City sights on a sunny Sunday

City sights on a snowy sunny Sunday – mountains, birds, the sea, the city, snow, ice, and signs of spring. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to believe that I live here.

Winter came to the city last night, and to everyone’s surprise, the clouds parted and we were treated to a gorgeous sunny day. Maria and I wandered out for some fresh air, heading down to the beach before grabbing a hot chocolate and walking home for lunch. And a lovely picturesque walk it was too!

1) The beach between Tatlow Park and Trafalgar Street has a nice tidal shelf with a few little raised rocks. This seagull was perfectly placed with the Vancouver skyline behind it, with the peaks of Mt Seymour and the Fannin Range forming the horizon.

2) I love this view of Kits Beach, especially when the tide is out a little like today. The ripples of the incoming waves add some lovely foreground interest – spot the seagull down on the beach too!

3) A couple of the streets offer a great view of Crown Mountain. I liked this one showing the street scene with the mountain as an imposing backdrop. The original version of this image (in a vertical 3:2 ratio) looks much better though. The square crop loses too much for my liking, and I wouldn’t post it alone in this format, but it works well enough for a multi-photo post.

4) I found some witch hazel still in bloom! Yay! This tree is the same one I photographed last year, and it’s a lovely hybrid tree with a mixture of yellow and red “petals”. Most are just one colour of the other, but this one blends the two into its own little spectrum.

5) I was hoping to find a scene like this: a dot of last night’s snow perched on top of some flowers. And with the blue sky behind, how could I resist?

6) Possibly the closest witch hazel tree to home, I hadn’t noticed this one before but it was a gorgeous pure yellow complete with a little icy hat!

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Chasing spring

We may be subject to another 6 weeks of winter (you know, because today is a cross-quarter day which means it’s 6 weeks to the equinox) but I’m dreaming of seeing these little flowers emerge again.

Yes, today is Groundhog day whereby we get to contemplate the weather-forecasting abilities of a rodent that lives underground. It’s also a cross-quarter day – half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox – which means that tomorrow we’re more than half-way through the winter season and looking forward to the official start of spring.

Of course, plants and animals don’t know that we humans have divided the year in this way, and they show their recognition of the lengthening days and warmer (!) weather by beginning to grow new shoots or singing the first songs of courtship and staking territorial claims. One aspect of hiking that I particularly enjoy is how we follow spring up to higher elevations through the season. Beginning at sea level with the first flowers in the city – I always look forward to seeing witch hazel bloom in January – before moving on to the forest flowers that bloom in April (yes, even the skunk cabbage), and up to the alpine flowers from June onwards.

My favourite (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before) is the glacier lily and I really like trying to catch the very first wave of these in bloom. For me, they signify the beginning of the best part of the hiking season: the opening up of the alpine areas and witnessing the last gasp of winter at those high elevations.

Last year our timing was perfect; the road up to Blackwall Peak in Manning Park opened up the weekend we went there to hike another trail. Unable to resist, we walked the short Paintbrush Trail (you may recognize the above flowers in that post too) where the glacier lilies were only just beginning to bloom, the snow barely melted from around them. It was glorious. And with so many flowers so close to the trail, I could take my pick of photo opportunities. We left with many photos, dirty wet knees, and cold wet feet. A perfect day, in its own way.

Getting these photos is hard: the flowers are only a few inches tall at this early stage which means getting down on hands and knees. A tilting screen makes a big difference but it’s still easier to look through a viewfinder (and usually more stable, unless the camera is on a tripod – which is almost never the case for us). It helps that the main camera we were using (the Nikon D3200 with the kit lens) is able to focus at quite close distances even at full zoom. Coupled with 24 million pixels, it becomes possible to capture some tiny details on these flowers even without a macro lens. Then it’s a matter of finding the right flower with just the right shape, with just the right amount of water beading on it…

Back in the mountains again

Good to be back in the mountains again! The Tantalus Range and a fine mountain hemlock looking good against that sky of unusual colour.

