Avatar Grove & Botanical Beach Visit

I like to go to Botanical Beach once a year if I can and managed 2 weeks ago. Some of the most interesting tide pools in the world. At the same time I decided to visit the new Avatar Grove containing some huge gnarly cedar trees. My wife and I stayed overnight and drove down from Nanaimo to Port Renfrew and visited Avatar then after a nice dinner and sleep I got up at 6AM (low tide) to photograph Botanical Beach. Here is a map to orient you to the area at the south end of Vancouver Island (click for larger view):

Botanical Beach is in the lower left corner of the map and Avatar Grove is seen on the upper left. Its a 20 minute (not well developed trail) hike down or up for Avatar and can be accessed mostly on paved road. Botanical Beach has a parking lot from paved road and is about a 20-30 minute hike down and up on excellent trail.

There are two Avatar trails; one up (to the biggest tree) and one down. We went down and didn't have time that day to go up. So here are two big trees we found; these are pans, consisting of several photos stiched together to create the view. I've included my hat in both images as a size reference. Enjoy then make the trip yourself! Click to see bigger version.

OK, on to Botanical Beach. These shots are also panos; please click on for a bigger view:

This is a great area to visit. Try to plan on 2 or 3 days at least. There is a nice campground on beach just outside the town. If your budget allows we recommend the Soule Creek Lodge, very nice place to stay with a gourmet chef for dinner if you wish. (http://soulecreeklodge.com)



Gold River First Trip

I drove from Nanaimo to Gold River on the west coast of BC, spent a night and explored the area. In this blog I'm going to tell you a little bit about Gold River, the wharf area on the west coast plus the fabulous falls on Buttle Lake that is in Strathcona Park. 

Let's get orientated by viewing a map (click to enlarge all images):

The journey starts at Gold River after travelling to Campbell River and following the very scenic Highway 28 to Gold River. I headed down the road to the west coast wharf west of Gold River. This is a very busy area so don't expect a beach. A few shots:

The non-business side of the harbour

The MV Uchuck III navigates the Nootka Sound and others and can accommodate 100 passengers and carries tons of freight for the communities around. This is a working vessel but caters to travellers as well. You can go on a day cruise in an amazing marine land or pick other options. Other "taxi" options include a day trip to the famous Nootka Island where Captain Cook arrived on the west coast of BC. Known for a fabulous beach walk which is on my bucket list.

So whats the big thing going on here? Well, certainy lumber and logs. A pulp mill operated for awhile but shut down when prices fell. It can be seen in the background of the the following photos:

Here is the heart of business. A log sorting shoreline. Logs come in by trucks and by water. This giant crane scoops them up for processing. Some go to local mills but I expect that many are shipped to Asia. The next shot shows a vessel awaiting to do that. (I can't confirm that it is going to Asia; it could be going to a BC mill?)

This ship can carry a lot of BC logs.

I explored a bit more around Gold River and want to explore Tahsis next time. Accessible by good gravel road.

Now I head back to visit Myra falls and Buttle Lake on the way home. Here's a image of this huge lake:

Lots of beautiful spots on this lake including a resort and campgrounds.

Last destination before returning home is Myra Falls at the very south end of the lake. There are a series of three falls; here are two omagesof the bottom (and best) fall (click to enlarge):

Closer view.

Bigger view.

Don't hesitate to visit Strathcona Park or Gold River. Many treasures await. (Last Year's visit to Stathcona Park: http://www.johnagon.com/blog/2012/9/11/strathcona-park.html)

Visit to Sedona Arizona

Sedona is a unique spot. One of those places that doesn't look/feel like anywhere else. It is located a couple of hours drive from the Phoenix airport and from there the Grand Canyon is just a few more hours. (click on map for larger version)

The place itself is an amazing mix of art galleries, fantastic red mountains, and a definite new age feel. Crystals, yoga, mediation and many other things are available here. This is a pan shot that captures only a part of the city from a hill near the airport: (click for much better big view)

 Here is a quick view of a bunch of famous spots around Sedona

Cathedral Rock 

Soldiers Pass

We took a jeep trip (many available in Sedona) to view the pass. The story is that General George Crook and his soldiers blazed a trail along an old Indian footpath which connected to a perennial water source, the Seven Sacred Pools, to the lush valley of the Dry Creek Basin. He was a maverick for his time and set up to ambush Indians as they came to get water at the pools. This is a shot of the pools as they look today:

Another view near the pools with Terry and our jeep driver/guide standing next to a big sink hole which continues to get bigger. (click for bigger)

Another two shots from the area:

If you haven't seen Sedona put it on your list. If you are a enthusiast photographer go for sure, and then head up to the Zion National Park if you can. Zion is amazing!

