On Location

The joy of my art is working in nature, though it brings many challenges. Up a steep hill from my car, I carry a backpack stuffed tight with my puppets and camera gear, and a heavy bag in each hand filled with lights, battery packs, props and a repair kit. At the top of the hill, I’m already tired but when I see the stream, I forget all of that. It’s a beautiful forest in Nova Scotia and I’m about to shoot a scene of my puppets’ adventures….

Below are some of the spots where I shoot, captioned with the story of how I create in nature, including a few photos of the Maileg toy I practice with (my original puppet designs remain under my hat until published).

The stream where I take my photos has a life of its own – sometimes full of water and sometimes bone dry, it inspires different story ideas whenever I visit. I love the detail in the flora that grow along the banks.
Sometimes I just sit there quietly, taking in the beauty and the sound of the water trickling by. The work has to wait until the moment of awe passes through me.
The weather forecast is my daily obsession. Nature changes slightly every day as the sun moves with the seasons, so if I have a certain scene in mind I have to capture it within a few days, before the forest changes colour and shape. It can take hundreds of shots on different days to capture the right light under moving foliage, so if I have a three-day stretch of the right weather for a scene, I’m happy!
This was a practice photo I took with the Maileg toy as I was coming up with the concept for my book – it took many tries to get this shot, but I loved learning how to pose the puppet and choose the right camera angle to evoke emotion from an otherwise inanimate toy.
Sometimes the forest tells me what scene is next – a mushroom only lasts a day before it begins to disintegrate, so if I want to capture a poignant moment between puppet and fungi, I have to put aside my other plans and enjoy what nature is offering that day.
A helping hand from my friend Dave, on a practice shoot when I was experimenting with fire. Tiny fires burn faster with less fuel to keep them going. This one was fuelled with wax and twigs.
I often wear chest waders, as a lot of my photos are taken from the water. Sometimes I have to sit in the stream to get the right angle. It’s cold, but when I’m creating I don’t notice the temperature or mosquitos! Here, I’m adjusting the position of puppet and props. Working quickly is necessary when you can’t control the sky, so I show up an hour before I know the sun will be in the right position above the trees (something I’ve noted from the prior day or two of test shots), giving myself enough time to set up. When the sun moves into range, I shoot 200-300 photos, hoping to get a lucky shot when the leaves and clouds happen to land in position. No wind is best, but rarely happens in Nova Scotia!

It’s a patient process, but I love co-creating with nature, especially when I’m able to capture the best moments on camera. It doesn’t always happen, and looking back over my photos, sometimes I wish the sun could have been a bit to the right, or a random cloud didn’t appear at the wrong moment, but that’s life – you have to make the most of what’s offered and move on to the next shot. On the other hand, sometimes amazing things happen you couldn’t possibly plan! Like when a curious frog came along and sat in exactly the right position in my photo, looking on as my puppets readied themselves for a boat ride at the dock. It was a dream moment I had to pinch myself to believe. Thank you, nature!

(You can watch the moment afterwards, when the frog decided to get a little creative with me in this video – though I’m a nature girl, it really freaked me out! Haha!)

For more on how I work, go to In the Studio, or join me on Instagram