What’s Not to Love about Spring?

Today I awoke to a sunny Sunday. After a busy week, and just as busy weekend full of errands, socializing, and even some fantastic theatre last night, I was ready for a more peaceful approach to the day today.

I gathered my camera gear and some snacks and headed down to the George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary. I have mentioned before, it’s best to get there early, when it’s just me, the birds, and a bunch of guys dressed in camouflage with extraordinarily large and expensive lenses. If you dawdle, the quiet paths fill with strollers, screaming kids, and hissing geese demanding free lunch, and some of the magic is lost. Not all, but some. You can still make your way out to the lagoons that are less “stroller friendly” and reclaim the quiet.

This morning was my first time there in about a month, and the difference was remarkable. Aside from the leaves and all the new growth, the geese were nesting, the birds were moulting, and everything was bustling around building nests.

Canada goose
The goose kept a close eye on me as I passed by it’s carefully chosen spot. I liked the lines with the thick reeds in the shot.

There are nesting geese everywhere, they don’t seem to be too choosy about where they set up shop. I can’t wait for all the fuzzy little goslings to emerge!

The swallows were working hard at building nests, some in the provided little nesting boxes that are all around the sanctuary, but also in all the typical places you would expect swallows to nest, under ledges and overhangs.

I really love the tree swallows, with their iridescent blue feathers. On a sunny day they are sort of striking, for such a little common bird.

Swallow
This tree swallow took a break from fussing around a nesting box, to pose in the sun for me!

Not being a birder, I often have no idea what type of bird I’m looking at. That was the case with this fluffy little fellow, who on closer inspection looks like he is moulting. He was certainly all puffed up about something!

fluffy-bird-moulting-spring
Moulting must be serious business, this guy looks a little stern, fluffy, but stern!

All in all, it was nice to get out and be reminded of the renewal that is going on all around us right now. I hope you can get out and have an appreciation moment of your own!

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Rain or Shine,Outdoors is Fine

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”
― Sylvia Plath

One of the realities of being a “9-5er” is that there are many times when I have a small window of opportunity to get out with my camera, but the weather decides it should flex its muscle a little. Fortunately some creative travel companions, umbrellas (actually used to keep the rain off the camera, not just for the “artful umbrella” shot, and some beautiful westcoast locations often come together to allow me to still get out and play with the camera in lousy weather. That almost makes it MORE fun, as I have to think about what I want to take quite differently.

A few weekends ago one of my coworkers organized a spa weekend on Vancouver Island. My partner and I went over a day early to spend time with his son who lives there. That meant we had a free day to explore the mid island, unfortunately that was the very day there was intermittent heavy rain showers. We decided to stick with the plan and get outside anyway.

I’m so glad we did, we wandered around through the huge cedar trees in Cathedral Grove, we were amazed by the volume and force of the “Little” Qualicum Falls, and we checked out a Buddhist Temple. We also had a delicious dinner, that tasted all the better after a day of activity in the elements.

From a photography perspective, there were times when it was just raining too hard to take the camera out of the bag, but there were many other opportunities where the rain eased or stopped altogether for a spell, and everything was vibrant and glistening. I didn’t come away from the weekend with any particularly awesome shots, but had a lot of fun getting out and trying. There are a few photos from the weekend where I think the ideas were sound, but the photos didn’t quite get to what I had in mind.

Waterfall tree watermark
I had the idea of getting a shot of this delicate seedling with the rushing water of the Qualicum Falls in the background. In the moment I couldn’t decide how to achieve what I had in mind with depth of field. I also didn’t quite know what to do with the shutter speed. Speeding it up would add more detail to the water in the background, making the whole photo “busy”. Slowing it down would lose the sense of power from the turbulent water. In the end I didn’t quite capture any of it, but I sure had an enjoyable time trying!

I had a similar experience when I came across four seagulls nicely lined up in the shallow water as the tide rolled in. The water was rough, so it was busy and distracting in the background.

four seaguls watermark
This scene was more pleasing to the eye in a wider shot, but then the seagulls were a bit lost against the rough water. In hindsight, it may have been a more interesting shot to slow the shutter speed down to smooth out the water a bit. Maybe the seagulls will oblige me for a do-over at some point in the future!