New Gallery: VanIsle2013

Have a look at the new gallery (last choice on top menu). It includes shots from Paradise Meadows, part of the Forbidden Plateau in Strahcona Park, BC, plus images from Litttle Qualicum River (falls) and the usual westcoast beach shots. Hope you like them. Here are three (click for larger) to give you the flavour...

Alice in Wonderland Redux

Sometimes I take my photography too seriously. This time I decided to do a digital image (not really photography but using photo elements). It was a fun project and I learned a few things doing it. I'll share with you the basic tools and techniques I used to create this image; Sara in Harewoodland (click for larger view):

First I needed a background image for my composition. Just south of Nanaimo is the wonderful Harewood Plains which bloom with many spring flowers each year. So I worked with this shot (cropped and some painterly filters applied) as the background:

So now we need the star player: Sara (Alice). I have a print of my daughter Sara from a shot I took when she was 7 years old (now 30). I scanned it into digital format and cut it out of the photo:

Two more things remained in my concept: bring in Harewood flowers in the sky plus butterflys. And a slightly hidden image (you have to find it!) So here's a flower:

And here is a butterfly:

OK. All of the flying images had a drop shadow or other effect applied to bring it up from the background. The last ingredient in the recipe is how to get the movement effect you see on the flowers and butterflys? All of these images were placed on a seperate layer in Photoshop so I could try and discard or keep. There are many ways to do this but I choose to use the EyeCandy7 filter from AlienSkin. This product has a number of good features including the motion effect for still images (no afflilation). 

One of the skills Im assuming you have is to cut out an image from the background. It take some skill but is much easier than it used to be.

Hope you enjoy the image: (click on for larger view) 

Photographing the Amazing Garry Oak Tree

This is a shot of a Garry Oak at Pipers Lagoon in Nanaimo BC. It illustrates one of the characteristics of this tree; the ability to bend, move on the ground or take whatever shape it needs. This, of course is one of the reasons it is so photogenic. Click on image for large view.

From Vancouver Island Wilderness and Historical Conservation:Garry Oak EcosystemsThe Garry Oak ecosystem ranging from Nanaimo to Sooke is the only substantial habitat of its kind remaining in Canada. The foundation of these systems, the Garry Oak, is not listed as a threatened species in BC, but it is estimated only 5% of the area once covered is remaining. The plant and animal assemblage surrounding these trees is unique, with more plant species present in this ecosystem than in any other in BC. As well, the Garry Oaks support more than 100 species of birds, 7 amphibians, 7 reptiles, and 33 mammals, making them an invaluable part of Vancouver Island’s biological landscape.

This blog is about the Garry Oak from a photographer's perspective but with some context provided. I am not an ecosystem expert but will provide links for those interested in a more detailed view. This is the first photo/article but more are coming for the Garry Oak.

The following map shows the main locations of existing Garry Oak ecosystems:


From: Garry Oak Meadow Preservation Society

Aboriginal people tended the Garry oak ecosystems, using fire and cultivation as management tools. The edible bulbs of camas and other species were the focus of the plant harvest. So important were these plants that the Victoria area was originally known as Camosun, or "place to gather camas."

Some Camas flower shots (click on for large):

From a photographers view the Garry Oak is a spectacular tree. To conclude this first article on this topic I offer a few more images; remember to click on the image for to view a nice large version. 

This image is an on-going panorama project. It consists of many images stiched together using my new pan tripod head. I will do another blog in a month or two (I'm learning) to explain the technique and show the results. This is a very large Garry Oak in the Nanaimo River eastuary and shows the branch shapes without the leaves. I plan to catch the leaves coming out soon.

To conclude a view of Pipers Lagoon with a Garry Oak on the hill.

Why Do Long Exposure Landscape Images?

I was amazed, many years ago, after reading a Popular Photography magazine article. The photographer/author set up his camera on a tripod to point at a popular entry stairs to a New York subway station. He said that the shot was taken at peak subway hours yet the resulting picture showed no people just the image of the subway entrance. How could this be done? It seemed like magic.

