Interview with barb biagi
barb biagi has been a committee member and steward of the Hornby Island Natural History Centre since 2015. She donates her wildlife images to be used as a card fundraiser and often volunteers making and selling the cards for Natural History. In October 2019, we interviewed barb to learn more about her passion for wildlife photography.
When did you become interested in wildlife photography?
barb: It started with Doug Carrick’s eagle cams. I was working outside the co-op and people were talking about the eagle cam and how fabulous it was. I hadn’t had high speed internet before, but I got a new computer and it came with 3 months of free high-speed internet. The first thing I did was go to Doug’s cam and, woohoo, I’d sit and knit and watch the cam. Doug’s cams were the first. Now you can watch osprey nests in Ireland, stork nests in Poland, or a safari, just by the computer. There was a chat and a forum associated with the cam, and there were people from around the world who love the cams: including people in schools and hospitals. I realized there were thousands of people who loved the Eagles and the webcams, but they had no idea what Hornby or the Eagles looked like from the ground. So I started taking pictures to show them. From there I realized there’s all sorts of things: birds, stuff on the water. I fell into it.
I’ve had a camera since I was twenty. At the time it was film, black and white. It was the first thing I bought when I got a job. My Mum was a photographer too. She had a brownie camera, and I probably got it from my her. She photographed the family, documented all our life.
Do you have a favourite species or subject to photograph?
barb: The eagles are at the heart of it, especially that particular eagle nest and what is happening. They might not be the best photos but it’s what I do the most of. I take pictures from the roads and on the beach. I know all the trees that they hang out in. I go by every day on my way home, stopping and taking pictures and videos.
What is your favourite photograph or series that you have ever taken?
barb: The one I get the most feedback from is the hummingbird nest series taken over at Roger and Françka’s place. People love that. One of the images won MARS’ judge’s choice and audience choice. Two photos have been published. I have all my pictures on Flickr. I got a message from a Japanese architect who wrote a book about his theory called tangling. He requested to include a picture I took during the herring spawn: it was Sargassum seaweed, and herring had stuck their roe to the seaweed. I was also contacted by someone from out east making a backyard bird feeder book. He wants to point out bird feeder behavior that people can watch and requested to use my photo of the male purple finch doing a mating dance. The finch has my dog Dookie’s hair in his beak and is dancing. It was the day that I had to let Dookie go. It’s like a thank you, and life goes on. I’ve also had photos in the Comox Valley Record.
What time of year do you most enjoy taking photos on Hornby?
barb: That is a tough one. Probably the herring spawn when there is so much going on. The herring spawn action starts in January and goes until May. Eagles feed off the herring balls, there are sea lions everywhere, and young eagles come back–so it isn’t just the nesting pairs. The orca come through. I forget if we have humpback then. There’s lots of seabirds here.
Can you tell us a bit about your process?
barb: I have eyes open all the time. Always ready. Always looking, with my camera on hand and backup batteries. My camera gets charged each time I upload the photos. My card is empty and ready to go. The pictures go onto the computer into an album and then I format the memory card and start over again. A lot of people store all their photos on their camera, but it’s easy to lose them that way. You should always have everything backed up twice, and even that’s not enough.
Do you have a preferred lens, camera, or equipment?
barb: If people are interested in wildlife, a camera with a longer zoom is good for wildlife. I use the Nikon Coolpix P1000. I always get the latest version.
Have you encountered challenges while photographing / being a photographer?
barb: My last computer had a storage hard drive. I have a working drive where I work on the photos and upload them, and then I move them to the storage drive. I thought they were safe, so I didn’t back them up, but after seven years I lost the drive this summer, with all my photos since 2012! The good ones are uploaded to Flickr, but there’s also personal ones that I didn’t put up there. Now it’s all gone. Drives are only good for three years. The computer shop is trying to recover the photos, but it’s expensive.
And of course, there’s physical challenges when it’s cold and wet, or you’re on a boat and can’t hold the camera steady enough.
Do you view the world differently now than before you were a photographer?
barb: When I started out, I liked taking candid photos of people, particularly black and white. I was 20. Then I moved to Hornby and I didn’t know anybody, so taking photos of people went by the wayside. When I started taking photos for the eagle cam, it was a whole new thing. I’d always loved nature, but I was photographing nature and looking for things to photograph to show people. It has changed my life big time, and other people’s lives as it turns out. It has opened their own eyes to nature and photography and realizing we’re not separate from nature and birds. They have families and they have children that they love. They are not any different than us; they are better than us.
What advice would you offer someone interested in wildlife photography and wondering where to start?
barb: The best place to start is their own backyard. Everyone has nature. Open your eyes and see what is there. Even an iPhone has a good camera now.
On behalf of everyone at Natural History, thank you for sharing your wonderful photos of Hornby’s wildlife with us and supporting the programs!
If you have wildlife concerns, you can call barb. Her number is on page 4 of the Hornby phonebook under Wildlife Concerns
Interview by Sarat Colling