West is best

Having recently visited Vancouver Island I thought it would be fun to feature a couple more shots in my Throwback Thursday series.

1. Sunset over Vancouver Island.

A typical summer view when taking a Friday evening ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Who can resist a glorious colourful sunset? The journey is not as scenic as the Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay route, so it lends itself well to “big sky” and abstract photos.

You can’t get much simpler a composition that this: sun in the centre, horizon dividing the scene in two, contrasting textures (if not colour) in each half. Looking back at this photo, the vapour trail from the airliner annoys me, but I’m not (yet) into removing features I don’t like from images so it’ll have to stay put for now.

2. Carmanah lighthouse on the West Coast Trail, Vancouver Island.

Now this was a treat. Through a friend we managed to wrangle a stay at the lighthouse for a night which meant we had about 24 hours to enjoy the beaches of the west coast of the Island. And I distinctly remember stopping in my tracks when we emerged from the forest onto the driftwood logs and were confronted by a beautiful idyllic scene of a blue ocean lapping at a sandy beach. I had forgotten just about gorgeous the west-coast beaches were, and it definitely inspired us to spend more time way-out west. The icing on the proverbial cake was seeing a number of grey whales and finding some whale fossils.

That particular view of the beach is on Flickr:
West Coast Trail, 22 Aug 2015

But it’s not just that section of the West Coast Trail (WCT); many parts of the coast of Vancouver Island have sandy beaches. While we have still yet to tackle the WCT, we did manage to spend a few days at the northern tip of the Island in 2016. Much of our time on the Cape Scott Trail was spent lounging around or otherwise admiring the beautiful sandy beaches. Don’t believe me?

Nels Bight, 6 Aug 2016

And then there’s the Nootka Trail, where your first night is spent on this beach:
Nootka Trail, 25 Aug 2006
I even swam in the sea here!

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that we jumped at the opportunity to ring in the New Year on the sandy beaches of Tofino, and I’m already looking forward to our next visit.

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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.

Cape Scott

A few days ago I finally completed my write-up of our 6-day trip to Cape Scott, already a year ago now! Although I’d published the summary post soon after returning home, it took months for us to sift through all the photos and for me to rediscover our notes to help me write up each day on the trip.

Looking back on a trip it’s sometimes hard to remember just how it made you feel, and when you do remember, was it just euphoria talking or was it really as good a trip as your words say? I quote my opening line: “Wow! I don’t remember the last time a hike so clearly won me over.” And instantly I’m transported back to those big open beaches, the dense forest, and the sense of wilderness.

I think what contributed to how we felt about this trip was the fact that we weren’t expecting to be wowed in the way that spectacular mountain scenes do. The beauty of the place crept up on us and was just there for us to experience. The rest was up to us to be open to that.

If you haven’t done any coastal hiking, then I highly recommend Cape Scott. I would also suggest that you wait for a good weather window, though that is tricky given the logistics of getting there. But it’s worth it. Who can resist such idyllic beach camping?

Nissen Bight, 4 Aug 2016

Not bluebells

Fields of camas – I was amazed to see so many around the park! Such a beautiful sight! I think I’ll be spending more time here next spring…

Recently I’ve been seeing lots of camas (and other wildflower) pictures from various Instagrammers and it’s been making me want to drop everything and head over to Vancouver Island (or one or more of the Southern Gulf Islands) to check out the spring wildflowers. Vancouver seems a little lacklustre in the spring wildflower department by comparison, and the only ones I make an effort to photograph are white fawn lilies and trillium.

I hadn’t even thought about looking for flowers at the time we arranged a trip over to Vancouver Island to visit some friends, but the sight of all those Instagram pictures had me suggesting we head into town for the afternoon. And I was really quite blown away by how extensive they were in Beacon Hill Park. I didn’t expect that at all, thinking that with it being a city park that it would be dominated by cultivated flowers and manicured grass. So it was a wonderful surprise to find the park has patches of unmanicured meadows and trees. And the camas was growing everywhere! I’ve never seen such a bloom. My first reaction was that I was seeing a field of bluebells, but I was delighted to find that it was a lovely spread of camas instead. They even look similar when first budding and I really had to look twice in a few places.

