Today I saw a bird. It was orange, and brown, and about the size of a blackbird. At first I was thinking it was a robin (bright orange, with white bits on the sides of the tail), but something wasn’t right. Maybe it was a an oriole? A cardinal?
I was at a loss. None of my many apps or books provided an answer (the Merlin App was insistent that I was looking at either a robin or a cardinal). What I needed was a community of passionate enthusiasts to help! A quick click of my camera and an upload later I had it posted to a birding group on Facebook. Within in a minute I had an answer: a Varied Thrush.
While listed as being in steep decline on Cornell Lab’s allaboutbirds.org website, the Varied Thrush is still common in its home range of the west coast of North American. So…? Great question! I saw this bird out of my window in chilly Haliburton, Ontario… some 3,000km from where it should be.
Over the course of the day I had several conversations, both on-line and face-to-face about this rare sighting. More than a few people had questions about my sighting. Was it accessible to the public? Could you see the feeder from a public space? Could I make arrangements for a couple of serious birders to come out and check for themselves.
I’ll be honest here, I felt uncomfortable about the whole thing. I try to be helpful. I remember being new and having questions and feeling like I was interfering or was unworthy or I wasn’t enough… I didn’t like feeling that way then, and I certainly going to be some Gate Keeper standing between my community and something special. But that’s exactly what I was doing; I was a hypocrite. I had shared an amazing find on social media and wasn’t willing to let others share in the experience.
Fortunately, a mentor reminded me of a real and hard fact: I have a moral and professional obligation to keep that bird safe.
Birders, like with any group of enthusiasts, have some members who take their passions to a fanatic level. I’ve read several blogs about the length some will go to in order to capture the once-in-a-lifetime picture or add a rarity to their life list. Check out John Aldred’s ““Baiting” animals worth the short for wildlife photography” and Tom Spears’ Ottawa Citizen story from February of this year to get a better idea of how bad it can get.
How than, am I suppose to balance the duality of wanting to participate in an on-line community while at the same time protecting the bird and the environment? In the end, I made some compromises. I recorded my sightings on eBird (a birding app connected with Cornell University), shared the general area of the siting on Facebook (“general”, in this case being roughly 200-square kilometers), and invited some trusted professionals to come out and see for themselves. Also… and this is a big one… I generally tried not to brag about this random and magical experience.
By its very nature, social media is all about sharing; sharing important life events, or what you had for lunch, or a picture of a cloud that looks kinda-sorta like that guy you use to know. The challenge today is finding the balance between wanting to share with the world and the need to protect sensitive environments and threatened species.
Having a plan is important. Taking time to figure out what you are going to do when faced with a similar situation will help you be who you want to be.
Facebook: Today I Saw a Bird: How a simple moment raised questions about sharing and stewardship. https://bit.ly/2RhNuOQ
As a young lad I loved to collect things. It started with the Panini Hockey Stickers back in the 1980’s. Eventually I moved into hockey cards, trading card games, stamps, and eventually photos of random heart-shaped smiley faces on the side of roads (I’ll talk about the faces later).
Today I’m still collecting, but now I’m focused on earning badges on social media.
Badges are a way to boast about your skill and involvement within a community. With the ever increasing usage of gamification in social media, you are bound to find those that use them for Good and others, well, Not-So-Much. Here are two examples from my personal experience:
The Good: Tookapic
Right off the bat, I want to make something very clear:
I love the tookapic platform. As an amateur photographer, I find the
community to be very accepting and more than happy to help you grow in the
As you become more involved with the site you start to unlock different
badges. These twenty-four badges vary in difficulty from fairly simple (take
and publish a photo every day for a week) to very challenging (take and publish
more than 1,000 days in a row). Personally, I use these badges as sort of
To Do List; what are things I can do to improve myself as a photographer.
Most of these badges are able to be earned on your own; there is no need
to be super-popular on the site. At the same time, there is encouragement
to be an active member and actually participate in the community. Two
great examples of this are the Welcoming Committee and Chatterbox badges.