We set off from Vancouver in thick fog. Driving over the Lions Gate bridge, the tops of the uprights were hidden, the green arrows marking our lanes barely visible until we were underneath the gantry, blindly trusting our forward motion into the wall of grey ahead of us. The fog greeted us again on our return in the evening, our drive around a deserted Stanley Park proving quite eery with our headlights shining straight back into our eyes. But in between we had nothing but bright sunshine and a sky of a colour we barely recognized after the last two weeks of rain.

By coincidence, two-and-a-half months after our last hike (our jaunt up to Mt Parke on Mayne didn’t really qualify as such), we found ourselves at the same trailhead as that very same hike, this time with snow. We pulled on our snowshoes and made our way up through the snow to the same bluff with this incredible view. I was delighted to find this tree surrounded by untouched snow and I tried to take a leaf out of a landscape photographer’s book by actually finding something resembling a composition. Mountains on one side, big tree on the third-line, and lines in rain-washed snow against an azure backdrop. Unoriginal perhaps, but fine with me.

Stormy (mountain) Monday Blues

Stormy (mountain) Monday blues – Crown Mountain reflected in the mudflats at the blue hour.

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago on Christmas Day as we walked along the sand on Locarno Beach. I was really pleased to get the top of Crown reflected in the still water ponded on the mudflats, something I’ve tried many times before without much success. It wasn’t until afterwards that I really noticed the low cloud hanging in the Capilano River valley, spilling out across the flanks of the enclosing mountains, and adding to the atmosphere of the scene. I had to work around the dust on the sensor of our RX100II, but I had a square crop in mind from the beginning so that was easy.

I came up with the title based on the weather forecast for the beginning of this week, which should surprise no Vancouverite: rain, rain, rain. And today is “Mountain Monday” on Instagram. The title is actually the name of an old blues tune, “Stormy Monday Blues”, of which we have a wonderful recording from 1948. The first couple of lines of the song are:

They call it Stormy Monday
But Tuesday's just as bad

which seemed fitting (given the weather forecast). Of course, with the photo being taken at the start of the so-called “blue hour”, the song naturally popped into my head.

As it happened, today wasn’t as wet as I expected, tomorrow’s forecast has improved, and I even got to see a barred owl chasing crows on the UBC campus. Not bad for a Monday.

A wave of inspiration

An assortment of west coast waves for wave-Wednesday. I’ve been feeling photographically uninspired over the past couple of months and have barely taken any photos, but a few days by the ocean was the perfect tonic.

I’ve really been out of sorts with photography lately. A combination of unreliable camera gear, software and storage annoyances, and plain old lack of inspiration have meant that I’ve been leaving the camera at home on many occasions where I would have put one in my pocket or over my shoulder.

And yet it was with some hope and a little trepidation that I ventured on to our first beach in Tofino last week. I was hoping that the time off work and the change of scene would allow my mind to unwind and take in the views anew, finding subjects to photograph. One of my goals was to try and create photographs and not just take snapshots. Usually I’m quite happy with just my snapshot-documentary style, but I realize I’ve come to rely heavily on photographing photogenic subjects. Watching a few professional photographers on YouTube has made me look at my style a little more critically, and given me a desire to be more creative in my picture-taking.

I kept the 18-55 mm lens on the camera the whole time, a deliberate attempt to limit my options so I wouldn’t try to capture everything I saw. I must admit I did miss having a telephoto lens; some pictures really needed that zoom to hone in on details, as well as the compression effect. But I had to be content with simply not taking those photos, and to concentrate on what I could take instead. And let’s face it, the 18-55 range is pretty flexible!

Distant action was out; but with 24 Mpix, I knew I had the ability to crop and still make an acceptable image for posting on Instagram. Having said that, I still regard Flickr as my main end point for photographs and Instagram is a bonus, a sampler. Nonetheless, it’s always at the back of my mind as an option.