So my mind is made up: I think I need to make a spring pilgrimage to southern Vancouver Island every year now… 🙂

Whale’s tails

This is about as close as I want to get to a humpback while sitting in a kayak! I was amazed at how easily the sound of their exhale carried over the calm sea – we heard them long before we actually saw any. A real treat! A great day out with North Island Kayak.

Our rest period between backpacking trips involved a few days near Port Hardy, one of which we spent sitting with our bums inches from the water in a double kayak. Early in the day there was a suggestion that we might see killer whales – that would have been incredible, as kayaking in Johnstone Strait with killer whales was one of those must-do things I had at the back of my mind. Alas, that turned out to be not the case but we did find humpbacks.

We were paddling on flat calm seas, a heavy mist hanging low over the water when we heard it: a loud exhale of breath. We stopped to work out where the sound was coming from, and there in the distance we saw it – the characteristic bump of the back of a humpback. And I have to say, I was a little nervous. A friend of ours had had a very close call with a humpback while in a kayak when it surfaced directly underneath his boat. But in this case the whale stayed well away, sticking to what seemed to be a good feeding ground while we hung around near the edge of one of the Pumper Islands. We watched for a while before the whale dove one last time, when it was time to move on and join the playful sea lions instead.

Beach bear

It’s waterfall/wildflower/wildlife Wednesday, so I’m posting one of each from our recent Cape Scott trip. If you go down to the beach today, you’re in for a big surprise… The two of us were just about to exit the forest as we reached Experiment Bight when we looked up and saw this bear digging in the seaweed on the beach, exactly where we were going to hike. It took over two minutes of bear-soothing chatter to get it to move along far enough for us to make a quick move over the shingle and out of its way. As it walked past, I swear it gave us the most reproachful look ever!

It's waterfall/wildflower/wildlife Wednesday, so I'm posting one of each from our recent Cape Scott trip. If you go down to the beach today, you're in for a big surprise… The two of us were just about to exit the forest as we reached Experiment Bight when we looked up and saw this bear digging in the seaweed on the beach, exactly where we were going to hike. It took over two minutes of bear-soothing chatter to get it to move along far enough for us to make a quick move over the shingle and out of its way. As it walked past, I swear it gave us the most reproachful look ever! #wildlifewednesday #bear #blackbear #capescotttrail #capescottprovincialpark #experimentbight #hiking #backpacking #camping #optoutside #explorebc #explorevanisle #vancouverisland #bcparks

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It took us until our fifth day to see a bear. We’d had a close encounter of sorts at Nissen Bight, where a bear had ripped apart a log right next to the food cache while we were relaxing on the sand. I always want to see bears, but I have to admit this was about as close as I ever want to get to one. Even though this was a peaceful encounter (we had time to switch lenses on the camera!), there was always that thought at the back of my mind about dealing with an angry bear. Thankfully we just had to deal with a grumpy bear who just wanted to seek out breakfast. Once we were past we looked back to watch it dig into the next patch of seaweed in search of tasty morsels. Tasty to a bear, that is.

The King of Gentian

It’s waterfall/wildflower/wildlife Wednesday, so I’m posting one of each from our Cape Scott trip. King or blue gentian lined the trail at most of the boggy sections, adding a splash of colour to an often uninviting landscape. The nice thing about these sections, though, was that they were brighter than the deep rainforest. Plus they smelled just like the New Forest where I grew up. Loved it!

Gentian is another one of those flowers that stops us in our tracks, much to the amusement (and bemusement) of our hiking friends. We’re not sure why, but it could be that it’s relatively rare (if locally abundant). There’s a spot near Vancouver where this blooms in late August (called Blue Gentian Lake for obvious reasons!) but it’s always nice to find it elsewhere. We found our first patch on the way in to San Josef Bay, and then more (much more!) in the peat bogs as we neared the northern coast. We saw so much that in the end even I walked past without stopping to take pictures. Eventually…!