 I have been working on taking photos that tell a story, in particular taking photos of people that portray a mood or a story without being overt. Fortunately I have a willing test subject in Thor, I’m grateful for that!

The clouds parted for a while on the Saturday morning on the Island, and we took a stroll through Rathtrevor Park in Parksville. I love Rathtrevor beach, particularly when the tide is out as the beach goes on for miles and there is so much shoreline activity. There is also a great trail that goes the length of the beach, and that was the route we took.About halfway down the trail, we came across an interesting hollow chunk of driftwood.

Thor contemplation watermark
I loved the detail and shadow of this hollow driftwood, but with the harshness of the light it didn’t make a good shot on its own. I took dozens of shots, I preferred a wider landscape frame, but for that I had to back away from the log and lost the impact of the hollow bit. My favourite shot ended up being this one shot from the level of the log, looking up at Thor. I liked the sense of “big sky” from this perspective.

Fast forward to this weekend, and the principle of keeping the camera handy for pleasant breaks in the weather, and accommodating companions came into play again. On our way home from Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal where we picked up Thor’s son for a visit, we took a short detour to one of my favourite sunset spots, Roberts Bank in Ladner. I had an idea in mind for a “father and son” shot, and was happy when the guys not only agreed to the detour, but also happily participated in my plan for the shot.

father son watermark
Although there was a beautiful sunset developing, I prefer this shot in black and white. The story wasn’t intended to be the sunset, it was the intent discussion the guys were having. In editing I softened the background so it wouldn’t distract from the main subjects.

I’m interested to note that every photo I have wanted to share with you here is black and white. I do love black and white, I think it is more poetic and emotional than colour. That said, I’ll end on a colour shot, the awesome sunset from Friday evening at Roberts Bank!

sunset march 18 RB watermark
I can’t get enough of the unevenness of the posts, and their awesome reflections on a calm evening at Roberts Bank. The pinks and yellow made the sky interesting, and the reflections so colourful. What a nice way to end a week!

I wonder what adventures this week will hold? The weather forecast says rain to the end of the week, sounds like the gloves have been thrown down!

Challenge accepted! 🙂

Local Escapes

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

 

I don’t know if you have ever attended a travel expo, travel show, or similar event that simultaneously lights an intense desire to get out there and see the world, and also overwhelms you with choice, rendering it impossible to decide “where next?”.  After experiencing that creative tension for a few years in a row, the last time I attended a travel show, I went with two themes in mind; epic travels to far off places, and 4 day weekends close to home.

As time passes, I seem to do well attending to the “epic travels to far off places” list, but not as well on the “close to home” list.

Last weekend my partner Thorsten and I set about fixing that. We booked a B&B in Pemberton as a base, and set about exploring a few sites in the area. Our original plan was to visit the ghost town of Bradian, about an hour and a half north of Pemberton. That plan was thwarted, however, as we learned the road to the town is inaccessible in the winter months, and the alternate route is several hours longer through Lillooet. We decided we would instead just go and see what options revealed themselves to us.

We decided to stretch our legs on the drive up to Pemberton with a quick stop in Squamish to hike up to the first peek of the Stawamus Chief. It was a great day for it, sunshine and very few people.

For those of you have haven’t hiked the Chief, it’s about 40 minutes of up, and up, and up. The lower part of the trail follows a creek, complete with awesome little water falls.

Chief waterfall watermark
This photo exists only because I needed an excuse to stop and let my lungs catch back up with my legs.

Once at the top, the impressive slab of granite is a nice spot to sit and take in the views.

Chief texter
Nice views at the top, and I’m sure the Facebook update was nice, too. Maybe if this was your daily fitness route, the view would be secondary to your updates and texts, but for those of us that don’t see this every day, the phones stayed in the packs.

With a brief stop in Whistler for a walk around and a bite to eat, we went directly to our B&B in Pemberton. It was a beautiful home with nice hosts just a minute or so out of town.  We confirmed that the road to Bradian was closed, another guest had attempted it with a truck recently and advised there was no chance for my little SUV. With that knowledge, we mapped out a few other options for places to check out nearby.

