Scene on the beach

Beach scenes are the theme for this week’s Throwback Thursday. Time after time I appreciate having such a long stretch of accessible shoreline in Vancouver, and if ever we need a quick fix of outdoor time, a walk on the beach will almost always be enough.

1. Public furniture | urban trees, Vancouver biennale sculpture on the beach at Spanish Banks

Vancouver beaches have an array of logs for sitting or leaning on, but it’s always nice to have something different. As part of the biennale public art project, a few well-shaped log carvings have been placed on the beach near Spanish Banks. Usually the biennale art is temporary but a few are popular enough to keep around for longer, like this installation. I’ve tried a few photos of the carvings in the past with little success – this is about the only one I think has any presence. Maybe it’s time to try another? Only if there’s no one sitting on it!

2. Christmassy Crown Mountain, with a bald eagle for company 🙂

We like to get out for a short walk on Christmas Day if the weather cooperates. The morning is spent catching up with family which gives us a couple of hours to get some fresh air before we spend the evening with friends. One year we even snowshoed on the beach! This year (2015) we were fortunate enough to have had the clouds clear for a while, allowing the mountains to be showcased in their full fresh winter flory. Then an eagle flew by. Perfect!

(Actually it’s rare to be down the beach and not see one of the local bald eagles… I saw three last weekend.)

3. Okanagan reflections

Of course, it’s not all about Vancouver’s beaches; lakes can have nice beaches too and Okanagan Lake has a few. The resort where we were staying has a pretty section of sandy beach-front and it’s a great spot to sit by the often-calm water. The sandy cliffs catch the afternoon light, and the turning leaves of the cottonwoods, birches, and aspens add extra colour. Late September or early October is a good time to visit the Okanagan as it often holds on to summer for that little bit longer than the coast. Sitting back on a mellow day with a glass or two of local wine or beer is wonderfully relaxing

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Conjunction

I didn’t think we’d see this tonight – the most slender of crescent moons, a hint of Earthshine, and Venus with some lovely clouds for extra decoration. Swipe to go back in time 🙂

The email from spaceweather.com appeared in my inbox this morning. I scanned it and, after a quick consultation with the weather outside my window, deleted it immediately. There was no way the clouds would part to allow us to see tonight’s conjunction of the Moon and Venus. And so it looked throughout most of the day.

But as luck would have it, those clouds drifted away towards sunset leaving us with a pure blue sky, albeit one that was still dotted with clouds thick enough to hide any celestial body. I stepped out onto our balcony and took the third photo in the series while the Moon was barely visible in the pale evening sky. The big cloud below it looked like it would prevent me from getting any photos as the blue hour progressed until it, too, began to dissipate.

The clouds continued to disperse until they were but decorative framing to the stars of the show (ironic pun intended). As night fell I took some longer exposures to pick up the Earthshine, which worked surprisingly well given that the Moon moves during the 5-8 seconds of the photograph. I even like the glow of the bloom around the brightest parts of the image; it lends a dreamy, ethereal quality to the scene.

Given that I used the little RX100II, I couldn’t be happier with these photos. The combination of just enough zoom and plenty of pixels gave me the flexibility to reframe and crop, though the position of Venus meant that I couldn’t be tempted to crop in too far, which is a good thing and results in more balanced photos in the end. A bonus set of photographs for sure!

A spring favourite

The fawn lilies are blooming again – very happy to have seen them!

Venturing into Lighthouse Park in search of fawn lilies in bloom has become one of my annual traditions. I started unsuccessfully in 2011 (though I did see them on Vancouver Island that year), found my first ones a year later, and have been taking far too many photos of them ever since. Normally by this time, I’ve explored the park two or three times to check on progress but today was our first visit in 2018.

Today was also my first chance to try out the camera on my new phone, a Google Pixel 2, which is rated as one of the top (if not the top) smartphone cameras on the market. And I have to say, so far I’m mostly impressed. At the pixel level, it’s better than any small-sensor compact camera we’ve ever had with no signs of grittiness or significant noise. My biggest issue at the moment is simply the default camera app – it’s really not set up for photographers who want control of the process, it’s more like going back to an auto-everything camera and I haven’t shot on automatic since 2004. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it though.

Back to the subject. I really like the way this flower is opened out, perfectly at right angles to the stem (which falls right on the right-hand third line), and the little granite outcrop makes for a nice background (if maybe a little busy). For comparison I photographed the same flower with the Sony RX100II and the photos look remarkably similar. The main difference is that the Pixel 2 processing adds a bit more contrast and saturation (and uses auto white balance), but on the whole I think that this camera is going to be a very worthy addition to our collection and I can see myself using it often, especially for Instagram.

The View from my Desk

The View from My Desk is the title of my GitHub-based website, which is derived from the personal website I had during my various post-docs. My last two jobs haven’t permitted personal websites; hence the move to GitHub for my static site and to WordPress for writing blog posts. The GitHub site is not updated any more but I can’t bear to part with it as it represents the current endpoint for a set of webpages I started in 1997.

I figure that while sitting at my desk I should have something nice to look at, even if I don’t have much of a view, so I like to put a few nice views on my monitors.

