Although it is only Wednesday, it feels like it has been a very long week already! That’s why last night I decided to go to Robert’s Bank in Ladner to watch the sunset and clear my head. I also hoped the dunlins (little shorebirds that often fly in a huge rhythmic flock at sunset) would put on a show for me. I have seen photos of the flocks of dunlins, and they are true art. I had a pretty good idea where they would be, so I set out with my camera and tripod.
One of the neat things about going to slightly out of the way places is how friendly the other folks you run into can be. There was a man with his tripod and camera set up, spending time appreciating a heron who was perched on a piling, he smiled, waved, and carried on. There were a few people out walking their dogs, they let their dogs stop for a visit, and chatted themselves for a few minutes. Everyone acknowledged each other’s presence, that’s not something that happens in my day to day travels, so it’s special when it does.
I found the spot where the 1000s of dunlins were gathered on a sandbar just off shore. They are hard to see, until a small portion of the flock disturbs, but they are easy to hear! They are pretty loud!
I set up my camera and waited. While I waited the almost full moon rose,
and the sun began to set.
As the sun lowered in the sky the dunlins became very active. They grew louder, and as time passed, they did take to the air. Unfortunately, they took to the air in disorganized batches of a few hundred or so, not in the flying ballet I was hoping for! In small groups the majority of them flew away over about a 20 minute period. With one group, a heron joined the flight.
Once the majority of the dunlins were gone, I packed up my gear and started back down the trail. Even the walk back was nice, and although I didn’t get “the shot” of the dunlins, I did get a shot of these two lovebirds, so all was not lost!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
“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.
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”.
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.
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.
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?
“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 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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
“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.
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.
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!
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!