The next morning we started by taking a drive as far up Pemberton Meadows road as we could manage in my little SUV. We got about 40 minutes out of town, enjoying views of the  Lillooet River as we went. Once we could go no further, we turned back and returned to town. That was when we discovered the best GF banana bread EVER at the Blackbird Bread Bakery. After enjoying the banana bread and a latte, we headed a few km down the road to Nairn Falls Provincial Park. It’s a short 1.5km walk to the falls, and they are worth the visit. The falls are one of those things that are difficult to capture on film, as the powerful rumble of the water and the mist in the air are as integral to the experience as the views.

From there we committed to a bit of a drive, with the T’sek Hot Springs as our destination. The drive takes you past Lillooet Lake, and along the Lillooet River. There are amazing views along the way.

Lillooet Lake
I liked the reflection of the driftwood on this view down Lillooet Lake. The lake was so calm.

I should clarify. The views are for the passenger, the driver needs jedi-like concentration to  drive the often narrow and windy gravel road, dodging other vehicles, graders, and the like. After 48km of excitement, we arrived at the hot springs. I left the camera in the car and made a beeline for the somewhat eclectic collection of tubs that held lovely hot spring water. It was a fantastic way to relax for the afternoon. After a nice long soak, we took a walk around the campground, sussed out a site where we would like to camp in the future, and then got back on the road so we wouldn’t be doing too much of the drive in the dark.

Having worked up a bit of an appetite through the day, we decided to check out the Mile One Eating House once back in Pemberton.  It didn’t disappoint. Possible the best steak we have ever eaten, and the elk meatloaf was pretty awesome too!

The next morning we started making our way back down the Sea to Sky toward Vancouver, with a stop in the Callaghan Valley  to do some snowshoeing. The Callaghan Valley trails are a legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympics. We strapped our snowshoes on and headed out on the trail to Finger Lakes. It was a great day for it, with the sun even peeking out every now and then.

Callahagn Valley
Apparently there is a lake under there somewhere!

It was interesting how many huge fungi were growing on the trees, they really stood out with as they were glistening with the melting snow dripping off them.

Callahagn Valley fungus
One of the many large colourful fungus we saw on the trees.

As with most trips, no matter how much you enjoy yourself, once you start the trek home you get increasingly keen to get there.

The funny thing is, once you get home, thoughts turn to where to go next!  There are a still a number of “close to home” places to explore, I wonder which one we will chose next!

 

 

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.

connected

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”.

USSmissouri-battleship-pearlharbor-warship
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.

Harrow-Snowy-Winter-trail
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!

Kokanee-creek-park-nelson
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.

chickadee-bird-burnaby
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!

Looking West

“But even the longest day wears to sunset.”
― Marion Zimmer Bradley

 Growing up in northern BC, our home was positioned in such a way that every evening we were facing a beautiful sunset across the lake. It’s possible (certain) I took many of those sunsets for granted, particularly since I was just a bratty kid for many (all) of those years. Subsequent locales have not afforded the same views of the setting sun, either in the mountains, where the sun just sank below the ridge with little fanfare, or in the city where the sun puts on its finest show directly behind the apartment building across the street.

Despite the current obstacles between me and the setting sun, I think I actually notice and enjoy more sunsets now than I did when it set outside our dining room windows every evening. These days I have to work a little harder to go enjoy a sunset, and like most things in life, the more intentional you need to be and effort you need to expend, the more you appreciate and enjoy the results.

There are dozens of great spots to go watch a sunset, all within about 30 minutes drive of my place. I try to get out at least once a week to one of the spots, there is something calming about watching the sun leisurely sink below the horizon, the noticeable change in temperature that occurs, and this may be my imagination, but even the way sound carries differently. Each sunset is like a gentle closure to whatever occupied your mind that day, and if you can allow it, a time of peace before the business of tomorrow rears its chaotic head.

Often I like to watch the sunset alone, as there is no sense I am on someone else’s timeline. I can take as long as I like, and can completely absorb myself in the experience. Sometimes, though, it’s fun to share the experience with someone, either because I sense they need a little of that sunset magic in their life, or to share with them a spot they can return to on their own terms in the future.

