Stripy sunset

Nature is pretty good at coming up with abstract scenes – last night’s stripy sunset is a good example.

Who doesn’t love patterns? I really liked the way these clouds formed parallel lines, and in particular the way they receded into the distance. It’s a bit like a colourful barcode in the sky.

I do have one confession surrounding the processing of this image: I rotated it by a few degrees to make the clouds horizontal, which I think makes it a much more effective photograph. Thankfully, there’s no distant horizon for which that matters!

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Waiting for sunset

Waiting for sunset on Black Mountain, a good little hike for when you’re getting over a cold. Plus we got to hang out with creeks.and.peaks and her pup Abby – we were all a little chilly by the time we headed back down!

We didn’t get out hiking at all in February, and we paid for it towards the end of the month when we were both struck down with colds. That knocked us out of action for a couple of weeks, and today’s hike was our first attempt at some exercise in well over a month. I struggled on the ascent, stopping often to do battle with a fit of coughing, the cold air and exertion threatening to stop me in my tracks.

Thankfully we had chosen a short hike, and we eventually levelled off on the Black Mountain plateau. As we wandered up to the north summit I recognized Ngaio whom we’d met at Keith’s Hut back in September 2016. We stopped to chat and swap stories of our respective colds.

While the sun was shining, the air was cool and we discussed the possibility of hanging around for an hour to catch the sunset. Somehow we all thought it was worth doing and so we wiled away the time taking photos, chatting, and commiserating with a shivering Abby – poor thing! When the time came, the clouds cleared and the snow turned pink-ish. The colours weren’t very strong, especially to the eye, and by now we were all cold – I was also shivering and having a hard time holding the camera still having decided to leave the tripod at home – and I’m not sure anyone thought it was actually worth our time.

However, when I looked at the photos at home I was pleasantly surprised at how well they turned out. The three above are all square crops from photos taken with my phone (my preferred source for Instagram) and I really like them all. The light in the first one is just lovely, the pink light on the trees looks stunning in the second, while the last light is cast across the uppermost slopes of the mountains in the third. I must admit I’ve gone back to look at these photos multiple times even before I posted them on Instagram.

Before the eclipse

Before the eclipse – the full moon rises over the mountains between Stave and Harrison Lakes.

I was heading back to the car having finished yet another round of attempting to photograph bald eagles in flight when I thought to check the time of moonrise. It turned out to be less than 20 minutes away so I drove back down to the dyke on Boundary Bay and waited for the Moon to appear. There were some wispy clouds near the eastern horizon so my hopes weren’t particularly high.

However, that didn’t stop me trying to get a clear line of sight to where I suspected the Moon would appear. A mature cottonwood on the golf course, bare of all leaves, made for a convenient point of interest, and (if necessary) an object on which to focus. I watched the light turn orange and pink on my favourite mountains – Golden Ears and the Cheam Range – before fading completely. A pair of bald eagles chased each other into the top branches of another cottonwood.

And yet, within ten minutes of rising, I caught a glimpse of something through the clouds that I knew was our nearest celestial neighbour. At first a faint semi-circular outline that gradually brightened as the sky simultaneously grew darker, eventually freeing itself from the clouds to begin its day, interrupted briefly by the passage of the Earth’s shadow across its disc.

I snapped a few photos while the sky was still pink before packing up and heading back home. And I’m really glad of that cottonwood tree for something to anchor the scene.

Fleeting

Winter sunsets in the mountains are the best. Judge Howay, Robie Reid, and Meslilloet catch the last light of the day as seen from the First Peak of Mount Seymour.

It wasn’t our plan to be at the summit for sunset; we thought we would have time to make it back down to Brockton Point by then, but we were delayed by the traffic management on the road up to Mount Seymour. But once we realized that, we were quite happy to stay put and watch our first winter summit sunset in quite a few years. With the help of a first-quarter moon, and lights from the ski resort, we didn’t even need our headlamps to retrace our steps back to the car.

