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Monday, March 1, 2004

Great Lakes

An intrepid family of adventurers set out to explore, photograph and bring awareness to the swath of Canadian wilderness called the Heritage Coast

At the start of the initiative, Gary and Joanie told a friend that if it were to pass, they'd paddle its length in order to help raise awareness of the region. "We were the folks who knew what was on the landscape because we have traveled it most of our lives," says Gary. "So we were able to supply them with the on-ground data. That's why the photography played a huge role."

Getting Under Way
As anyone who sets off on a summer-long paddling journey can attest, there are a number of challenges in organizing such an expedition, not the least of which for the McGuffins was bringing along their young daughter, Sila, and their dog, Kalija.

"The challenge was that we were going as a family," says Gary. "We had a 75-pound malamute, a three-year-old, the two of us and all the gear to totally support ourselves. The big challenge was just finding a craft that would safely take us on this journey. And there wasn't anything out there that was available commercially, so we designed and built our own out
of cedar."

With the daunting task of building the 21-foot canoe under way, the McGuffins set their sights on packing the items to help them do their job. As their principal means of communication, the photography equipment takes a high priority. On a water-bound trip, so, too, does the protection of that equipment.

"When I first set out 20 years ago doing this on a professional basis," Gary explains, "I sought the support of the companies whose equipment I felt I would be using for a lifetime. I fostered cooperative relationships with some of them so that I could sit down and design equipment specifically for a journey. So, that's what we did for this journey.

"It was a wood canoe, and I was tired of a box banging around, so in a sense, that's how the Lowepro DryZone pack came to be," he continues. "I'm always thinking of applications where I can create a relationship between, say, Voyageur, who was making waterproof packs specifically for paddle sports, and Lowepro, who wasn't making waterproof soft packs, but I thought it would be a good idea if they started. We get the companies talking to one another, sharing information, and we're sort of the guinea pigs that take it out there and try it all out.

"We work with some of the finest outdoor clothing and equipment designers in the business," says Gary. "When you live outdoors, money really isn't an object in terms of what kind of tent you have. That's why it's so much nicer if you can go to the tent manufacturer and say, 'We're going to be out for three months. We need a tent for four of us. Build us something that's going to work—and it has to have these features.' So, when you're on that kind of a level with a company, you can really tailor your whole kit to fit the exact amount of space you have."

Tailoring the gear to fit the journey allows the McGuffins to make sure they're carrying the right cameras to get the job done. Gary doesn't simply bring a body and a couple of lenses.

"For us, photography is how we communicate, so that really takes the front seat," he says. "It's all SLR stuff and it's all Canon equipment. I took two EOS-1V film bodies and the EOS-1D digital body. We knew that if we did this journey, it would be a couple of years before the book came out, and it would be six months before the magazine articles came out. We needed something more immediate, so that's why we went directly to creating a website before the journey. Taking the digital technology with us—the satellite phone, the laptop computer—we actually communicated from the woods over the course of three months. Once a week, we sent out information for a full-color, one-page story that appeared in 58 papers across the country, and did the radio interviews across the country because we had the satellite phone. We kept in touch as much as we could, through the energy that we were storing from the sun in our battery, to communicate with our webmaster to keep a running commentary on what we were seeing and what we were discovering along the way.

"I do take a full complement of lenses, starting with a 14mm wide-angle," continues Gary. "That's the specific lens that I use for capturing all the 360-degree stitched images you see on our website. Then I use the wide-angle 17-35mm zoom and a 28-80mm, a 70-200mm Image Stabilizer—they're all the high-speed ƒ/2.8 lenses. Then I jump to the 300mm ƒ/2.8 with the Image Stabilizer, the 1.4x and 2x teleconverters and a 100mm macro and a 24mm tilt-shift lens. When you get into an old-growth forest and you're trying to put people in the image, it's nice to have that ability to keep the perspective under control."

Along with controlling perspective, Gary had to concern himself with controlling the elements to keep them from harming his equipment. He says there are two principal evils he protects his gear from: shock and moisture, the latter presenting itself at every opportunity on the Great Lakes journey.

Notes Gary, "Spring, or into fall, when you've got huge temperature changes—it can be 75 degrees during the day and it can go down to freezing after nightfall—humidity buildup is definitely a key consideration. Ventilate the packs when you can. Keep things dry, open the pack first thing in the morning, let the temperature of the morning surround the gear. You've got to warm up those cameras, not let them sit there. In many cases, you learn the hard way."

And, in the course of protecting his gear from winding up on the bottom of Lake Superior, Gary doesn't simply lock away all his gear until he reaches camp. Part of the success of his photography is in the spontaneity of his approach. That means having the camera available at any moment.

"It's adventure photography," he explains. "You've only got a few seconds. You're out there paddling, you see the way the light is changing. There's the shot. You've got to scramble out and have the pack on your back, tripod ready, run to that spot, set up..."


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