Wednesday, February 26, 2014


near Gamboa
I had the good fortune to travel to Panama in February for two weeks. I wanted to explore the  rainforests and cloud forests, to see the neotropical flora and fauna that Panama still has in abundance.

I shot mostly videos of animal behavior for future use in a children's program but I did capture a few interesting still images which I'll share with you here. There are more images on my Flickr site.

indigenous Embera woman

poison dart frog

golden-collared manakin

three-toed sloth

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Me on Page Three!

Page Three is the prime spot in a newspaper for an article. So I was pretty pleased to see a story there about Focus on Nature when I open the Guelph Mercury last week! I thought I'd add the article by Troy Bridgeman here to preserve it for posterity.

Shirley Hunt and Simon Bell teach kids to Focus On Nature through photography workshops.

Kids focusing on nature with cameras in hand

GUELPH — Children are more connected online than ever before and that has community developer Shirley Hunt concerned that they are becoming disconnected from the natural world.

"More and more kids are spending most of their time at home inside in screen-related activities and we're seeing a big impact in terms of their physical and mental health," said Hunt. "We wondered if there was a role photography could play in encouraging kids to get outside and take a look at nature with new eyes."

In 2008 Hunt joined forces with Guelph photographer Trina Koster to develop Focus On Nature, a non-profit organization that aims to reconnect schoolchildren with nature by teaching them to be nature photographers.

"Generally what we do is offer full-day workshops for Grades 4 to 6," said Hunt. "We've also done as young as Grade 3 and up to Grade 8."

Hunt served as Focus On Nature's executive director from its inception until March 2013 when she handed the role over to photographer and former SNAP magazine publisher, Simon Bell.

"I had been a volunteer with them for a couple of years including being a lead instructor which means you go into the classroom with a team of volunteers to mentor the kids," said Bell. "You teach them a little bit about photography but it is more about the art of seeing, if you will, and using that as a way of exploring nature."

The program has steadily grown in size and popularity.

"The year I came we did about 12 workshops in a year and the next year, just by word of mouth, it doubled to about 25 workshops," said Bell. "Last year we did over 50 and the Wellington Catholic District School Board has asked us to provide programming for every Grade 5 class in the system bringing us up to 60 or 70 workshops this year."

The organization has more than 40 volunteers trained by Koster to instruct students on the basics of photography and the elements of design.

"We talk about how design has always been inspired by nature's lines, shapes and colours," said Hunt.

"When they go out on the field trip they have to take one photograph illustrating each of the seven elements of design and that really gets them looking at things in a new way."

Bell and Hunt said the kids take great pride in their photos and often find it difficult to select the top five or 10 to present to the class.

"They realize when they draw a picture or do a painting it is going to look like kid art but when they take a picture they are as good as any adult," said Bell. "It is surprising what a little bit of technology and youthful creativity can do."

Focus On Nature relies on donations and sponsors such as Linamar, TD Bank, the City of Guelph and private individuals to keep the workshops going.

"We also require donations of cameras and laptops that are still in good condition," said Bell. "That is basically what we use in the classrooms."

An exhibit of the students' photographs covering all the seasons is on display at the main branch of the Guelph Public Library until the end of the month. Plans for another exhibit is in the works.

Last year was the first year they held workshops during every season and this is the first year they have workshops planned during March break.

"It is a time of the year we generally don't do Focus on Nature but the Arboretum has agreed to host us for a week," said Bell. "We are going to do two short camps, one for younger kids and one for older kids."

Hunt said the response from the kids has made it worth the work.

"We actually say we are not taking snapshots we are creating art and they are all artists and we really treat them almost as adults," she said. "We tell them you are artists and you all have creativity in you so let's go out and look in a creative way at nature."

Visit for more information on the organization.