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.

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Yet another photo…

YASPP: yet another Sky Pilot photo. But who can resist?

What better way to finish off a long weekend than a sunny day trip up to the Sea to Sky gondola? The conditions were perfect, with warm sun welcoming us in the open and cool air keeping us moving in the shade. The views were spectacular as always, Sky Pilot looking like a fairytale mountain against a pure blue sky. After a quick stroll around the Panorama and Spirit Trails we relaxed at the lodge, and I couldn’t resist sitting back with a totally unearned beer to admire this view. Later the clouds rolled in which actually added some more interest to the scene (the blue sky looks nice, but it’s a bit bland), but I waited too long to go outside and take that picture so this will just have to do.

If anyone’s thinking of hiking the Sea to Summit trail, there’s still plenty of snow above about 600 m. Recent weather systems have left a dusting as low as 400 m. The snow was also not very supportive, especially in areas warmed by the sun, which means snowshoes would probably be a good idea, but microspikes would be fine where the snow is packed hard. Now that I’ve renewed my pass, I’ll definitely be using the hike up as a conditioner for the summer again.

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.

Frigid falls

This seems like an appropriate waterfall photo for today’s waterfall Wednesday – standing at the base of Alexander Falls a few winters ago. I remember being disappointed that the sun was not on the falls but in retrospect it clearly makes for a better picture. It didn’t matter that the snowshoeing wasn’t particularly exciting as it was still a fun and peaceful afternoon. Maybe it’s time we used those expired half-price day tickets to revisit the falls…

Why is this appropriate? Well, yesterday we got our first city snow of the year in Vancouver and today it’s all frozen solid. Tomorrow has rain in the forecast though that could easily be snow again. For a few short hours, the UBC campus was a winter wonderland, until the reality of getting the bus up the hill sunk in. Thankfully the roads were clear enough by the evening for me to have no issues getting home.

Back to the photo. A similar cloudless day back in January 2011, and I set off on snowshoes with a friend to wander the trails at the Whistler Olympic Park, finishing up at the base of Alexander Falls. We needed a little deft snowshoe-clad footwork to get down the slope, but it was well worth it. Since it’s now been nearly 7 years since I visited I think it’s about time I returned, and now we have winter tyres to get up the Sea to Sky highway, it might even be something we do over the Christmas holiday.

However, on my next visit I’m going to try a couple more angles and go for a longer exposure too. We were running out of time back in 2011 (and my friend’s kid was getting very cold) so I just had time to snap a few photos before we retraced our steps back to the lodge where we tackled some well-deserved hot chocolate.

Happy day

Happy International Mountain Day! Mountains make me happy, and I suppose these mountains are international if you don’t live in Canada, so yeah – enjoy the day! I know that I certainly enjoyed this view of the Tantalus Range from Al’s Habrich Ridge trail 🏔🗻🌋

It always takes seeing other people’s photos on Instagram to remind me of International Mountain Day. It’s kinda hard to remember as there are so many international or nationals “days” dedicated to one thing or another. But I’ll happily celebrate this one as I’ve come to love the mountains for their aesthetics and wildness, and their ability to bring me perspective and peace.

This view of the Tantalus Range (from the south-east rather than the more common and visually stunning north-east angle) caught me by surprise as we walked back out of the trees onto the large granite bluffs along Al’s Habrich Ridge trail, the tree branch and the water-carved granite framing the peaks nicely against the perfect blue autumn sky. It was nice to have that as I find many photos of mountains tend to lose some of the grandeur without any surrounding context. To the eye, the mountains look stunning; yet once captured through a lens, that larger picture and sense of place is often lost.

I’ve learned this the hard way over many years of hiking and photographing the local mountains. I still take many a context-free mountain photo, but some peaks are too photogenic not to keep trying!

Best seat in the house

Looking back 5 years ago today to a balmy Thanksgiving weekend in Garibaldi Provincial Park. This is one of my all-time favourite views, and possibly the best in the park. Black Tusk looks amazing from all angles but especially this one.

I love this view. Actually I love the entire view from this spot on Panorama Ridge. To the south is Garibaldi Lake and Mt Garibaldi itself, to the east lies the heavily-glaciated Castle Towers, while to the west is the Tantalus Range. For a hike that requires only relatively modest effort (at least when camping nearby), it offers the greatest value in terms of views. Plus the hike itself is quite enjoyable, passing through vast flower meadows or across volcanic cinder flats, depending on your approach.

I haven’t yet summited Black Tusk itself, and while I don’t doubt that the view from up there is superb, I still expect that it won’t be better than this view. After all, Panorama Ridge overlooks Garibaldi Lake directly, and of course you get to admire the stunning Black Tusk: Panorama Ridge is a much less visually impressive summit!

And I think that it looks best in the autumn too as the meadows on its flanks turn that lovely burnished golden colour as the flowers die back. Having said that, it looks pretty good in any season…

Cinnamon

Cinnamon black bear munching on grass at the roadside, the third of four bears we saw on a mini road trip back in June

I love seeing bears in the wild, and despite the years of hiking and backpacking in North America (totalling close to 500 hikes), we’ve seen way more bears from the car than on foot. I can think of maybe 10 occasions that we saw a bear on the trail, and maybe only about half of those could be classified as encounters, the others being merely sightings at a distance.

The challenges of taking a good bear photo from the car include being able to shoot through an open window (without getting someone’s head or part of the door mirror in the frame), holding the camera steady enough in a car whose engine is still running (tip: don’t lean on the car!), and other passengers shifting around in the car! If you can deal with that, then you can be sure the camera will decide to focus on the grass instead of the bear… Thankfully in this case, the depth of field was just enough to keep the bear in focus too.