In the weeks prior to the covid-19 pandemic call to stay home and stay safe, Lynn Valley’s Paul Dixon was putting many kilometres on his car, traversing the Lower Mainland photographing whatever piqued his interest. That all stopped March 20.
Stay close to home
Retired almost two decades from his main career in municipal government, Dixon is now a freelance writer and photographer. Choosing to focus on projects that suit his passions gives him adventures near and far.
“I was a professional wanderer,” he says. “I couldn’t make myself stay home, why would I? If it’s a beautiful day and I am gone.”
With a check of his notes, Dixon lists March trips criss crossing the Vancouver-area and beyond with his cameras. There were numerous stops in Ambleside and Burnaby Lake, but also Port Coquitlam, White Rock, the Rifle Bird Sanctuary in Delta, Harrison Mills and plenty more. He also has a clear date when that all changed.
“I got a flicker on a neighbour’s chimney, and that is as far as I have been with my camera since March 20,” he says. “I am out on my back deck with a camera or one or two cameras – doing my bit for society camped out at home. I put my feet up, with a book and a big glass of water and catch whatever comes.”
The result has been a spontaneous collection of the life around his Upper Lynn home – much of it shared online. It’s an interesting reflection of life for everyone during the pandemic. With the request by local authorities to stay home, he was forced to reframe his interests – and their footprint. Since the pandemic began he has been delighting locals online with his beautiful wildlife images, all taken in his yard.
“Now I am having just as good a time sitting on the back steps,” says Dixon. “I think that the past six weeks has been an opportunity to look at the world I’ve lived in up here in Lynn Valley though a slightly different perspective.”
Claiming not to be a “birder” with a bucket list, Dixon does enjoy clicking things that fly from birds to planes. His current work is fitting in well with his passions.
Conscious of wildlife beyond birds in his yard, Dixon forewent birder feeders for 15 years, concerned they lure bears and other creatures into the yard. With an eye to black bear foraging season he has temporarily added some to the yard.
“It’s interesting to see some birds are attracted to the feeders but for the most part they aren’t interested in them. They take care of themselves. They pop in and pop out. It’s just fleeting glances.”
His patience has captured everything from the small – stunning hummingbirds to high drama – pigeon versus squirrel.
“The weather was generally pretty good and that gave me the opportunity to watch as the flowers started to bloom and it seemed that every day there was something new to see. Small details perhaps, but different from the day before. Some of the birds like the Juncos are here every day, while others like the Bushtits and Kinglets are infrequent visitors.”
Embracing the tools
Dixon’s own love of photography has evolved over time. He recalls his first photo was a squirrel in Stanley Park at 10 years old. But it was the transition from film to digital photography, coupled with “retirement” that stoked his enthusiasm.
“It’s an interest in the world around me – things I see, that maybe others do not,” he says. “The ones I like are the ones that I don’t know I have taken. When you sit down later and discover a great one.”
It doesn’t take a lot to get started in photography, says Dixon. A bit of equipment and time in the saddle will get you off to a good start.
“The camera is a tool, I will encounter serious photographers with really nice cameras taking one picture, two pictures and waiting for the perfect picture,” he says. “But with a decent digital camera set up and a high frame rate and a bit of understanding of exposure and light, let the camera work for you. Take lots of pictures and you will get some stunning shots.
“I’ve got a decent camera and it takes decent photos. Can’t ask for much more than that. It’s also really important that you know what you like in terms of the results you’re looking for. I’ve got a friend who’s got the same equipment as I do – same camera body and same lens. We’ll go out for a day, shoot a zillion photos and end up with two very different ‘looks’ for the day.”
It has taken him a bit longer to get onboard with the camera most of us have. It gives an easy opportunity to dabble in photography.
“I don’t often go somewhere without my camera but it took me a while to realize, I always have a camera – a 12mp camera or something on my phone and I have gotten some really good pictures – even sold some.”
With the ask to stay close to home, covid-19 is a chance to dabble in something new. There aren’t any big secrets to photography, he says. Dixon offers two simple pieces of advice:
“You can’t do this with a subject that doesn’t interest you” and “Take lots of pictures – don’t get hung up on one or two.”
All images are courtesy of Paul Dixon.