I was back home in the Niagara Region for Thanksgiving this year and the last thing I thought I’d come across is a Bald Eagle. I was up at the Balls Falls Thanksgiving Festival and a local bird sanctuary had a dozen or so birds of prey showing off the work the shelter is doing.
Some people claim it’s cruel to take pictures of animals in captivity, but I’ve seen the situation from both sides and don’t find it objectionable at all. All these birds would have been dead without the aid of the bird sanctuary, many of them were brought in injured or from abandoned nests. The ones that can be reintroduced into the wild are, and the remaining ones are now too tame to be set free. If they can help raise money to keep shelters like this one running, I see nothing wrong there. The handler even told me some of the birds crave the attention and get jealous when other birds are placed closer to people in the viewing area.
I’ve also seen what happens when photographers try too hard to get “natural” shots. Habitat gets disturbed… animals get stressed out from people too close to their homes and people get attacked by said stressed animals. Many bird species will even completely abandon nests that have been contaminated by outsiders. Don’t get me wrong, there are many amazing and conscientious nature photogs out there, but many more that aren’t. And you have to really get right in an animals face to get shots like the ones I got.
To give you an idea, the shot above was taken with a fairly long lens from about five feet away. Even the best telephoto lens the commonly used by birding photogs would only double… maybe triple that distance. So if this eagle was in it’s nest, 100ft up a cliff, I would have had to do some serious encroaching to get this ‘au naturel’. It might surprise you how many of those iconic nature shots are actually taken at zoos, shelters and special “photo farms” that specializing in letting photographers take natural looking shots in completely controlled indoor and outdoor “studios” with tame animals. You can see more of my birds of prey shots on Flickr.
I went to Alberta without knowing quite what to expect. I knew the mountains would be like nothing I’d ever seen… and I was right. The entire place is gorgeous, but the thing that stuck out the most was the water. I’d seen pictures and postcards from the Rockies but always kinda suspected people where generous with the touch ups, boosting the colour to give it that fantasy landscape look, but if anything it was better in person.
The place I liked the most was Johnston’s Canyon, where most of the photos from this set are from. The water coming from the mountains is green… and not the “oh it’s got a greenish tinge” kinda green. It looked like liquid turquoise or emeralds were pouring out of the rock. I’ve never seen anything like it. I tried to do the water justice in my photos, but it’s no substitute for being there in person. It’s the kind of place that if fairies and elves suddenly jumped out from behind a rock it would actually make the place seem more real.
If you’re going there to shoot the waterfalls I highly recommend going in the late fall like I did. The walkways throughout the gorge are fairly narrow and during the peak tourist season it’s packed. Not only is it impossible to have enough room to set up a tripod, you’ll never be able to get a shot without other people in the scene. I do recommend a tripod, the light levels can get pretty dim considering the canyon walls are sometimes hundreds of feet above you and the foliage is pretty thick even after the leaf fall as it’s mostly pine and other coniferous trees in the area. Don’t worry about bad lighting at noon, the light has bounced off so much trees and rock by the time it gets down to you it’s beautifully soft and any direct light just gives you that nice “light peeking through the trees” look. You can see more from the Rockies on my Flickr .
Alberta is a photographer’s dream. There’s mountains, plains, forests, desert and wildlife everywhere. I really wasn’t prepared for the sheer variety of things I’d be shooting. Once you get into the Rockies you can’t move without tripping over something furry.
These mountain sheep were everywhere, on the highways in the towns and looking down at you from every cliff. I’ve seen domesticated animals more easily spooked as well. I’m not sure whether it’s that people are everywhere, and never bother them… or whether they’re just extremely bad ass sheep that know they could trample me to death without breaking a sweat. I’m inclined to believe the latter after seeing two rams go at it literally head to head no more than four feet from where I was shooting them.
I remember them looking at me with a sort of bored indifference then knocking heads with each other with a scary intensity. At this point I started to wonder if the point was to decide which of the two would get to do the same to me next… so decided not to push my luck and got back in the truck.
I can’t wait to get back out to the Rockies again, maybe in the spring next time, or maybe a bit earlier in the fall. This trip I had just missed the fall colours. More wildlife and landscapes from Alberta can be found on my Flickr.