The Welcoming Committee badge is award after commenting on 50 debut photos. Leaving comments on someone’s first photo not only promotes a since of belonging (who wouldn’t love to get a “Great picture, welcome to the club!” message) but also serves as a reminder that we all started out as a new photographer at some point.
Where the Welcoming Committee is all about debuts, Chatterbox covers the community as a whole. This badge requires 1,000 comments to be made. For myself, Chatterbox forces me to get into the photo, read the description, and hopefully provide an insightful and meaningful comment. Could I game the gamification and just copy-and-paste a generic “great pic” into a thousand posts? Absolutely! But would it benefit me as a photographer? No, no it wouldn’t.
The Not-So-Much: Garmin Connect
Again, being upfront and transparent, I’ve been using Garmin Connect
since June. For the most part, at least as far as gamifying the
experience, Garmin is doing an okay job. Where they fall short,
unfortunately, is in incorporating a Pay-to-Win mechanic.
As a fitness-focused community, Garmin’s badges are aimed at keeping you
active. Some badges are awarded for reaching your step goal three days in
a row or getting eight hours sleep while others much more challenging (run a
100 miles in a single activity or bike 40km in less than an hour). The
108 different badges certainly help to set a goal for your personal growth.
Unfortunately, 14 of these badges are, in part at least,
Pay-to-Win. Garmin as four special -edition smart watches that can be
used to unlock their own, unique badges. The I Can Do This All Day badge,
as an example, is award from simply adding your First Avenger watch to the
platform’s app. Other badges are award based on owning a certain
watch and completing a physical activity. The Try
to Keep Up badge is earned, for example, by owning the Captain Marvel
watch and finishing an activity that is at least 90 minutes long.
In total Garmin has four watches that earn unique badges. The
Legacy Saga Series features a Darth Vader and Rey watch while the Legacy Hero
Series has a Captain Marvel and First Avenger offering. Oh… and each
watch is about $550.00
Like it not, the world of online collecting is here to stay. Some
organizations seem to be using badges in an altruistic way; by creating rewards
for being engaged in a community of like-minded people. Other’s, it would
seem, are trying to leverage the power of collecting to increase sales.
What about you. Do you collect badges from your online
experiences? Are badges a reward for completing a task? Would you
ever make a purchasing decision based off earning a badge? Leave your
thoughts in the comment section.
Facebook: New Blog Post Alert! “Gotta Catch ’em All:
Virtual Badges and Social Media” How collecting (or not collecting)
badges online can impact your experience
Note: This blog post is being written for a specific audience; Program Facilitators at the Bark Lake Leadership and Conference Centre. As part of their regular duties, the team is expected to create a group photo. This post is meant to help them in that process.
Of all the tasks that a facilitator is asked to do, one of the most under rated is taking the group photo. At the end of the group’s visit, this small unassuming token is presented to our guests. While the process is fairly simple, creating a truly stellar picture can be quite difficult. This brief blog will help you to understand the Group Photo process and help you to create amazing images.
Step 1. Ask yourself “Why”
In this day and age you are probably asking yourself why
do we put in the time, effort, and money into printing group photos. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just email it? Wouldn’t it be easier to slap a filter on
it? Wouldn’t it be better to spend the
time actually working with the client?
Yes. Yes it would.
Ask yourself then, why do we put any effort into doing
group photos. Grab a sheet of paper and
brainstorm for a bit as to why we do it (and no cheating by reading ahead).
[Seriously… go and make a list… I’ll wait]
Way back in the 1960’s the American President John F. Kennedy said “We choose to do these things… not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Of course, Kennedy was talking about putting a man on the moon, but the sentiment works for our purposes.
Our group photos are proudly displayed in front foyers, classrooms, and yearbooks across the province. When I visit a school to talk with parents I often hear the younger siblings of past guests pointing out their big brother or big sister in the picture. The Bark Lake trip is a rite of passage and the group photo is the commemoration of that.
In the Era of Digital Everything, the physical glossy
hard copy photograph is rare. Taking the
time and care to actually print a pictures is reserved only for the most
important of life-events; weddings, birth of children, and the Bark Lake trip.
… No pressure.
Step 2: Take the picture.
Turn on the camera
Point the camera at the group
You have now “taken the picture”. Congratulations!
