Sunny Revelations

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw

There is nothing like travel to rejuvenate the soul. There are uplifting little notes, even when you are quite convinced your soul is fresh as a daisy at the outset.

I had the great fortune to start 2016 “on the road”. Well, in the air, but you get the idea. My year started with the opportunity to present some research some colleagues and I have been working on at a conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. It’s not everyday my work takes me somewhere sunny so it was a bit of a treat. Given the location, I decided to take a few vacation days and stay for a while past the end of the conference.

If you have never been to Hawaii, I would recommend adding it to your list of future destinations. There is something about the “Aloha” spirit that is light, friendly, and laid back. Everything from the forgiving approach to lost tourists making terrible decisions in rental cars, to cheerful business owners happily offering local tips and stories, makes a visitor feel welcome.

Waikiki enjoys a great sunrise as the sun peeks up from behind the Diamond Head Crater, and spectacular sunsets as the sun sinks in the west. One of the things I enjoyed about both the sunrises and the sunsets were the crowds that would gather to share them together. I didn’t really discover this until a few days into my trip, though, as I fell a little into “hermit-work-mode” and completely failed to get out and enjoy the tropical paradise before and after the conference hours each day. It wasn’t that I was unhappy or distressed in any way, it was just a special blend of laziness with a disappointing lack of appreciation for my surroundings. I think the work aspect of the trip messed with my location appreciation sensors!

Eventually it dawned on me that I’m responsible for creating my own experience and enjoyment, so after ditching the briefcase and grabbing the camera bag one evening, I headed down to the beach to see what I could find.

As I ventured past the pools and restaurants, the beach and a big breakwater came into view. That was when I saw the guy.


All around him was activity, surfers heading in and out of the water, vacationers finding view points for the imminent sunset, people walking, talking, sitting, soaking it all in. If this guy had just paused to check something quickly on his phone, I probably wouldn’t have noticed him at all. After all, I had just checked my phone to confirm the exact sunset and sunrise times for my location. He caught my eye because he stood motionless for a good 15 minutes, watching something on his phone, there on the breakwater, surrounded by the crashing surf in front of a colouring sky.  Granted, he could have been dictating the cure for cancer that had just suddenly come to him, or doing some other meaningful and important task on his phone, but as I watched him I saw my own behaviours from the past days and it was the kick in the ass I needed. This guy launched me into adventure mode, I’m grateful for that!

For the rest of my time in Hawaii I made sure I witnessed every sunset, and most sunrises. Each one was majestic and good for the soul.

Hawaii sunset 2
There is no shortage of places to experience sunsets on Oahu. The smell of the ocean, the sound of the waves rolling in, and the dramatic skies combine to make a special kind of magic.

On the first free day my colleague, her daughter, and I got up before dawn and ventured out to Pearl Harbor. If you get there before the gates open in the morning, they waive the entrance fee for the first 100 or so people. An adult admission is $65USD, so the savings for the 3 of us made it worth getting up early. If you are in Honolulu, I’d recommend visiting Pearl Harbor. As well as being a moving memorial to the lives lost on December 7, 1941, it is an interesting and well presented account of the events that led up to the attack, and the attack itself.

In addition to the USS Arizona Memorial, the battleship USS Missouri is, as my brother eloquently states, “an imposing piece of kit”.

The USS Missouri is an impressive sight. If you feel compelled you can purchase a tour to check her out. If you are more like me, a bit of a tightwad, and would rather just read up on her history, you can do that here.

My last 3 and a half days on O’ahu were vacation days. In addition to the early visit to Pearl Harbor, we also took a drive around the island. It was the first of 2, I also did the drive myself the next day. Driving around the island is another activity I would highly recommend. There are amazing viewpoints, interesting sites, nice parks, and neat little places to stop for food. One of the places I was particularly interested in visiting was Haleiwa on the north end of the island. Haleiwa is just adjacent to one of the most popular spots for viewing sea turtles. Apparently they come up out the water and hang out on the sand. I say “apparently” because despite 2 visits to Turtle Beach (you can see why I may have got my hopes up), there was nary a turtle to be seen. It turns out the surf was particularly high, and turtles are no more enthusiastic than humans to be pummelled into the reef and rocks so they had sought out calmer seas. Oh well, a good reason to return some other time, and the surf that chased off the turtles was sort of fun to watch as well.