Another factor in my renewed inspiration was the upgrading of my raw processing software from DxO to the latest version. Now the new version (called PhotoLab 1) has some new features that I was almost ready to move to LightRoom for: graduated filters, red-eye reduction, and de-hazing. Suddenly I felt like my hands had been freed and I could move beyond some of the frustrations and limitations of my previous workflow.

And so I experimented, taking my time when I felt it was warranted, passing on opportunities when I didn’t feel I could do them justice, and I found myself enjoying taking photos again. Not only that, but I found myself feeling more confident that I could be proud to say that these were photos I took, and that I would be happy to show these photos to others.

I really like all four of the photos in the Instagram post above.

  1. I was fortunate to catch a large wave breaking over the rocks: 24 Mpix and making use of DxO’s new graduated filter turned this into a photo I’m really happy with. I like the line of impassive seagulls on the rock, in complete contrast to the ferocity of the breaking wave.
  2. A bluebird day on the west coast with waves breaking along a shingle beach: just classic. I prefer the full-frame photo for this one over the square crop which I feel loses some of the drama of the shot, but it’s still pretty nice with the foam from the swash in the foreground.
  3. Time to experiment: hand-held long exposures! I waited for the right waves to break around this tree stump. Too strong a wave and I’ve had very wet feet; too weak and it wouldn’t be as effective. This one was just right, and for once I decided that black-and-white would work best. I also made use of the new dehaze tool (“ClearView”) to boost the local contrast.
  4. The Tofino Polar Bear swim: our timing could not have been better if we’d tried. We were walking back along the beach when we saw the participants lined up ready to run into the water. I managed to run ahead and get a little closer before the crowd rushed towards the ocean. My favourite of the sequence is actually one in which a square crop doesn’t work, owing to the long line of people stretching across the frame, but the two dogs that ran into this shot made it work as a square, lending some foreground interest and conveying some of the excitement and craziness of the event!

Whether or not this inspiration lasts remains to be seen, but spending time in Tofino was in itself an inspired move.

Light at the end of the day

A welcome sight after driving through rain, sleet, and snow on our way to Tofino.

We’d been watching the weather forecast all week, and thankfully our drive over to Tofino was mostly just a wet one, despite the recent snowfall. After settling in at our cottage, we noticed the clouds were breaking and there was a hint of sunshine to the west. That promise of sunshine right at the end of the day was enough to tempt us outside for a 10-minute walk to the beach. And we were well rewarded with a lovely colourful, if still cloudy, sunset. We walked the beach until last light, pausing to admire an eagle that circled overhead and dropped down to drink from the creek running onto the beach barely 40 m from us, before heading back to the cabin for dinner. A very satisfying way to end the day.

Seascape

Salish Seascape, inspired by the photos of Warren Keelan. I’ve tried a few of these panning shots before but they really work best when there’s a nice colour contrast. Having said that, I didn’t really know how this was going to turn out until I processed it given that it was such a grey day.

When you’re on a ferry on open water on a grey day, there really isn’t much to photograph. And so I remembered that I’d tried out a panning shot from a ferry a couple of years ago and thought it would be fun to try another. For that particular photo, the panning was essentially performed by the motion of the ferry over a half-second or so.

While the exposure time for today’s shot was not especially long at 1/30 sec, I could obviously mimic a longer exposure by moving the camera instead. I tried a couple of photos, and found it more difficult than I expected to pan the camera horizontally without drifting up or down (or worse, up and down). In the end, the technique I adopted was to start panning, and then press the shutter release while continuing to pan which helped me to avoid any significant vertical drifting. That way I managed to get a few keepers.

All that remained was to read the file into DxO PhotoLab and tweak the exposure, contrast, and colour to get something I liked, then post to Flickr and Instagram (with a couple of additional tweaks). I like the effect, so I’m tempted to try some more in different weather and/or lighting conditions.

The full photograph is on Flickr:

Salish Sea, 28 Dec 2017