The best light lasts only about 20 minutes, and it’s hard to know where to direct your concentration. The most dramatic scenes are opposite the setting sun, the light changing from orange to red to pink before leaving the mountains to shine white against a pink sky. But there was still competition from the mist drifting across English Bay, the shadows of the downtown sky-scrapers cast onto the water of Coal Harbour, and the deep orange glow over Vancouver Island.

I had thought ahead to bring a tripod, just the Gorillapod this time, eager to try out the new ball-head and Arca Swiss quick-release plate on the top. Alas, I quickly realized that I should have brought the full-size tripod as the Gorillapod proved pretty useless; it was difficult to set to the right height, while the rounded feet skidded on the icy snow. Still, I managed to get a few decent photos and I’m especially pleased with the three above.

In order, the mountains on display are:

  1. Mount Judge Howay, a dramatic double-peaked mountain that can be seen from many local mountains;
  2. Mount Robie Reid, an imposing hulk of a mountain;
  3. Meslilloet Mountain, which harbours the closest glacier to Vancouver on its northern face.

The time between the first and third photo is only seven minutes – you really have to act fast at this time of day!

Catching this sunset has inspired me to repeat the experience. I have a few winter sunsets (and even sunrises, though that’s less likely) in mind that I’d like to catch. Some require hiking but one or two can be obtained at the roadside. I might try those first.

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.

Not this again

Watching the sun set into the haze from forest fires – this is starting to feel like an annual photoshoot :-\ The photos were taken at 7:51, 7:53, 7:55, 7:56, 7:57, and 7:58 pm on August 14th (actual sunset time was 8:30 pm). I edited them to keep the background about the same level to show how much the sun dimmed as it set.

I didn’t set out to create a sequence, but I could see that the sun was sinking quickly into the haze and decided to keep taking photos until it disappeared. Given the low light levels (and the fact that I was shooting hand-held), my expectations for sharp photos were low. But, to my surprise, I had at least one good shot for each “phase” of the sunset, and thought that I might as well see what I could do.

As I processed the photos, I wondered if I could keep the background at the same level from shot to shot, thus emphasizing how much the sun was dimming as it set. It was easy for the first few and a little trickier for the rest, and even though it’s not perfect (the backgrounds aren’t quite the same across all 6 photos), the effect I wanted to show is clear, and striking. I’ve gone back and forth with these photos quite a few times, just to watch it again.

Looking back I still can’t believe that only 7 minutes elapsed between the first and last photo. Clearly I’d started taking the photos at exactly the right time to catch this murky sunset – my timing couldn’t have been better!

Cloudscapes

Cloudscapes – last night’s sunset lit up some great cloud formations and it got me sifting through some recent cloud photos which made me realize 1) how much I enjoy looking at clouds, and 2) just how many photos I take of clouds 🙂

  1. Light pillar in the sky – I started with this photo as it’s the most striking, a column of pale pink topped by a wedge of extra pink. I’ve often seen a vertical line (of course that’s just a projection) after sunset but it was a novelty to see the embellishment at the “top”. My first thought was that it looked a bit like a pink peacock feather.
  2. Coloured lines – parallel(-ish) lines always catch my eye. I like how the lines in the clouds seem to run parallel to the top of Black Mountain.
  3. Sweep – a wider view of the above two shots showing the clouds sweeping across the western sky and the transition from pink to grey as the sun sets.
  4. Before sunset – it’s not just sunset that produces great clouds; about an hour before we were treated to this lovely display of more sweeping clouds and interesting patterns, bright white against the deep blue sky. I’d have been happy enough if this was the best cloud display of the day!
  5. Where grey meets greyer – on Sunday blue sky gave way to white then grey clouds, then very grey clouds as a strong frontal system moved in from the west. I love the contrast between the two, and the texture in the paler clouds above.
  6. Night shiners – our first noctilucent cloud sightings in over a decade! It was a treat to see them again, their silvery waves in an indigo sky. I suppose it makes sense: noctilucent clouds tend to show up around solar minimum, which has an 11-year cycle and it was indeed 11 years ago that we first (and last) saw them.
  7. Afloat – taken from Eagle Bluffs a few months ago, I really like the different layers of clouds and the way they appear from this higher vantage point which seems to create more depth than usual in cloud photos.

For more cloud photos, check out our set on Flickr.