Sunset wave
The surf pounding the rugged shoreline was not only an awe-inspiring sight, but was also a powerful sound track. I spent hours just sitting watching the waves crash in.

I also spotted, from shore, a humpback whale playing in the surf, slapping his tail and generally putting on a show. That display inspired me to sign up for a whale watching tour that ended with a similar result to my visit to Turtle Beach. We saw several blows from humpbacks, but not the actual whales. I guess technically that means I saw a substantial amount of whale snot, but the whales themselves were a bit coy. Nonetheless, it’s always fun to get out on the water, so I enjoyed the morning.

On my last full day before heading home, I decided to hang back for the sunset. Every other evening I sought out an unobstructed view of the sinking sun. On the last evening I was more enchanted by all the other folks who were out for the same reason I was, to feel the magic.

Waikiki sunset
I enjoyed the way a small crowd would assemble in the early morning hours for sunrise, and here in the evening for the sunset. It was a light, friendly atmosphere, everyone there for the same reason. Connectedness among strangers.

It was exactly the experience I would have crafted in my mind if these things could be planned. It was in the same location that I first saw the fellow on his cell phone days before. I did take a few minutes to thank that guy in my mind for giving me the nudge I needed to get out and create a fulfilling experience for myself as the week played out.

I enjoyed my visit to O’ahu, and will definitely return one day. There are many places I want to return to to see another day, in another way, and so many places I didn’t get a chance to visit on the first pass. Until that day, I wonder where the next adventure will reveal itself?


1 Hobby, 3 Highs

“What you feed in yourself that grows.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Recently I was challenged to a “Post a nature photo a day for 7 days” challenge on social media. I sort of like those challenges, they are a good excuse to intentionally make time to get out with the camera. The week I was challenged was the last week of work before the Christmas break, and the week of the least hours of daylight in the year. I went to work in the dark, and came home in the dark.

I expected to feel disappointment when I couldn’t get out and take a new photo everyday, but instead experienced enjoyment going back through recent photos, editing a few that I had previously overlooked, then posting them and connecting with other photography enthusiasts through the challenge.

That experience, coupled with an 8 hour drive across the province that offered ample time for reflection, led me to the following conclusion:

There are 3 distinct phases of photography that each come with their own unique enjoyment and satisfaction – making an image, editing or refining an image, and sharing an image.

This thinking was further solidified after reading a short article shared by my talented friend Rick Ruppenthal.

Although the author of the article may be a bit questionable (Rick didn’t write it, he just shared it!), the article itself was sound enough as it talked about the need to love the process as well as the goal, in order to achieve success. I’m not sure I could define “success” in photography just yet, so it seems all the more important to love the process.

For me, the process is the 3 phases I outlined above.

The first phase, making the image is social and solitary, planned and spontaneous. I equally love the carefully planned expedition with friends,  and the times when I’m out wandering alone when I notice something again for the first time. I can not think of a “bad day” out with my camera, even the days when I didn’t get a shot that I felt was worth editing and sharing. I have participated in instameets, where dozens of people show up to a pre-determined location and all go on a photowalk. I have been out with a friend or family member for the day, sometimes deep in conversation but often off in our own worlds, just crossing paths occasionally to check in.

My brother and I have a tradition of going for a walk on Christmas day. This year it was a real winter wonderland, as well as valued time to catch up with my brother.





My family all have a connection to nature and to a lesser extent, photography. This year for Christmas my Mom got my Dad a new camera. Of course that meant we had to get outside and test it out at some of the more scenic locations near my parents’ home in the Kootenays!

My dad got a new camera for Christmas, so obviously we had to head out to some of the scenic spots near his Kootenay home to test it out. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon, both spending family time, and reconnecting with the area I spent some time as a youth.

I also make a point of going out alone at times to explore some of the treasures the Lower Mainland has tucked away in plain sight.