One of my favourite evening haunts is Iona Beach in Richmond. There are several things I like about that location, including the super long causeway where you can walk out to the end and watch the planes fly overhead on their approach to YVR. I also like the variety of shoreline features, from logs and rocks, to spaces almost like sand dunes. It is also a bird sanctuary of sorts, but the bramble has grown up so high around the lagoons that I don’t put much effort into that area of the park. A trip to Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is much more enjoyable if you are specifically looking for birds.

On one particular occasion, my friend who lives next door came with me to Iona Beach, she wanted to see the park before taking her whole family there. We got there quite early in the evening. After quickly checking the spot I wanted to come back too closer to actual sunset (an awesome lone tree that becomes a lovely silhouette against the sunset), we took a walk out on the causeway. We had a great chat, felt the ocean breeze, and enjoyed the seagulls playing in the wind. We got back to the beach and I set up my tripod and camera with the lone tree and settled in for the short wait for the light to be just right. Just as the sky was beginning to colour, a couple walked into my frame. They didn’t just walk in, they may as well have set up camp, climbing up onto the highest viewpoint and standing directly in my shot. For a brief moment I was irritated, I mean, I’m 5’11”, I’m easy to see, and there were other clues, the tripod, the camera, the fact that I was there first. I contemplated approaching them and asking them to move down the beach a bit but then I realized, they were really there for the same reason as I was, to feel the significance and magic of the setting sun. Rather than interrupting that for them, I changed my shot and told a different story instead. I really like the result, and guess what?  The lone tree is still there for future sunsets.

Sometimes the wrinkle in your plan turns out ok. I particularly liked how this worked with the layer of clouds just over their heads.
Sometimes the wrinkle in your plan turns out ok. I particularly liked how this worked with the layer of clouds just over their heads.

 Once I had a few shots that I liked, I rejoined my neighbour and we watched the dying light for a while before heading home. It was an enjoyable and peaceful experience that I’m glad I didn’t blemish by giving in to the initial flash of irritation at a plan foiled. After all, how can you possibly sustain a sense of irritation in the glow of a golden sunset?

Speaking of letting go of control of the situation, including the location, there was another rather impromptu sunset capture this summer that I quite like. The plan was that I would meet a friend for dinner, then we would head to Spanish Banks to watch the sunset. It was a solid plan, and we did in fact achieve it, but not in the leisurely timelines that I usually follow when seeking a sunset. We met for dinner as planned, that part was leisurely, a bit too leisurely, in fact. When we emerged from the eatery, the sky was already a lovely golden hue. Again, my urge to control situations crept in, bringing with it a bit of tension as I considered we had missed the best light. My friend has lived in the area for years, and knows the beaches along Spanish Banks very well. I was driving, and he was giving directions to me. His directions led us past beach after beach, view point after viewpoint. I was getting more and more tense, as I could see the sun touch the horizon. Finally he indicated the spot, just a little pullout, with a few steps down to a small outcrop of rock you could stand on to be near the water. The shot below is the first shot I took when we arrived.

After the leisurely dinner, and the drive that seemed to take ages, my friend directed me to this spot. There was time to take one or two shots before the sun sank below the horizon. In this case only one shot was really required, it was such a lovely location, with the beautiful overhanging branch.
After the leisurely dinner, and the drive that seemed to take ages, my friend directed me to this spot. There was time to take one or two shots before the sun sank below the horizon. In this case only one shot was really required, it was such a lovely location, with the beautiful overhanging branch.

We caught it just in time, and were able to enjoy the calm for a while as night slowly settled in. All my worrying had been for naught. I wonder how many sunsets it’s going to take before I finally learn the lesson to let go of things outside of my control? Maybe the lessons are so beautiful, I’m subconsciously choosing to remain a student!

I am just about to set off on a rather adventurous vacation that I will share with you on my return. To help me transition from frantic work brain to steely adventure brain, I thought a stormy, blustery sunset would clear the cobwebs and help me shift my focus. I headed back to Iona Beach with the intention of finding a new angle to capture. It was far too windy to look for my lone tree, it would be whipping around like a frenzied dancer, mesmerizing to watch, difficult to photograph!

