Heliotrope sunset

Sunset light on the summit of Mount Baker, a view through a gap in the trees along the road – no hiking needed!

After a hike to Heliotrope Ridge that yielded stunning views of the Coleman Glacier carving its way down the north-western slopes of Mount Baker, I had no expectations of seeing something as photo-worthy. And yet as we drove away from the parking lot, a gap in the trees opened up to reveal an uninterrupted view straight up to the summit, illuminated from the side by the last warm light of the afternoon.

We dashed off a handful of photos using the telephoto lens, alternating between ISO 400 and 800 to ensure reasonable shutter speeds to work around the iffy image stabilization (I’ve learned the hard way that it’s better to get a sharp noisy image than a blurry clean one). It’s rare, but sometimes I do pre-visualize a particular crop when I size up a scene. In this case, I felt an Instagram-friendly square crop would easily work with the shape of the summit, the amount of light and shadow, and the wall of snow-specked rock angling down and sweeping to the left.

That’s not to say that the original aspect ratio was not a pleasing photo: the (nearly) full image is up on our Flickr account:
Heliotrope Ridge, 11 Nov 2018
Sometimes multiple images can be had from a single photo and I’ve had a few instances where I can’t decide which crop or processing settings I prefer. One way of approaching the decision is to to decide which story I want the picture to tell. As one of the photographers I follow on YouTube says, make the picture about something, rather than of something.

But it’s fine (and indeed probably desirable) to create all those different images and let them gel for a while to see which one has lasting appeal. In some cases the answer is all of them, and in others it’s none!

For this photo, I don’t yet know. I still like them both.

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El Capitan

Watching Free Solo last night had me in awe of Alex Honnold’s achievement and reminded me of just how impressive and beautiful the Yosemite Valley is to see in person. We’ve visited just once, way back in May 2003 and this photo was taken from one of the many pullouts on the road. If you enjoy spending time in the mountains, I highly recommend checking out the film on the big screen while you can!

The movie Free Solo is about Alex Honnold’s unroped climb of El Capitan. I’m not a climber and I spent most of the film wiping my palms, wishing I had a climber’s chalk bag myself. But I love the mountains, and Yosemite is a wonderful place, and I’m fascinated enough by climbing and mountaineering to want to watch this film. And I’m glad I did.

We took the photo above with our first digital camera on our one and (so far) only visit to Yosemite. It was a real treat to marvel at the famous rock formations of El Capitan and Half Dome with our own eyes, and to spend a couple of days exploring the park, even in the rain. On the plus side, the waterfalls – Yosemite, Vernal, and Nevada – were spectacular.

Mamquam Framed

Mamquam Mountain framed.

The minute I saw Mamquam Mountain over to the east of our lunch spot on an open rocky bluff I knew I had to find a way to capture it. And it didn’t take long. I noticed the tree on the upper right with its arching canopy and decided to make that the top of a frame to give the mountain some context. After all, it’s a long way off (20 km) and while distant mountains are nice to look at, they don’t always make interesting photos.

All that I had to do to complete my framing was to gain a little more height so I could get an unobstructed view the icefield on the mountain. Thankfully it didn’t take much, and I was able to do it safely without venturing anywhere near the steep drop-off. The trees have the added benefit of obscuring some of the logging roads and clearcuts on the intervening slopes.

Back home I knew a square crop would work. Apart from that, the only other change I made was to apply a warming filter to the shady part of the rock to take out some of the blue in the shadows. Very simple, and I’m really happy with the result.

Sights from the North Shore

Sights from the North Shore – a couple of hours well spent rambling through subalpine forest with occasional spectacular views of distant cities, mountains, and islands.

We had one of those rare events in Vancouver: a sunny weekend! Alas we had in-town commitments (naturally…) so we couldn’t get out for a whole day, but I was able to grab a couple of hours up exploring some trails on Dog Mountain while Maria was in Deep Cove.

  1. One of my favourite photos from the afternoon, I really like the little puddle in the foreground, the rugged rocks of the bluffs beyond, a bit of autumn colour, the shadows, and the distant view of Cathedral Mountain (and even Mount Garibaldi in Squamish). It all adds up to many layers and a natural path for the viewer’s eyes to follow from front to back.
  2. Vancouver far below, the bright afternoon sun reflecting off the Salish Sea and Burrard Inlet between Stanley Park and the west side of the city. In the distance, the mountains of Vancouver Island are visible – later as we drove home along the Upper Levels Highway, we had a stunning view of the orange sky behind the silhouette of Mount Arrowsmith, between Nanaimo and Port Alberni. Just glorious!
  3. Decaying skunk cabbage leaves, nicely arranged on the forest floor. It’s amazing to think that those giant, robust green leaves of summer soon wither and decay to paper-thin fragments.
  4. Reflections in a small tarn – the trail passed by several small tarns or ponds, all of which reflected the surrounding trees and bushes just beautifully. I really like the tufts of grass at the water’s edge in this view.
  5. A dab of colour – many of the bushes and shrubs change colour to gorgeous shades of orange, yellow, and red. It may not be the spectacular maple displays of the eastern deciduous forests, but the subalpine and alpine plants put on their own diminutive show. I just love the vivid primary colours on display: red, yellow, green, blue…
  6. Mushrooms! I was surprised that there weren’t more on display – I only really found this little group and another nice patch of fly agaric. I don’t know what they are so if anyone can identify them then please let me know.
  7. OK so this might actually be my favourite from the day. There’s just something about dead trees; they’re often so photogenic and full of character. I always think about how old these trees are, how many summers and winters they have lived through, watching people come and go.
  8. Last but not least is another favourite showing the terrain dropping away into bowl below the bluffs, and the distance mountains of Coliseum and Cathedral, Garibaldi barely showing up at the edge of the treed slope of Mount Seymour.

