Ole Sam and Spook have found a gem to share as our Nova Site feature this month, dear reader. You will read below from Frank Dutton how a hobby can grown into an excellent business. You will also find that improvement, experimentation and a natural curiosity often lead to excellence. As is the case with Toledo Bend and Nature Gallery.
I was working with computer software in 1998 and had some exposure to the Internet and decided to build myself a website. I structured it to be about the area I lived in, primarily because there just wasn't anything about it on the Internet before then. Since I worked for myself with the computer software, I was able to manage a lot of time to work on my new website hobby. I managed to get a fair sized website put together by gathering a lot of area material and putting it online.
In December of 1998 I found out about awards and managed to get a few for my site that didn't have any criteria other than wanting them and putting a reciprocal link. Over a short period of time I further developed Toledo-Bend.Com and started applying for "real awards".
Starting in March of 1999 I got my first rated award and over the period through early 2002 managed to amass quite a number of awards including AwardSites Superb Over 100 Award and their Hall Of Honor Award as well as recognition from the 4th Annual GII (Global Internet Infrastructure) Awards. After early 2002, however, I quit applying for awards and the site gradually became more commercial as it began to develop into a business.
During this time period, I got my first little digital camera to try out digital photography. I liked it and started adding a few nature pictures to the Toledo-Bend.Com website. They were just some nice flower pictures, and the like - noting was identified. I enjoyed digital photography and every few months was selling my nearly new camera and getting another one a little bit better - and taking more pictures. Finally, in mid-2004, I had a lot of largely disorganized and unidentified pictures on toledo-Bend.Com. I got the Toledo-Bend.US domain and moved everything there and started to get it organized and identified. Since that time, I have added thousands of pictures and attempt to have all identified - though there are always some awaiting identification.
From the beginning, the Toledo-Bend.US "Toledo Bend Gallery" site has focused on this general area and has been completely non-commercial - other than the occasional sale of prints. In July of 2010, I did some major revisions to the site and the thought of seeking awards came to mind again after nearly 10 years since applying for one. In the course of looking through the new criteria for awards, I was motivated to do quite a lot of extra work on my site to bring it up to grade for some of the top awards. The process and criteria has changed so very much from the last time I applied! And I really learned a lot through the course of applying for awards that make the website much better than it would otherwise have been.
I have greatly enjoyed shooting the nature pictures that make up the site and, although it can be very tedious, I have also enjoyed identifying the various birds, bugs, and flowers on the site. I've had some good help from site visitors with unidentified or mis-identified species. And I have learned a great deal about the area where I live and the nature of this area. I've also learned how very much diversity in flowers, plants, birds and bugs exists within a thousand feet of my front door - if you look very closely and regularly. A huge percentage of the pictures in the Toledo Bend Gallery were taken on short walks with a camera and within 1,000 feet of my front doorstep.
I always try to leave my photo subjects unharmed - whether animals, birds, flowers or even bugs. Sometimes, though, I need to bring a bug inside to get good pictures of it. I have found that most insects that won't "settle down and behave" for pictures, can be, literally, "cooled off" by putting them in the freezer for a couple of minutes - inside the little glass vials I capture them in. Almost without fail they will get knocked out allowing me to pose them for some good pictures.
As they "come to" and start moving around a bit, there are still some good shots to be had because they move slowly for awhile. Usually I'll get the shots I want, put them back into their vial, and release them outside. Occasionally, I do lose one - but not very often. It is very surprising how many bugs will stay very settled and even let me move and pose them without doing anything to them. I've found scorpions and moths to be very cooperative this way.
I have a great time shooting nature pictures and it gives me a great excuse to get lots of goodies for my camera and keep my camera up to the latest version. Lots of fun and, I believe, of some value to many people on the Internet.