Instead I followed the light and it took me to a new spot, overlooking the causeway from a completely different angle. The clouds were shifting constantly with the wind, breaking up the light, creating rays that highlighted different features of the landscape moment by moment. It was a great chance to play with white balance, testing out how to best capture the rays of light. The shot below was not one of the ones where the light rays were as prominent, but I really liked the birds. Yes folks, that is how scientific this all gets!

It was a blustery evening last night, with very dramatic clouds and light. It seemed the perfect evening to go look for new angles at Iona Beach.
It was a blustery evening last night with very dramatic clouds and light. It seemed the perfect evening to go look for new angles at Iona Beach.

Turkish playwright Mehmet Murat ildan has written ““Every sunset is different, because every day sun is different, clouds are different, space is different, reflections are different, mountains are different, fogs are different, and above all, we are different!”.

What a nice thought, that we can end each day as a different person, and have a new chance to be who we are meant to be with the rising of the sun in the new day. I likely would not have carved out the time to experience sunsets the way I have, where it not for the intention to capture photographs of the setting sun. One more positive thing photography has brought into my life!

So There IS Life Before Dawn. Who Knew?

I’m not a morning person. There is nothing better than a warm bed in the morning, and really, I do believe it’s medically unsafe to pursue any cognitive or physical activity until at least the second cup of coffee. Despite these truths, I somehow found myself getting up at 5:00am on 2 consecutive days, without safe caffeine levels, to go photograph foggy sunrises. Here is how that happened.

As I have mentioned before, when you let people know you have an interest in photography, you begin to discover all the other people who have the same interest. One of those people is one of my colleagues, who spied an amazing scene of fog and first light as she drove over the Pitt River Bridge on her way into work one morning. Of course that led to the plan of being on the bridge the next morning with our cameras for sunrise to see if we could capture the scene. So up at 5:00am I get to meet my colleague on the bridge. She brought me coffee, bless her. We assessed the views from the bridge, then set up our tripods closer to the east end of the bridge.

Nature did not disappoint. From our vantage point on the bridge, we watched the herons fish for their breakfast, the ducks do duck-like things, and a beaver swim along the bank, getting out of the water from time to time to harass the heron (yes, there was an altercation between the beaver and a heron!). That was all before sun up.

Just before sunrise there was a lot of activity on the river, between the herons, the ducks, and even a beaver that seemed to like to antagonize the herons! The rove of pilings adds to the pleasing lines in this low light shot.
Just before sunrise there was a lot of activity on the river, between the herons, the ducks, and even a beaver that seemed to like to antagonize the herons! The row of pilings adds to the pleasing lines in this low light shot.

As we got closer to sunrise, the light and the fog were constantly changing, giving us a chance to play with various settings. I had never really gotten creative with the white balance before, but after trying it out, I sort of liked the mood the purply tones set in this broader shot of the landscape:

The fog was continually lifting, shifting, and settling back in over the river. This was a moment it looked like it might be dispersing, but then it rolled back in.
The fog was continually lifting, shifting, and settling back in over the river. This was a moment it looked like it might be dispersing, but then it rolled back in.

After a few hours, the morning had to be cut short, as I had to get myself in to work. Later in the day I posted a shot from the morning’s session on Instagram, and was surprised to hear that at the time we were taking the shot above, the very talented Ian McDonald was lumbering around the riverbank you see in the right of the shot! He too had noticed the scene as he drove over the bridge, and being the committed photographer he is, he had his camera with him so he headed down to the riverbank. This realization led to the plan to return to the riverbank with Ian the next morning for a different perspective of the river at dawn.

I’m grateful that Ian reminded me to wear boots, I may not have pieced that logic together myself at 5:00am. There is a trail along the river, but to get down to the water you must work your way through some rather tall, wet grass and vines, and some boggy ground. There may even come a time when you want to stand in the water for a shot, waterproof boots were a very good idea! We weren’t the only folks down by the river at that time of day, there were a few folks walking their dogs, and a couple of guys hunting ducks.

