soothing effect of just being there, bearing witness to nature’s gentle pace.

I noticed that my usually hurried steps gradually slowed down as if to not disturb nature’s ebb and flow. My breathing slowed as well, as a calming effect took over.

I scanned through the tall grasses and plants surrounding me, looking for my next subject. My senses were fully tuned in, trying to spot those moments that we miss while rushing from commitment to commitment.

Thoughts of my to-do list drifted away as I followed a monarch butterfly floating from plant to plant, posing and preening in the sunshine as if to say “Take my picture, take my picture!” I happily obliged and then thanked her for the opportunity. Continue reading

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How I Need the Internet to Go “Off the Grid”

In keeping with tradition, last month I booked some time off for some rest and relaxation from the office and to take in the festivities of the Eurovision Song Contest, from the comfort of my couch here in Canada. For what seems like ten years now, Eurovision has been the focal point of my version of “spring break”.

The first few days of my time off consisted of jotting down some blog ideas floating around in my grey matter and puttering around the house, getting chores done. With those out of the way, when Eurovision came on, I could truly let myself get swallowed up by my sofa, pillow, blanket and cat, and to completely disconnect from the world.

That is… until I woke up Tuesday morning to find I was already disconnected from the world.

No Internet service!

After a series of attempts over two days to restore my Internet service over the phone, with the assistance of cheerful client service representatives, it finally took a site visit from a technician on Thursday to get everything fixed up.

Once I was on the couch, with pillow, blanket and cat, watching the Eurovision semi-final #2, my cares completely melted away with each passing costume change, wind machine, and key change.
The next day, I watched semi-final #1, and on the Saturday, I watched the finals live with the other 204 million viewers around the world. Everything seemed right with the universe again.
But those few days I was without Internet, I surprised myself at my dependence on it. How do people actually go off-the-grid anymore? Continue reading

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The Pitfalls of Nature Photography

Now that I have been out and about, enjoying the spring weather, indulging in a little quiet time, communing with nature and taking photos, I could not help but notice that my hobby does have its share of pitfalls.

In trying to capture the perfect shot, I often feel like a secret agent, trying to move in on a subject in stealth mode, intensely looking at the world through a viewfinder.

But in doing so, and in being so focused, I have occasionally lost track of the intricacies of the physical world around me, including time and space. From a health and safety perspective, it concerns me a little, given my tendency to occasionally be a bit of a klutz.

Yet even when faced with these challenges, I don’t seem deterred. The rewards of capturing a great nature shot are worth every bump and bruise.

Also, Mother Nature has a way of keeping photographers on their toes by changing the perfect conditions with little advance notice. It can get a little frustrating but I’d like to think that this is part of the thrill of the hunt when perseverance leads you to that shot that made it all worth it.

Here they are, my top 10 pitfalls of nature photography:

10. Losing track of time
It has happened that in the process of evaluating the composition and the lighting, taking a test shot, evaluating the result, making adjustments, taking another test shot and repeating until I think I have captured the best photo possible, before I know it, an hour has passed. It’s delightful to lose myself in the creative process when I have unlimited time on my hands, but it is quite another matter, when I am on my lunch hour and due back for a meeting at 1:00 sharp.

9. Wearing the wrong shoes
A subset of #10, sometimes I get so enthralled in my photo shoot, not only do I lose track of time, but I lose track of space and distance and find myself farther away than I originally planned. It is on the long walk back and dealing with a blister that I realize that I was not wearing the right shoes for such an undertaking. Continue reading

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Did Nature Photography Get Me to Enjoy Winter?

In last December’s post, “How Nature Photography Might Get Me to Appreciate Winter”, I wondered if my rediscovery of photography might be able to nudge me out of my usual winter cocoon and spend more time outside.

For those who have never been to Ottawa, let me offer a little bit of context. Yes, we do have an abundance of beautiful winter days that are like a shot out of a Disney movie. However, the Norman Rockwell painting of a perfect suburban Ottawa winter starts fading around the 18th consecutive day of snow, threat of freezing rain, or temperatures so low, even the cat won’t sit by the window and conduct her usual backyard surveillance despite her abundant fur coat. Winters here can be very harsh for long stretches.

When the weather outside is frightful and the sidewalks are covered with snow and ice, it’s not most conducive to a cheerful walk outside at lunch time. When you also factor in a long and slow commute home wondering where the heck the city’s snowplows went and repeatedly mumbling to myself “Why the heck do I pay taxes?” it should come as no surprise if I have to dig deeply to want to spend more time outdoors and risk falling and breaking a hip… the joys of becoming a grumpy old man! (and yes, I know some close friends are now thinking, “what do you mean ‘becoming’?”)

But this winter, I did spend more time outside, thanks to the camera!

