Alan MacKeigan

Al MacKeigan

Originally from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, I have resided in Calgary, Alberta since late 1985 where I moved upon finishing a mining engineering degree in Halifax. Just prior to that I spent three years at Mount Allison University studying Geology and pre-engineering. Since then, I’ve pretty much stayed at work in bidding and contract management in the municipal and civil construction industry in Calgary.

With the approach of my 40th birthday in 2000, I decided to act upon one of those things I‘ve always wanted to do, to “ get into “ photography. I spent a whole year taking as many photos as possible (thousands ), all really really bad. I showed my friends and they all lied and said very nice things, so I kept shooting. My whole world became reduced to little rectangles. Everything that my eyes registered first received a little frame before being presented to my brain, which then sought to find a better composition. Around this time I noticed my first bird. I’m not sure why I never noticed them before, and I knew nothing about them, but an afternoon of shooting some ducks triggered a fascination that grows to this day. I get out every chance I have, usually Saturdays starting two hours before sunrise. Other than a couple of night classes I am like many photographers in being self-taught (“ how hard can it be?“)

Calgary is truly unique in that it offers many options for landscapes, habitats and wildlife. The Rocky Mountains begin an hour’s drive to the west, while the same distance east puts you on flat prairie grasslands – two completely different ecosystems. Mixed in between and to the north and south are vast areas of aspen parkland and boreal forest, each with its own unique wildlife communities. I’m so fortunate to live here. I hope that the images on this website will help some of my countrymen to better understand the nature of the treasure we need to keep safe.

From a collection of thousands of photos of almost 200 western Canadian bird species, numerous native flowers and animals, and southern Alberta landscapes, my images have adorned websites and publications of non-profit conservation organizations and Provincial Governments; and have appeared in annual reports, calendars and local publications. Other credits include Birding World (U.K.) magazine.

Equipment , Technical info

I just shoot film. So far nothing bad has happened to me…..

Cameras - Nikon F80
Nikon F100
Nikon F5

Lenses - Nikon 20mm F2.8
Nikkor 24-50mm F3.3 – 4.5
Nikkor 35-70mm F2.8 ( my favorite )
Nikkor 60mm F2.8 Macro
Nikon 80–200mm F2.8
Nikkor 300mm F4 AF-S
Nikkor 600mm F4 AF-S II
AF-S 1.4X and 2X Tele-extenders

Other - Kenko extension tubes
Polarizers ( Hoya )
Warming & Grad filters ( Tiffen )
Manfrotto ball-head
Gitzo 1227 tripod
Lowepro SuperTrekker

Digital Darkroom

All images are exposed on Fujifilm Velvia 50 or Provia 100 and more recently I’ve been trying Velvia 100F 35mm slide film.

Scans are done on a Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 at 4000 dpi and processed through Photoshop on a Mac G5.

Prints are finished on an Epson 2200 printer, using only Epson paper and inks. Properly cared for, these prints are supposed to last 50 yrs + without fading.

Methods and Ethics

From the photographer’s perspective, each bird or animal has a trait, characteristic, habit or behavior that can be used to advantage in gaining the one thing that the creature would rather not let you have – proximity. Getting in close may be the objective, but there are definitely wrong ways to do it. A picture of something in full alarm mode warms nobody’s heart. As a nature photographer, it’s my responsibility to use ethics and common sense to avoid bringing any harm to my subjects.

Depending on the subject I may need to use a blind, food (only their natural diet ), recording, or just plain waiting it out. At some point, all of these methods disturb the daily routine of a wild animal, and therefore need to be used with discretion. If I have attracted (meaning distracted) a bird, and don’t get the shot within 15 – 30 minutes, there will be have to be another bird or another day. I don’t seek out nests and the few nest shots that I do have are of cavity nesters discovered by accident that stayed put during my brief visit. I work habitats, looking for specific birds that should be there. I will return again and again to the same spot and always make sure that previous subjects are still on the territory where I last saw them.

Finding them, learning about them and sometimes even getting a picture of them is fun. Looking through the viewfinder though more often than not has me in awe. Real honest-to-goodness wonder, a sense usually lost in childhood, and found again for some in their senior years, has somehow been given back to me. I hope I can keep it, and pass it on.

Yes, maybe the best thing would be to leave them alone altogether, but I think that we need to be constantly reminded that they are there. I also think that a picture of a Northern Pygmy Owl really does say a thousand words.

All feedback is welcome.

Al MacKeigan