Fortunately there is lots of room for everyone, and after Ian gave me a brief tutorial on how to get a little more out of my camera in low light, we set off to capture the scenes in our own ways.

To practice my low light settings, I asked Ian to carry on down the trail to a bench in the distance. It was good practice adjusting the shutter speed as he moved deeper into the fog.
To practice my low light settings, I asked Ian to carry on down the trail to a bench in the distance. It was good practice adjusting the shutter speed as he moved deeper into the fog.

As the sun rose, the fog behaved quite differently on this morning than it had the previous morning. There weren’t the same rays of sun catching the fog, and the light was quite different, creating whole new scenes to shoot.

Here is a whole new perspective on the pilings from the previous day's shots. The river was so still, after I waded in as far as my boots would allow and waited for my ripples to settle, I loved the peace and calm of his shot.
Here is a new perspective on the pilings from the previous day’s shots. The river was so still, after I waded in as far as my boots would allow and waited for the ripples to settle, I loved the peace and calm of this shot.

Another awesome feature of the riverbank was the vast expanse of dewy spiderwebs in the foliage beside the river. The sun catching on the dew drops was beautiful. I would SO much rather enjoy spiderwebs in that lovely setting, than the snares the spiders set up outside my door every night.  I have to leave my house waving my arms around like a startled ninja most mornings to get through the booby traps. Inversely, the webs on the riverbank caused a sense of calm and wonder, especially as the sun came up and the light caught them.

The light was great and the dew on the webs caught it nicely. I have always loved the symmetry and design of sider webs, they are quite beautiful.
The light was great and the dew on the webs caught it nicely. I have always loved the symmetry and design of sider webs, they are quite beautiful.

Once the sun was fully up and the dew was drying off the leaves and webs, it was time to head home. On our way back out along the trail we noticed the duck hunters were still giving it their best effort (from what we saw, the ducks were relatively safe!) on the riverbank.

These two fellows were visiting as much as hunting, and undoubtably enjoying the same peaceful reflections we were as the sun came out in full force for the day.
These two fellows were visiting as much as hunting, and undoubtably enjoying the same peaceful reflections we were as the sun came out in full force for the day.

I cannot say I’ve converted to being a morning person, getting up this morning was just as much of a production as usual. I did have to concede to my dad (the ultimate morning guy), however, that there is a certain charm to the pre-dawn hours on the days I’m brave enough to haul my sad self out of bed at that time. I’m also grateful to my colleague who first spied the potential from her drive across the bridge, that started the chain reaction of a couple of fun morning adventures!

Laying the Foundation for what Promises to be an Expensive Habit

After a few years of cultivating the habit of taking photos, I began to spend more time watching tutorials, browsing photographer’s websites and generally soaking in as much inspiration and as many tips as possible. It’s surprising how many people out there are fascinated by photography once you start the conversation. At one point a friend invited me to the end of year showcase for a local photography club. Each photographer presented a 2-3 minute slideshow of their photos. Some of the collections were incredible, shot in and around the lower mainland, and were so inspirational. After attending the showcase I had an overwhelming urge to join a club like that, or at least be around other people who also wanted to spend their spare time with a camera. I looked up a couple of local photography clubs and while they all said “beginners welcome”, it seemed the focus (pun discovered on proof reading and made me giggle!) was really on gear, and a LOT of gear.  That can be a little intimidating to someone who only has a point and shoot camera, or an Iphone, an Olloclip and a gorilla pod. There were local classes, lectures and tutorials available, but they all required a much more substantial camera than I had.  I ended up taking a few  online courses that were specifically related to composition and light. I figured that was a good place to start, since if a photo has pleasing lines and composition, I feel the eye is a bit more forgiving of other technical shortcomings. The courses were important as they gave me a bit of confidence, and I gave myself permission to just take photos and not worry about all the rest of the stuff I don’t know yet. Now I know there are bite sized bits of accessible learning available when it becomes relevant to me, I don’t need to figure it all out at once. That keeps the fun in the game!