While I wouldn’t say it made me a winter lover in one season, nature photography certainly made it more enjoyable by helping me lose track of time while doing something I truly enjoy. I would even go so far as to say this winter didn’t seem to drag on as much as it did in previous years. Continue reading

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How Nature Photography Might Get Me to Appreciate Winter

I admit it… I like the great indoors and my creature comforts. When the weather outside is frightful, especially in winter, I can’t think of anything better than staying inside, cozying up with a pillow and a blanket on the couch, listening to great music, reading a good book, watching a fun movie or even getting a few crazy story ideas committed to paper. To me that’s heaven on a cold, blustery winter day… or pretty much any winter day, actually.

However, it seems that through my renewed love of photography and my commitment to keeping the Instagram account freshly updated, something changed. After the first snowfall of the season here in Ottawa, I suddenly found myself meandering outdoors, chasing after the ever elusive nature shots. How did that happen?

Let’s be perfectly clear. I might not be inclined to spend more time outdoors than I have to on a blustery, stormy day. That would be pure silliness. That is when I will invoke the aforementioned “creature comforts” clause.

But after the storm has passed and the pathways have been cleared, it might be a different story. I am definitely warming up to the idea of getting out on a crisp, sunny day, and wandering out in the winter wonderland to take shots of the birds that didn’t fly south or the squirrels still running around gathering food.
Squirrel

I admit, a fresh, clean blanket of snow can lend itself to a certain beauty and majesty not found in other seasons. When snow crystals glitter in the sunlight, it can have a magical effect. To capture it in a photo might be my “thrill of the hunt” challenge this coming winter. Continue reading

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Blogging… More Than Words

I was recently honoured with the invitation to submit a guest blog to Australian writer, author and novelist Kevin Klehr.

The topic for the post I submitted is how, over time, the blogging process became more than just about words. Blogging became a vehicle for a much more expansive creative process. Check it out:

https://kevinklehr.com/2016/06/20/guest-post-andre-begin/

While you are there, please check out the rest of his web site at kevinklehr.com for his blog posts as well as excerpts and trailers of his books and short stories.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend my deepest gratitude to Kevin for his generosity, his kindness and for his encouragement.

Sincere thanks for reading!

Have a great day,

André

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My Garden, My Science Project

My garden, spring 2015

My garden, spring 2015

Since I moved in 14 years ago, the little garden area in my backyard has been a perpetual science project.

Located under the staircase leading up to the balcony/deck on the second floor of my house, the area is not really conducive to becoming an outdoor living space or serving any practical purposes. As a new homeowner 14 years ago, I decided to take on the challenge of making it an ornamental space to give my postage stamp sized backyard some kind of visual appeal.

Before I could even start planning on what to plant there, it was clean-up time as previous owners/occupants never really did anything with the space. Waste and debris accumulated there – lots of it – in the form of organic and non-organic waste. I spent two weekends clearing out garbage of all kinds including newspapers, candy wrappers, bottle caps, beer cans, dead branches and leaves, lots of rocks as well as some unidentifiable household items, but fortunately, nothing requiring “CSI” intervention. There was so much junk to be hauled, my muscles could only do so much in one day, but what a great workout! I am sure a “Fitness Boot Camp” program could have been planned around it.

Planting season 2 was an experience in itself. I planted a few easy ones to get things started but they immediately died. The soil was nowhere near being ready to sustain life and the resident insects there were still in party mode. My mission in the second season was to get rid of some of the old soil, add new soil and fertilize it sufficiently to be able to sustain plant life. Along the way, I discovered random wild root systems lurking about a foot down that needed to be pulled out. Unfortunately, while pulling out some very tenacious roots, my lower back made a popping noise (and not in a good way) so I was out for the rest of the season.

In planting season 3, my back had healed well enough and I managed to get the soil conditioned in time to get the season started, only to discover that the neighbourhood squirrels had a voracious appetite for almost everything I planted. I read online that a good way to discourage squirrels naturally was to plant onion bulbs. I woke up one morning to find little bits of onion skins scattered around the postage-stamp sized backyard as the squirrels seemingly feasted on those too.

In planting season 4, I stayed away from any plant source that involved bulbs and discovered what should have been there in the first place: ground cover plants. Given the garden’s placement, it only received partial morning sunlight until 11:00, so the journey began to find virtually indestructible plants that liked shade. Hostas and Japanese spurge took off like crazy and the lily of the valley I planted the year before seemed to survive the squirrels and gave me three stems. I think we finally have a garden!

The years that followed involved much online research and trips to the garden centre, buying a few individual plants to see if they would take. Some did, some didn’t, and some resurrected a year or two later, causing congestion in the little garden. Continue reading

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