There is a park near my place where I enjoy going on the days when I only have a few hours free. The park runs along the bank of the river, so there is a range of things to see. It’s a great place to slow down for a few hours and appreciate the great outdoors, without having to make an expedition of it. The park is teeming with birds, which is also fun!

I enjoy all of those experiences equally. It is good for the soul to get outdoors and just notice and appreciate my surroundings. If a cool photo follows me home, all the better!

Once home, an new adventure awaits – seeing what’s on the card! Sometimes there is nothing noteworthy. Sometimes there are shots that I planned and schemed and have high hopes for, other times there is something that jumps out out on the screen that was less compelling in person. Regardless, it’s always fun to go through each shot and look at what worked or didn’t work, and contemplate what can be done with a bit of editing.

Usually I stick my memory card in my laptop as soon as I get home from a session with the camera. I like to see what’s there so I can think about possible edits. I really only know a few of the basic tools, I’m slowly learning more, but there is a lot you can do with a bit of cropping and playing with the balance and colour slightly. When I find a few hours, I pour myself a glass of wine, put on some music, and scrutinize in detail the latest batch of photos. Time flies by.

On our annual Christmas walk, my brother and I were trying o create little scenes that would be good photos for making Christmas cards next year. As I was trying to take shots of the red ornaments hanging on snowy branches, I couldn't figure out how to avoid our reflections. In the end, I decided to embrace the reflections, and play with the result with a bit of editing. I sort of like the softness of the result. It's a fun and festive selfie!
On our annual Christmas walk, my brother and I were trying to create little scenes that would be good photos for making Christmas cards next year. As I was trying to take shots of the red ornaments hanging on snowy branches, I couldn’t figure out how to avoid our reflections in the ornaments. In the end, I decided to embrace the reflections, and play with the image with editing. I sort of like the softness of the result. It’s a fun and festive selfie!

Once I have edited the image, my family has a shared dropbox folder. I usually put the image in there and get a bit of feedback. My mom has a good eye for discerning what is an ok picture, but I’m probably a little more invested in it for whatever reason than anyone else will be, and what others might find interesting. If I’m just planning on sharing the image digitally, that is less important, but if I’m hoping to make greeting cards or other items from an image, I like the feedback on whether it could be universally interesting, or if it should just stay in the family folder. For example, the photos I shared above should probably just stay in the family folder, but here they are, leaked to social media. The scandal!

An example of a photo that is more "universally interesting" could be this silhouetted shot of Thor and his some Leon on a recent evening snowshoe trip up Dog Mountain on the North Shore. I'm a total sucker for silhouettes, and I love the added impact of Leon's headlamp.
An example of a photo that is more “universally interesting” could be this silhouetted shot of Thor and his son Leon on a recent evening snowshoe trip up Dog Mountain on the North Shore. I’m a total sucker for silhouettes, and I love the added impact of Leon’s headlamp.

If the vote is for “universally interesting” I will contemplate using the image to make a greeting card, calendar etc. for the next round of craft fairs. I think of all the ways to share photos, I like the face to face opportunities the best. It is so much fun to have people come by, pick up the photos, talk about them, share their own stories, etc. In the coming year it is my intention to seek out more opportunities to share my photography in this way.

I also like sharing photos in online communities.  I have accounts on Instagram, Viewbug, and Fotoblur. I don’t post much on fotoblur for the lazy reason that there are size limitations on the photos I can upload, and I always have to make adjustments. I really like Viewbug, not only for the contests and challenges, but the community on there is pretty active. People give really meaningful and helpful feedback on photos I share. Instagram is good too, there is lots of interaction, but less actual tips and feedback. I can spend hours browsing all of these sites, seeing what other people are posting, looking for photos of specific locations I’m interested in, and looking at the work of local photographers.

As day to day life around us increases in complexity, I think it becomes even more important to feed the creative parts of ourselves, the parts that can become immersed in creating and have time stand still. I think it is in those times that we restore and recharge so we can navigate the other aspects of life in a more calm and balanced way. I’m so grateful I have not one, but three means of entering that space through photography.

Next time, some of my explorations from Oahu, Hawaii!