By Sue Tiffin
It has only been in the last few years that Andy Sauter has revisited a longtime interest in photography and camera equipment, but in doing so he has ensured his days in retirement are fulfilling.
“It’s a rewarding discovery,” he told the Times of his passion, which he said has enabled him to connect with nature, capture beautiful wildlife photos and in turn improve his mental health.
Andy is not new to the area, having been a year-round cottager in Miner’s Bay with his wife Cathy for approximately 30 years but in recent years he’s learning to explore his surroundings more.
As an engineer in supervision and project management of large construction projects, he said work hours were long, and he travelled a lot, opting to work until he was about 70.
He’d had an interest in photography in his mid-20s, and bought his first camera then – a Canon SLR – noting that photography wasn’t user-friendly in the 70s. With a young family and a busy job, he couldn’t devote much time to photography then, so he didn’t pursue it.
“Fast forward 40 years later, and I started to plan for a retirement hobby other than the extensive wood working or building and metal projects that I was always involved,” he said. “I liked golfing and tennis but I need something more during the pandemic. Most importantly for me, I always needed the technical stimulation to keep my brain challenged with something new. I did not want to simply keep doing the same thing regardless of how good I was at it, during my retirement.”
In Florida, about three years ago, Andy said he captured photos of a snake – which he got rather close to during the impromptu photo session. Researching the snake online after taking the photos led Andy to realize it’s one of Florida’s most venomous snakes, a story he likes to share now that he’s not so close to it.
At home in Ontario, he said there wasn’t as much wildlife to capture.
“Last winter, I was driving around looking for a blue jay and looking for birds, and I came across the barred owl, my highlight,” he said. “Then I started noticing that other people had feeders.”
Now, Andy has three feeders and regularly buys bags of peanuts.
“Rather than driving around looking for them, I can actually sit there with a coffee and watch these birds,” he said, noting he’ll also walk in parks and stop at the side of the road to look for moments with wildlife.
As throughout his life, Andy is always learning and following his natural curiosity.
“What I found out, I’ve read seven or eight books now, the differences between a male and a female bird, and the colours between them, and what they eat – it’s just kind of gone over the top,” he said. “I find myself every day, probably five days out of the week spending about two-and-a-half hours either on birding, or photography or a combination of both, or going on my computer and just looking at the other pictures.”
Andy said his hobby has led to him exploring the technical aspects of camera and photography accessories and has also caused him to learn more about wildlife and the environment.
“I’ve been reading about other wildlife photographers,” he said. “You actually have to plan the location, study what birds will be there, and go at the golden hour – early in the morning or late at night. You’ve got to study the area, and find out what kind of birds go there. And then you’ve got to plant yourself.”
Oftentimes, he said, the photo he gets isn’t as important as the experience he’s had to take it.
“It’s just a continuous journey and a continuous learning opportunity,” he said. “You can’t get bored, because there’s more to learn about that bird, or there’s other birds, or different birds at different times.”
And then, of course, there’s turtles, he laughs.
Having taken a photo of a snapping turtle one day, he returned home to learn about the other turtles that live in Ontario and challenged himself to find and photograph each of them. He also began looking for waterfalls while he was in different towns, and seeking them out throughout the province.
Andy said he appreciates seeing other people share their photos in the paper, and hopes others might consider it as a hobby, even with their phone if camera equipment isn’t accessible.
“It’s important for other people to try and explore … it may have been a spark a long time ago, but maybe you should reignite that spark, or that interest, or enthusiasm, particularly during this pandemic,” he said. “It’s been an experience that’s been a rewarding and eternal journey for me. And there’s no destination in mind because it’s going to go on for quite some time. I don’t ever see myself getting bored with this.”