1. Cheery desktop wallpapers on the greyest of grey days

No one should be surprised that I plastered my three-monitor setup with photos of glacier lilies… Sometimes I wonder if it’s really worth using nice photos as a screen backdrop given that I then proceed to fill the available space with a variety of applications. But overall I think yes – it allows a bit of workspace personalization (without putting thumbtacks in the wall) and is a welcome sight for those moments when you minimize every window.

You may have noticed the mouse on the left; I’m not left-handed but I hate having to move my hand so far to reach a mouse on the right (and besides, my coffee mug is there!) so I’ve gradually taught myself to be a partial leftie. 🙂 It’s good enough for many tasks, though if I need fine control I’ll switch back to using my right hand.

2. Not a bad view from my desk this afternoon

One of the things I liked about this job was that if I needed a quick fix of mountains, I just had to stand up and look over my monitors. Provided the blinds were open, of course (programmers really do like to work in dim light), and it wasn’t raining…

Picture perfect

Instagram-ready view of Sky Pilot and the suspension bridge from my comfy chair and not so well earned beer.

Perspective has two meanings and, if I can, I like to express both in my photography. The first, artistic or architectural, definition highlights leading lines or vanishing points to add drama and a sense of movement or to draw the viewer into the scene. The other, more colloquial, use is simply that of a point of view. Windows especially offer the latter and I like using such a ready-made frame to isolate and highlight an element in a scene, especially if there’s not much else of interest. One of my first photos on Instagram was of Mt Garibaldi seen through the square window of the Brew hut, a photo which would have otherwise been featureless, low-contrast, and really not very interesting, especially as it was taken with my old phone.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself sitting in a comfortable chair in the lodge at the Sea to Sky Gondola, savouring a good pint, and looking out through a (square!) window at the jaw-dropping Sky Pilot group, complete with its namesake suspension bridge in the foreground. I posted a picture of Sky Pilot only last week so, at first, I wasn’t entirely sold on posting another so soon. However, in some respects I actually prefer this photo because the clouds are much more interesting, even though the strong reflections of the windows behind me and the aluminium railing undoubtedly reduce its “technical” merit. In my opinion, those imperfections add character, and make the photo more fun; a genuine capture of a moment in time rather than a staged postcard or calendar landscape shot.

Photography should be fun.

In terms of processing, I used DxO’s wonderful perspective (there’s that word again) correction tools to render the window square. (Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to put yourself in just the right place to take a perfect window shot; I was happy to get close enough and let DxO do the rest.) With so many pixels to play with, such corrections are easily made with modern software.

Forest light

Forest light: morning sunshine streaming through the trees picks out some young hemlocks on our way up Mt Gardner

Recently I’ve been enjoying Adam Gibbs’s YouTube channel and his exploration of the coastal rain forest of south-western BC. One of his main talking points is light. I’ve known good light is critical for good photographs but his discussion of some of the more subtle aspects of light has had me looking anew at various scenes.

Now let’s face it, the sunshine lighting up the young hemlocks is pretty obvious but having watched Adam’s videos and seen how he uses light in his photographs I immediately saw this as an opportunity to put into practice some of what I’ve been watching. I really like the contrast in light, but also the contrast in texture: the small, bright green hemlocks against the darker background of mature tree trunks. The diagonal trunk also adds an extra element, and the new ability to make local adjustments in DxO meant I could tone down the brightest highlights and preserve a more realistic look.

Overall I’m really happy with this photo and it’s inspired me to look for more scenes like this as we get our hiking season under way.

Local mountains

I’m getting near the end of all my remaining unblogged Instagram photos for Throwback-Thursday and it’s getting harder to come up with themed posts. In the absence of any other connection, here’s a couple of winter-time photos of and/or from the North Shore mountains.

1. Crown Mountain in its winter coat.

Crown Mountain is always a stunning sight in the winter; it has that archetypal jagged mountain profile regardless of the angle of view. I think I’ve taken more photos of Crown Mountain than any other single peak, mostly because we can see it from our apartment. This day we were out for a walk in Stanley Park and the clouds hung low in the Capilano River valley. This worked in my favour as it reduced the amount of featureless greenery that would otherwise have made up some fraction of the photo. Instead, the photo is neatly divided into four: forest, cloud, mountain, and sky. It’s not as even a division as my eye would like but nature is rarely that accommodating.

2. Throwback-Thursday to one year ago today – a sunny hike up Mt Seymour with my friend Steve.

I have Steve to thank for founding Wanderung which more-or-less single-handedly made our settling-in period in Vancouver so much easier and enjoyable. We’ve met many of our friends through the hiking group, and have been to some incredible places in BC as a result. To my surprise, I’m now helping run the society and mailing list, and have been putting out a short newsletter every week for nearly 7 years. How time flies!

The first time I visited Mt Seymour was a snowshoeing trip (coincidentally, organized by Steve), way back in January 2005 and it’s one of my favourite winter destinations with its superb views in all directions. As an example, the mountain on the horizon in this photo is Mt Garibaldi some 50 km to the north. We didn’t need snowshoes on this day as the snow was well compacted, though hats were definitely a wise move – the summit post thought so too!