So there you have it, my attempt at showcasing the glorious sunny subalpine experience I had last Saturday.

All photos taken on a Pixel 2 phone, edited to taste in Google Photos.

Watersprite

Finally we get to see this Instagram-famous view with our own eyes! A sunny hike in was followed by a snowy and rainy hike out the next day. And it was worth it. A big thank-you to the BCMC for all their hard work in creating this trail.

Warning: potentially unpopular opinions ahead.

So I finally got to see Watersprite Lake in person at the weekend and I’ve been trying to pin down exactly what I think of it. My initial reaction is that I was not wowed by it at all, which I put down to a few things:

  1. I’ve seen a billion photos of that same view on Instagram. Yawn.
  2. The lake is smaller than you think.
  3. The sun was dipping below the ridge to the south west, casting deep shadows over the lake and making it hard to get a good photo. Plus I found that the scene would have benefited from the wide-angle lens that I had left at home in favour of a telephoto that didn’t get used. Then it clouded over anyway.

I was also a bit tired and impatient to get to the campground and drop my overnight pack, and we still had a snowy boulder field to cross.

And while the approach is on a good logging road, it’s still just a logging road, although the views are rather gorgeous on a fine day. On a wet day it’s a long soggy trudge.

The view of the lake from the campground is nothing to write home about. I probably need to get higher up.

Sounds like a terrible place doesn’t it?

Well, after getting all that out of my system, my conclusion is that I simply didn’t get to spend long enough at the lake to explore and size up the best angles for photos, or catch the best light, so I simply have to go back! The reality is that the lake is a fantastic colour and nestled in a stunning amphitheatre of sheer mountains. The BCMC has done (and is still doing) an excellent job in ensuring that this beautiful place will hopefully be able to withstand its new-found fame. It was a lovely place to camp for a night, and was so atmospheric in the snow.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it. Pick up a copy of 105 Hikes and check it out yourself!

Hankering

Hankering after views like this, especially when I couldn’t be bothered to get outside at the weekend for anything more than a walk on the beach.

It’s Mountain Monday once again, and I found myself paging through hiking photos from the weekend where people had ventured in the mountains despite the rain. For a few moments my mood turned grumpy as the FOMO kicked in. Why hadn’t I got outside, I asked myself? We had planned to get out (and had a couple of simple hikes in mind) but when the time came we favoured staying dry indoors over a day of damp fresh air.

To get me out of this self-absorbed mood, I found the need to find a photo I liked from the summer’s hiking to contribute to the endless firehose of photographs that is Instagram. I settled on the one above from our backpacking trip to Phelix Creek, and I remember sizing up this shot at the time. The symmetry and neat dividing lines of the scene caught my eye, as did the contrasting colours: the red/brown of the rocks where I was standing, the blue-green water, the grey rock beyond, and the blue sky above. I tried to divide it evenly, but couldn’t quite get it to work: I have a little too much foreground. Perhaps I should have cropped a little tighter, but I wanted to give Mount Aragorn space.

Despite that, this is definitely one of my favourite photos from that trip, if nothing else because it immediately takes me back to that warm day lounging around on the smooth rocks, oh-so happy to be free of the marauding mosquitoes from the valley….

Celebrate

Happy BC Day as Mother Nature celebrates Vancouver Pride weekend πŸ™‚ Another awesome weekend in the mountains, another round of itchy bug bites!

Recently I’ve been using photos from my phone for my Instagram posts, but this shot simply could not have been taken with that. Instead I needed a long(ish) telephoto lens to capture this partial rainbow and associated rain in front of the distant mountains. It was hard to believe just how intense the colours were in this rainbow, and I’m not convinced my processing has truly captured how it appeared to our eyes.

This photo was taken from the summit of Gotcha Peak near Blowdown Pass, an area I first visited back in 2007. On that occasion our group ventured in the opposite direction up towards Gott Peak, and I was struck by the incredible views once up on the ridge. In all directions lay nothing but mountains; a sea of mountains, each dip and peak like the outline of a wave, wave upon wave receding to the far horizon. I’ve found capturing that effect to be surprisingly hard as the resulting photo often ends up looking flat, but this one really works for me as the changing light throughout the image provides some much-needed depth. Definitely one of my favourite photos from the weekend!