Step 3: Ignore Step 2
Seriously, I should never have included it in the list. You should never-ever “take” a photo. Remember the Because (important life-event that will be forever immortalized on glossy paper).
The difference between Taking and Making is the same
between a snapshot and a photograph.
When taking a snapshot very little thought is put into the composition
of the image. A quick snap at a party,
for example, may capture more than your friends standing around having a good
On the other hand, making a photograph involves careful
planning. Where are you going to make
the picture, when is it going to happen, where are people going to stand, where
are YOU going to stand. All these things
go into composing a great picture.
There are hundreds of books on the subject of compassion, written by professionals who know what they are talking about. Go read one, they’ll do a much better job at explaining than I can.
Set the stage for your master piece. There is nothing sadder than getting the
camera back only to discover that the photo, while technically good, is ruined
for artistic reasons. Get into the habit
of scanning the image Bottom-to-Top and Front-to-Back.
Bottom – to – Top:
When checking Bottom-to-To, you are focusing on how the
people will be layout in the 2D image.
Have you cut off heads or feet?
Is someone too close to the edge?
Is everyone visible in the viewfinder?
Don’t forget to leave a margin around the edge of the
photo. Having a good buffer means no one
gets cut-out during post-production and we have enough room for the Treatment. (The Treatment is a layer that is added to
the picture in Photoshop. It has the
Centre’s logo, the name of the group, and the date of their visit.)
Front – to – Back:
The name of the game when scanning Front-to-Back is all
about distractions. Imagine making a truly
beautiful picture, only to find a delivery truck sitting in the
background. (And yes, it’s happened
before. And yes, more than once. And yes, I’ve made that mistake before…) Scanning only takes a moment but can have an
incredible impact on your image.
Lighting and Shadows:
The human eye is an incredible lens. It is able to capture a wide range of
lighting levels. Your eye is able to
pick out details in the shadows and in bright spaces. Your camera (even a super fancy professional
camera)… not so much.
When staging your group photo, keep everyone in full sun
or in a very well lit room. It’s that
simple. (Oh, and don’t rely on the
camera’s flash. It isn’t nearly strong
enough to be useful.)
A quick word on sunsets:
More words making a complete thought on sunsets:
While pretty and stuff, from a technical perspective, shooting a group photo with the sunset is very difficult. The term is called ‘back lit’. The camera doesn’t know what settings to use. If it exposes for the sunset, your group becomes hidden in the shadows. If it exposes for the students, the sunset because a blown out ugly mess. Software like Lightroom can help, but don’t rely on it.
Step Four: Printing
There are really only two ways to get your photo
printed. The Right Way and the Wrong
Way. First let’s take a look at the
The Right Way (a.k.a The “I’ve been very professional and have planned my time accordingly” Way):
Make the photo
Give the Camera to Joe / Hang the camera on
Joe’s office door knob in a timely fashion (before 4:00pm on the groups
second-last day or by appointment)
Pick-up your printed and framed photo at the
front desk (or maybe even the small dining hall if Joe is being super nice)
The Wrong Way (a.ka. The “I’ve made some choices in my life that will bring a tear to Joe’s eye” Way):
Make the photo
Struggle to use the PowerPoint / Publisher
template on the H Drive
Curse and swear about the fact that Joe could have
done this in a fraction of the time and he would have been more than happy to
do it for you
Track down glossy paper and frames (hint: It’s locked in Joe’s office)
Hang your head in shame knowing that you’ve made
In short: Do it
the Right Way.
Random Odds and Ends:
Getting the photo to Joe early means that he can
try and use Lightroom to improve the image.
It really doesn’t take that long and can have some amazing results.
Do not use your cell phones. The quality of the image will be less. Remember the Because: we are going to be printing this image onto
If you must use your cellphone, email Joe the
file in the largest possible size. A
good rule of thumb: If it’s not at least
5 Mbs, it’s not going to be big enough.
Taking the Group Photo is a big responsibility. You are creating a tangible memory. You are making a Conversation Starter that
can add deeper meaning to our students’ time at Bark Lake. It’s a lot of pressure…