Through all this, I had an Instagram account that I posted to occasionally, but without much intention. At the same time, a good friend of mine, Chris, was getting really into IG and was embracing all the social aspects of IG as well as the photography. He has since become something of an IG star, if you want to see IG done right, check out his gallery! He encouraged me to join him for an Instameet where a group of people, some friends, some strangers, all gathered at a location, in this case New Westminster Quay, to socialize and take photos. People had everything from cell phones, to polaroids, to high end gear. And the best part, we all got to see other people’s perspectives of the same experience when the photos were posted to #newwestwalk.

One of the other fun happenings that came from that first Instameet was the introduction to #thenewwestproject, a hashtag formed by the visionaries at the Sixth Street Pop Up and Gallery. They encouraged people to post their photos of New Westminster to the hashtag, then they selected 30 or so of them for the opening show in their new little Pop Up gallery. Two of my photos were chosen for the show, and I was so excited! It was such a great community project, and it was fun to share the experience with some of the other Instagrammers I had met at the Instameet!

Chris and I spent a rainy evening on Columbia Street in New Westminster trying to trick our cameras into capturing the
Chris and I spent a rainy evening on Columbia Street in New Westminster trying to trick our cameras into capturing the “perfect” out of focus shot. It was lots of fun, and I’m pretty sure everyone who saw us thought we were nuts!
Nuts or not, it was worth it, as this photo was one chosen from #thenewwestproject and was displayed at the opening show at the Sixth Street Pop Up and Gallery!

For a while I was content with posting photos to Instagram, although it was pointed out to me that my lack of a “theme” is a limitation on IG.  I take pictures of things that move me or I find interesting, and that can really be anything, from nature to “stuff” to whatever the heck the photo above is!  Maybe over time I will find a niche, but that hasn’t happened yet. There is still too much to learn about, well, everything. The second limitation I noticed with IG is that while there is lots of encouragement and validation, there is very little real feedback. It doesn’t matter whether you post a spectacular landscape, or a picture of your breakfast, you get the same “heart” emoticons and accolades. The the virtual love is certainly nice encouragement, and great to receive, and I’m also looking for actual tips, suggestions, pointers for how to improve as a photographer.

In the search for practical feedback I opened a Flickr account and a Fotoblur account, but never really bonded with either site. Finally, through my cousin’s good advice, I joined the photo-sharing site Viewbug. I still use IG as I do like the social aspect, but mostly I post photos to Viewbug these days. On VB I’m not limited to a square crop, and I get genuine feedback on my photos. Even the “award” system narrows the feedback down to categories like composition, creativity, etc. making it focused and constructive. I can also sort my gallery from newest to oldest post, or by most popular, which I really like. There is a particular “type” of photo that has risen to be the most popular in my gallery, mostly close-ups of birds and animals. Sunsets also do well, but landscapes tend to languish at the bottom of the proverbial heap. There are daily competitions and challenges, so I often enter photos in those, and gather even more feedback.

Ironically, this is my
Ironically, this is my “most popular” photo on Viewbug. It’s a flower from a container on my patio, I was using it to play with the macro settings on my camera. Add in a little Colorsplash app (supposedly a cardinal sin) and the most popular photo is born!

I suppose here is where I should confess that I bought another camera, still not one of the “big guns”, but one that suits what I am doing and gives me more options to try out.  I bought a Nikon P900. It has a built in 83x optical zoom, which is so much fun to play with! It has dozens of preset scene modes, but also has a pretty good range of manual settings, that I’m beginning to get the hang of. Right now it is the perfect camera for me, though I’m sure the day will come when I feel it’s limitations and finally invest in something more substantial. That day has not yet arrived, my camera and I are still on the honeymoon!

With that, I will leave you with one of my favourite shots so far from the Nikon P900!

The zoom on the Nikon P900 make it the perfect camera for photographing birds! I happened to spot this heron mid-meal at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ladner, B.C. This was the 4th fish the greedy guy gobbled down, while I clicked away. The fish looks a little startled, as he realizes his luck has just taken a downturn!
The zoom on the Nikon P900 makes it the perfect camera for photographing birds! I happened to spot this heron mid-meal at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ladner, B.C. This was the 4th fish the greedy guy gobbled down, while I clicked away. The fish looks a little startled, as he realizes his luck has just taken a downturn!