Tuesday 9 August 2016

Some random thoughts about being published.

Mar 2016

During the period 1983-2011 when I worked as a community newspaper photographer I published thousands of photographs. No big deal, it was my job. Give or take a few thousand, I estimate over twenty-five thousand images. I still have all the tear-sheets... I know, I know, if I ever downsize I'll be having one heck of a bonfire but that's another story altogether. Looking back, some of those early shots were horrendous. Come to think of it some of my recent pix (the ones you don't see) aren't that hot either!
During those first months freelancing with a  Pentax K1000, 28mm f2.8, 50mm F2 and Takumar 135 F2.5 I was flying by the seat of my pants. My first editor Bill Mathis saw something and he encouraged me, teaching me how to edit my work. Bill used to take a thick red china marker and circle the contact sheet with the shots he wanted for publication, I didn't question him, that's how I learned.
I have photographed a variety of subjects since then including my favourite shoot, the Dalai Lama. I even got to meet him and shake his hand. David Bowie at the Commodore with Tin Machine and BB King to Premiership football (soccer) and of course the Canucks. However, bird photography is like starting all over again. Unlike a hockey game or a concert where the lighting is consistent or a stage play where the actors are rooted to a certain area birds have no such parameters. Birds usually see you before you see them and are long gone by the time you get there. With a little skill and lots of good luck the photographer can come away with an awe inspiring shot that is pleasant to the eye,  even if no one ever sees it except for friends and family.

Published in the Langley Times.
Albino starling
Captive bird at Monica's Wildlife Shelter Surrey BC.
Back in the day when editorial and advertising content was 50/50 there was plenty of space in publications for photographs and photo essays and room for a staff photographer. These days ads take up 75-80% leaving little room for creativity. My job as staff photographer came to an end as soon as management gave everyone point and shoots. After 28 years in the newspaper business it was time to move on. So you might ask, why am I burdening you with all this useless information! Simply, it's the joy of seeing my humble efforts in print again. It still elicits the same excitement as it did back on February 1983 when my first ever picture was published in the Campbell River Courier/Upper Islander.
As a staff photographer out on assignment five days a week I would often came across some unusual birds. One time it was an albino starling at Monica's Wildlife Refuge in Surrey. Another time a white crow in the community of Otter in East Langley. In Fort Langley I photographed a Spotted Owl, part of the captive program which continues to this day. The picture below is of a black-necked stilt in White Rock.
Floyd Cherak and Peter Zadoronzny first spotted the area rarity just south of the White Rock pier but nobody thought of sending a pic to the local newspaper.

Published Peace Arch News

Some weeks, along with my usual editorial, lifestyle and sports pics I might have a page of bird photographs from the Christmas bird count or perhaps I'd photograph an eagle which the editor liked enough to put on the front page. Three times I visited Mitlenatch Island Provincial Park on assignment. Once with Chief Harry Assu from Cape Mudge (it was his fishing boat on the back of the old ten dollar bill) during the trip he showed me where his people had for centuries collected eggs from the glaucous-winged gull colony. The chief also showed me where gatherers from Cape Mudge village had strung nets to catch pigeon guillemot, harvested camas and collected yellow cedar off the beaches for carving. The subsequent story and page of pictures appeared in the Campbell River and Comox newspapers. I later expanded it for a magazine article for Birder's World and Pentax magazine. Some of those pictures are on www.johngordonphotography.com

During the early eighties Trumpeter Swans were just making a big comeback after relentless hunting and lead shot poisoning, that story ran in the Victoria Times Colonist. Still, I never considered myself a birder, the concept never crossed my mind, all I knew was that birds attracted me more than any other subject matter.
Northwestern crow siblings couldn't be more different.

The question which never got answered is what happens to the white crow. Apparently the parents had white offspring in previous years so one would think that there would be several white crows in the vicinity but I have returned numerous times and found none. I wonder if they gradually turn dark?

A call to the newspaper reader provided me with this opportunity

One week I might have a photo page of scarecrows, another wildflowers but birds were my favourite subject matter. My images appeared mostly on Vancouver Island or in the Lower Mainland. Some were published internationally, I even had one picture in the National Enquirer. That picture was taken in Williams Park in Langley where a pig had unearthed a two-thousand year old native indian ceremonial bowl, it was the type of photo the sensationalist publication loved. PIG UNEARTHS SACRED BOWL! That one shot was worth a weeks newspaper salary.

This winter I phoned my local newspaper in Cloverdale and asked if they knew birders were flying in from across North America to see a rare bird. They were very interested and in the next issue Voila!

The Siberian Accentor twitch provided me the opportunity to have my picture published in the community newspaper. It took four visits and twenty-two hours of waiting to get the shot.

Same pic but this went out to birders!

Right up to the very last issue I worked on in April 2011 the excitement of opening the latest issue never failed to excite me. Recently I had a few more images published and the excitement of seeing them in print still remains. Here is another recent tear-sheet.

This shot being published came about by accident. I had submitted a few pictures to BC Nature for another feature and within hours the editor asked me if they could use it on the front page. 

Recently I and a number of other photographers have had images published in the Atlas of Breeding Birds of British Columbia 

and the just published Birder's Guide to Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
ISBN 978-1-55017-747-3

Personally I can't see the point of keeping images hidden away on hard drives so to see them out there gracing the pages of newspapers, magazines, books and websites completes the whole process that may have begun months or years earlier by a lake, grassland or mountainside. Enough writing, I can hear a black-headed grosbeak singing. 

More about the Black and White Hawk Eagle

Since I began this blog a few more of my pix have been published in 
A Complete Guide 
of British Columbia and
 the Pacific Northwest.

Barn Owl hunting over the fields of Boundary Bay.


"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Management takes no responsibility for bad grammar. 


  1. Congrats on all your publishing achievements!

    1. Thanks, it was a great way to earn a living, raise a family and pay off the mortgage. I never took it for granted, best of all I'm still enjoying photography, there's always something to learn.