It began with a telescope. Young Simon d’Entremont was fascinated with what he saw through the eyepiece and began taking photos of the moon, Saturn and Jupiter.
But the late hours required for astrophotography and the cost of suitable equipment eventually swayed him towards wildlife.
His mother-in-law had a telephoto lens, so he borrowed that to use on his Canon T3i. That was five years ago.
Over time, d’Entremont upgraded his gear to bigger lenses and camera bodies designed for sports and wildlife with good autofocus. His equipment takes as many as 10 frames per second. The camera and lens can handle inclement weather like rain, snow and extreme cold weather if needed, he says.
“That weather can create some of the best conditions for dramatic photos,” he said.
He now uses a Canon 5D mark IV and a Canon 500mm f4 lens.
D’Entremont is self-taught, but he says he learned a lot by watching and speaking with experienced photographers and taking advantage of the many videos on Youtube.
“I also was fortunate from having experienced some fieldcraft as a youngster and learned the habits of wildlife over time to maximize the ability to get in the right position. For example, foxes have a good sense of smell, so approach them from downwind, but large birds like geese take off and land into the wind like airplanes, so your best angle to see them from the front is upwind,” he said.
He added that over time, photographers also develop a circle of friends who share what they’ve come across that would be interesting to others.
“Studying the work of other photographers whose photos you admire is a great place to start.”
D’Entremont’s favourite places to take bird and wildlife photos are on coastlines and open fields, or in woods that aren’t too dense.
That way he has the ability to have the background far away in the distance and out-of-focus, which is the style of his photography. It makes the subject stand out significantly.
Wildlife photography is best done in the morning, as that’s when they are most active, he says. Before sunset is the next best time.
“These are also the best times to have nice soft light with lots of colour,” he said.
D’Entremont has also captured stellar images of the Milky Way at night. These are usually done from spring to fall in Nova Scotia, when the bulge of the centre of the Milky Way is most visible, he says.
These types of photos are taken using long exposures, e.g. 30 seconds, on a tripod, on a moonless and clear night, 90 minutes after sunset. His best shots have an interesting foreground element, like an old barn, a tree, a bridge, or a river, but they need to be facing south as that’s where the Milky Way is at its best, he adds.
His favourite photo of 2018 was of a red-winged blackbird singing on a calm morning in Miners Marsh in Kentville. Its breath was photographed as it sang.
“You need good luck for this type of shot, and just the right conditions: cold morning, no wind, backlighting, a singing bird, and a clean, dark background,” said d’Entremont.
He says his photography is also a chance to share with those who may not be able to get out to see and/or spend time in nature and enjoy all it has to offer. He adds that getting exercise is a bonus.
Finding the time is always a challenge for d’Entremont, who has been provincial deputy minister of seniors since 2015 and of energy and mines for the past year.
On weekend mornings he still gets up an hour before daybreak and goes to a location where he can find something interesting or enjoy a long hike. His son René (whom d’Entremont says is an excellent photographer in his own right) often comes with him, and they enjoy hiking and photographing together.
“Vacation time is another good time to get out and not feel so rushed,” he said.
There are no exhibits of his photographs planned, as he still refers to the astounding images he’s captured as a hobby.
He does provide talks to photo clubs and is happy to share what he knows “so that others can find their own enjoyment in taking advantage of our wonderful province and all the things in it.”