P.E.I. wildlife photographer: 'You fall in love with them'
'It's a great journey for me. It's very enjoyable and very rewarding'
Whenever I put out a call for a great wildlife photo, Paul Gauthier has answered. His crisp, detailed closeups of eagles, foxes, blue jays and other P.E.I. critters are breathtaking, and the man behind the lens — a perfectionist amateur — is a dedicated hobbyist with some interesting stories.
Gauthier, 66, is retired, most recently from a sales job with Toyota, and lives with his wife in Cornwall, P.E.I.. Photography has been his hobby for the past 25 years.
I have so much to learn that I don't know if I'll even come near where I want to be.— Paul Gauthier, photographer
"It's a very basic formula," said Gauthier. Consistency, understanding your equipment, and being prepared to spend time and do plenty of travelling are all part of that formula.
"Wildlife don't wait until 10 o'clock in the morning to get up and start moving around, as soon as the sun comes up they're on the go," said Gauthier.
At least three times a week, he gets up at 5:30 a.m. and spends about three hours taking pictures, clocking about 100 kilometres on each trip.
"I start looking for where they're going to make their dens," in the early spring, Gauthier said of foxes — his favourite subject to snap, because they're so intelligent and beautiful.
He returns to areas two to three times a week to track the animals' movements.
"If you want to improve your work and if you want to be dedicated, to get to a higher level of quality in your photos, you have to understand the animals that you're photographing," he said. "I love just watching them, and watching the interaction between parents and babies."
An immense respect for animals and love of nature also drives Gauthier.
"You fall in love with them, literally!" he said of the fox families he's tracked since the kits were born. "You really get attached to them."
Years ago — before photography went digital — Gauthier thought he'd enjoy turning his hobby into a profession and worked in a retail photography store. But he said it sapped his creativity.
"I was kind of sad when that happened, cause I really loved photography," he shared. He won't make that mistake again, he said.
"I know it's going to take away from my real love, which is taking the photos and trying to get the best photo I can, or the best position, or one of a kind," he said.
He took up the hobby again about five years ago and started getting serious about wildlife photography. Being a bit of a computer buff didn't hurt in the new digital world either, he adds.
He's not a purist — he will slightly alter his photos by, for instance, removing an ugly telephone pole in a background, he said. "It's done by professional photographers all the time," he said.
Gauthier started a Facebook page, Atlantic Canada Amateur Photographers, as an online sharing and learning space for serious amateurs like him.
"I know there was a lot of people out there who had bought five, six, seven, 800 dollar cameras and lens kits," he said. If they just put those expensive cameras on auto, he said, "they might as well have bought a $200 camera.:"
Photographers post their work on the page — a maximum of two per day — and others make helpful comments on ways to improve.
Gauthier describes his equipment at medium-grade, he said, and shoots with large, raw computer files for high-quality photos.
'That special shot'
He's also ruthless in editing — he'll take 300 to 400 shots per session, he said, but only keep two or three of them.
"I'm looking for that special shot that has something — maybe it's the head turned a special way, or a special way they're standing up," he said.
"Really cute stuff that's unusual."
Hobby for life
As long as his body holds up, Gauthier said he'll keep taking photos.
"There's such a long road to being an excellent photographer, I have so much to learn that I don't know if I'll even come near where I want to be," Gauthier said.
"But it's a great journey for me. It's very enjoyable and very rewarding."
It's a journey that leaves a legacy that others can, and do, enjoy.
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