Member profile – Stewart Curry

Members of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club are as diverse as the taxa they study; from birders to botanists, highschool students to university professors, backyard garden admirers to conservation officers. The OFNC blog will be featuring profiles of members to showcase the incredible array of natural history enthusiasts. Whether you’ve just joined or are a lifetime member, please contact ottawaofnc@gmail.com if you’d like to share your natural history story!

Birdman

By Stewart Curry

Stewart Curry - Photographer by trade, birder in training

Stewart Curry – Photographer by trade, birder in training

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a passion for photography. Whenever I am awake, I want to be outside with my camera. It started when I received my first Brownie box camera for my tenth birthday. Before I had snapped my first still, curiosity got the best of me and I took that camera apart piece by piece, never managing to put it back together again. Seeing how that shutter worked filled me with wonder at the mechanical wizardry of image capture.

Common Yellow Throat (Geothlypis trichas), Kanata Beaver Pond, May 2014

Common Yellow Throat (Geothlypis trichas), Kanata Beaver Pond, May 2014

Not long after, on what I still think of as my best Christmas Day ever, my parents gave me my first 35mm rangefinder camera. My father made sure my new camera had full manual control over shutter speed and aperture and not just the programmed automatic mode we all know today. He knew that my best shot at making great photographs was to build a detailed understanding of the whole process. There was no turning back.

I took some great photographs with that little camera, shots I remember vividly to this day. Eventually, seeking even greater control of the art, I saved up and headed with my father to Mendelsohn’s Pawn Shop on Craig Street in Montréal. There I traded in my rangefinder for (somebody’s) Minolta SRT-101 SLR. With the trade it set me back $80 — big bucks for a 12 year old. At last I felt like a grown-up.

Day after day, I spent hour after hour in fields and forests just minutes from my parents’ house in Pierrefonds, near Rivière des Prairies at the northwestern limit of the Island of Montréal. While most kids were racing their bikes with baseball cards whirring in the spokes, I was out examining landscapes — sun dappled havens filled with endless species of birds, trees, lichens, and beetles, and endless arrays of plants and flowers, spectacular in their tangled waves of colour. I knew nothing about nature other than that these things were beautiful.

That blossoming passion for photography lasted for decades, leading me in my 20th year to the Dawson Institute of Photography in Montréal where my world of photography exploded outward with access to the world’s best gear under the guidance of seasoned experts. But eventually, the daily pressures of work and family allowed me less and less time to pursue my leisurely first love. Then, with the advent of digital photography, my passion seemed to dwindle right into oblivion. I simply could not imagine a world of photography without my prized Kodachrome slide film. I was a dinosaur that just couldn’t fit in to the new digital world. Despondent, I sold all my gear.

I had stopped but nature rolled on. Some years later, as my wife and I discovered the simple pleasures of hiking and kayaking and skiing and snowshoeing, the fields and forests once again seemed to come alive with tiny expressions of unstoppable and inexpressible life — creatures and views that cried to have their pictures taken. Everywhere I looked, I saw an opportunity to record a miracle.

Twelve months ago I acquired a DSLR and there has been no turning back. My wife and I now head out on most weekends with our cameras, and over the past year I have taken over 10,000 images. Birds have become one of our favourite subjects. Given our new fascination, we have bumped into many self-declared birders. We thought them quite odd at first, running around as they do with their Tilly hats, binoculars and notepads. But we quickly became aware of how little we knew about what we were photographing. So we invested in a Birds of Canada guide and started identifying (or at least trying to) each bird we photograph. Our knowledge has added a new depth to our pastime.

Mind you, I couldn’t care less if the bird in my viewfinder is a rare visitor or a common pest. My passion remains the photography itself; my only desire is to capture the beauty and magnificence that I see every day in our surroundings. I’m a birder on a mission. Coming at birds from a different direction than most, I know I have much to learn about bird life but plenty to offer about putting those critters on “film.” If you need any tips on capturing fabulous images with whatever camera equipment you have, just look for me in the woods. I’ll be the big bald guy flipping through the bird book and scratching his head.


All photos taken by Stewart Curry with a Canon 5D Mark lll and Canon EF L 100-400 zoom.

Stewart will be leading the “Getting to know your DSLR” photography workshop on Sunday, July 27th (9 am-2 pm) at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden Interpretive Centre, more information at www.ofnc.ca!

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