Canada Feb. 2014
My wife is a fantastic cook (and an amazing wife and mother), we have many friends who love to cook: I get to dine with Sarah Fragoso of EverydayPaleo.com and enjoy the masterpieces that she creates. Any one that cooks for me who knows me will ask me to 'taste test' their food either out of courtesy or for the comedic value as I have an extremely undiscerning palate along with a poor sense of smell. So when I am aware of someones presence behind me utilizing my most defective sense (sense of smell) there is a problem! To begin my trip I was at the security line at SFO when I picked up on the stench of body odor and stale wine. Me and my 50+ lbs of camera gear swung around behind us to see: Smart dress/casual shoes, designer jeans, a casual high end button down shirt poking out of a nice v neck sweater which in turn was covered by a very nice warm weather jacket. A tall beenie hat topped off this 30 something year old gentleman with 10 days growth on his face and fashionably long hair (I guess) who happened to find his way into these garments. Although I have no evidence, I assume his clothing had lots of starch in them as he was asleep standing up and swaying the way a giraffe would had he found itself on the deck of a small boat in high sees. It was comical to start with until he unintentionally began to invade my space and sway into me a couple of times. I thought I might let security know about this inebriated sleepwalker if it continues…..nah, they'll discover him soon enough, anyway I'll be on the plane soon enough and be rid of him.
I had gotten to the airport early and had my seat changed to an exit row, score!
As I boarded the plane and neared my row I spotted that same man dangeroulsy close to my row, obviously the coincidence would be too great and there is no way he is in MY row (which only has two seats). I pull up to row 16 and notice on one side are two very attractive women in their late 20's with one open seat (surely they were saving it for me) and on the other is my drunk friend (also with one open seat). I settle in to MY seat and in a French/Canadian accent with eyes half closed he (yes, my new neighbor) says "zay put you in zee exit row too?" To which I reply "They were worried about your current condition and asked that I look after you!" He smiles and magically ceases the planes spinning with the power of his two eyelids. The attractive women across the aisle laugh quietly and smile. Politely Marcél, (that's what I've decided to call him in my mind), excuses himself as he intends to sleep during the flight since he had been up drinking wine all night on the beach. But before we even take off Marcél strikes up one of many conversations and before 10,000 feet we're shaking hands and discussing all sorts of subjects as I discover Marcél is a world traveler with a degree in something medical or engineering I forget, and a passion for life. We spend some time watching the movie 'Slapshot' with Paul Newman (without headphones), so Marcél narrates and gestures and we both laugh hysterically on and off for twenty minutes!
Fast forward to the reason for my trip…Nature photography: The tour consisted of Christopher Dodds (our guide and pro-photogher). Bridgette, who was born and raised in France, is a retired pharmacist that owns an INN on the island of Tahiti. C.J., retired from the Navy as an Aviator and subsequently retired from his practice as a family physician. And myself.
Chris is very methodical and deliberate in everything he does. He sets expectations for himself and his group and makes sure we are 'all on board'. He is certainly respectful, interesting and has a good sense of humor. He created a routine for us during this trip that was predictable and easy to follow.
Our typical day on this five day adventure consisted of getting into the SUV early (between 4:30am and 5:30am), driving an hour to get near location, eating breakfast at Tim Horton's (I hope I never need to eat there again).
At that point we would drive to our location and find our Snowy, wait for the right light, get into position outside where it was below freezing (Celsius and Fahrenheit) and wait for the action. We would spend at most two hours outside. Between shutter clicks we pulled our thumbs and fingers into a tight ball around our hand warmers so that we would have enough sensation in them the next time we needed to capture more images. After the shoot we would go back to our hotel remove some layers of clothing, download pictures, charge batteries and then meet up for lunch. After lunch we did it all over again until the sun fell below the horizon, those last bits of light are always the most crucial and beautiful!
Wednesday night we went to 'Sterling', www.SterlingRestaurant.com an amazing steakhouse in Gatineau, Quebec, where we were taken on a tour into the kitchen where they only cook their highest quality meat over a fire burning from maple wood (a half a cord of which stacked neatly in the corner of the kitchen). The manager, Ahmed, explains to us the different grades of meat and why Sterling is the best: http://www.sterlingsilvermeats.com/BeefBuyingTips.asp
He takes us into the wine room and shows us various bottles, the one that gets my groups attention is the Petras which is famously expensive and hopefully tasty. Ahmed talks about the politicians and who's who of the business world that frequent the restaurant and buy these pricey bottles. As he is picking up and putting down bottles he knocks the $12,000 bottle of Petras into a far less expensive bottle and everyone cringes and closes their eyes… the two bottles will live to see another temperature controlled day.
After you decide on your meal the waiter brings out your fresh cut of meat for you to approve or not. Ahmed was from Morocco and got along famously with Bridgette (Bridgette is very striking and surprisingly near retirement age). Ahmed insisted on buying us a bottle of wine with our meal! The food was truly amazing! Bridgette spoke of the Escargot, but didn't want to order the “Feuilletée” Escargot and mushrooms with white wine and mascarpone sauce. She prefers Escargot with Garlic and Butter. Our waiter Mark, (whom we called 'Sexy'), happily obliged when I asked if the Chef would be able to prepare the Escargot the way Bridgette liked. I also ordered the PAN SEARED FOIE GRAS with Caramelized apples, blueberry chutney and almond crumble. Their were two types of Foie Gras and Bridgette insisted this was the one I NEEDED to order. I truly enjoyed having a native Parisian as my personal food guide on this adventure, if only for this one meal. For the main course I ordered the the 8oz Filet Mignon medium rare with buttered Asparagus. It was out of this world! Tender, tasty, juicy and even I could taste that it was cooked over wood, maple wood. I could actually discern this!
At the end of our meal Ahmed insisted on us staying for a glass of port. Our taxi had already arrived and we were tired from the day, yet all of looked at each other 30% sold on the idea of staying. I piped up and told Ahmed that if he pulled up a chair and drank with us then we'd all stay. He agreed and no one seemed to mind. 100% all in !
Thursday morning, once again, we arrive near our location.
This time instead of Tim Horton's we pull up to a charming Bed and Breakfast 'Maison Centenaire' - 'Century Home'
www.bedbreakfastlagaleriedenavant.com for breakfast (and our 'home base' for the day in between shoots). The proprietors Lynda and Christian are folksy, down to earth and extremely friendly and welcoming. This farm house has been in the family for multiple generations and you can see it in the decor that gives this recently renovated home a true and authentic farmhouse feel. Lynda makes more food than any of us could possibly eat: various fruits, greek yogurt, fresh baked croissant, quinoa pancakes, sausage, farm raised bacon prepared perfectly crispy, fatty and greasy (obviously my favorite), eggs to order, juice, coffee, tea etc….
The best way I can think of to describe the Inn, the place settings, the decor and the Owners is as follows: Eclectically upscale with country charm. Lynda and Chris (as Christian like to be called) ask each of us about our home, profession and family and we find ourselves genuinely wanting to learn more about them.
Lynda had worked in a hospital setting and Christian was an A.I. tech which is why at one point a large block of conversation is devoted to the Artificial Insemination of cattle (A.I.). We had many opportunities to change the subject, but found it too interesting and comical not to tease Christian about his previous thirty year career. He has a great sense of humor about this, after much ribbing we do deflect to his counterparts that have to collect the bull semen and the ribbings they must endure.
After our morning shoot we drove back to Maison Centenaire rested for a while and then had another home cooked enormous meal consisting of: a roasted Capon, various yams, potatoes and root vegetables, fresh bread…more food that I must have blocked out from pure over indulgence and am amazing dessert that Lynda called 'Maple Surprise'. The consistency of this dessert, which was served in a miniature Mason Jar with a long slender dessert spoon (known as an Iced Tea Spoon in the U.S. according to Wikipedia), was 74% Mousse-like and 26% similar to Bread dough (at it's final stage when you could pinch it between your fingers and then open slowly and the dough would stretch). It had a light maple flavor that was mild, the type of dessert that a child wouldn't pass up, but that is made for an adults palate. After lunch we get to the meat & potatoes... (of the workshop). Chris Dodds, the famed nature photographer who travels the world doing workshops and talks, sits with us and our laptops asks us thought provoking questions about our images then constructively critiques our work. Then Chris proceeds to systematically go through his personal workflow followed by the techniques he most often utilizes to edit his pictures. Global adjustments, local adjustments, Photoshop use, Nik plugin use, post processing….the whole nine yards as they say! The advice and critiques Chris gave on shooting technique, Equipment set up, Histogram interpretation, proper exposure (where the majority of your image data actually reside) as well as the post-processing were all game changers for me. Some of these tidbits were minor tweaks, others were glaring oversights or ignorance on my part. If you are at least halfway serious about nature photography or just want to see Snowy Owls doing something other than sitting on a telephone pole, this trip will not disappoint. I fully intend on going on many more nature trips with the singular purpose of capturing some amazing images. I couldn't imagine achieving these goals consistently without someone like Chris, (and I get the feeling there aren't many like him), who puts all of his time not only into his craft, but into the relationships of the people and animals of all of the destinations that he travels to. Chris is an amazing professional that truly respects the intended subject and enjoys teaching and challenging you (the photographer) to increase your knowledge and technique.