I don't remember the details of how he did it but the trick was a very long exposure so that people walking by did not register on the film. He used an extremely small aperture, lowest film speed possible and maybe a pin hole or some form of "light blocking" filter so that the image took a long time to burn into the film. Thus the people walking by became invisible to the camera! He probably had the shutter open letting light in for several minutes. Compare this to the typical snapshot of 1/100 of a second.

Well, long exposures are still alive and well today, especially in landscape photography. Long exposures make water do wounderful things. The classic waterfall blur effect. You can also get a surface glass effect that can be very attractive. Sometimes, with more ocean like conditions you get smoky blur looks. Clouds can also blur into interesting formations if they are moving. Many looks are possible.

This article will show you some examples and tell you the process I'm using. Let me make you aware right up front, that you can't do this technique without a tripod. OK, lets have a look at an image I shot of the Virgin River near Zion Park in Utah; what you see here is what came out of the camera, no filters or Photoshop tricks. (click on for larger): 

I was standing on a big rock jutting into the river with my tripod rather dangerously set-up on a very uneven surface. It was close to sunset and cold and windy. I framed and focused the shot carefully on my 5D. Then I took out my special B+W "10 stop light blocking" filter and carefully screwed it on the lens trying not to move anything. (Push the lens in and you change the focus) Now, both the viewfinder and LCD viewer on the camera back show nothing! Yes, because the light is blocked. Thats why you have to frame and focus before putting the filter on. I had already set my camera's shutter to "B" for manual control. I then had the inexpensive Canon wireless remote in one hand and my iPhone with timer app booted, in the other. (Some cameras have a timer built in that works with B so you don't need anything extra). Next I decide on an f11 aperture so eveything should be sharp (24mm). Now I look at the light and take a guess and how long to expose? (You can get table for this but I like to try learning it myself). So I opened the shutter with the remote, hit the timer button and decided to try 3 minutes. After 3 minutes I hit the remote button to close the exposure then wait while the camera processes the image (another 3 minutes). Ooops, overexposed! Try agin, this time a little closer but not right. Finally nailed it at 91 seconds. By this time my butt is freezing and I call it a day. But I'm happy because the image on the LCD looks amazing. Look at that glass water!

Later, back at home looking at the image reality sets in. Of course, long exposure means that anything moving blurs. This is what you usually want for water and sometimes clouds but in this image I'm not really happy with the trees along the river. I decide to stylize them with some kind of painterly effect. So now I have:

Most people so far like this version best but others prefer the original. I like this version. (or maybe the next)

Let me show you the ND filter that blocks the light:

The filter is covering a 100watt light; shows you how dark it is.

My guess exposure method can sometimes be tedious. To be more accurate you can use a spot light meter, especially if you are shooting the near dark. It needs to one that you can dial in a 10 stop exposure compensation such as this one:

This is not a cheap meter and I can't afford one just for long exposures so I guess. You can shoot long exposures anytime during the day to get interesting effects although most of these exposures are taken in low light conditions like sunrise/sunset/night scene. If you are shooting during the day, there is sometimes enough light in the live view on your LCD to frame and focus (if you can zoom in to see things accurately). For more information on how to use a meter and other useful tips re long exposures I recommend Mark Hilliard Ateliers article. Lots of good stuff on his blog.

To conclude I put together a slideshow (PDF so free Acrobat Reader needed) with example images that includes the exposure time, aperture value and ISO. These images illustrate various effects you can get with long exposures; I hope you agree that this is a very worthwhile landscape technique! Give it a try... 

Layers and Pipers Lagoon Photo

The recently published Pipers Lagoon photo is very popular so I thought this would be a good image to show my work flow and the layer filters that I used. A previous article in this blog illustrated a similar process. This article is for photographers who have (or may be planning to purchase) a photo editor such as Photoshop or Elements that enable the use of layers. This photo was taken on a tripod, with three bracketed exposures 1 stop apart, using a Canon 5D Mark II and 17-40mm with polarizing filter. The lagoon is in Nanaimo not far from the Departure Bay ferry terminal:


The three bracketed photos were processed in Photomatix (http://www.hdrsoft.com, no affiliation) then brought into Lightroom where cropping and basic adjustments were done. These very important final tweaks can be done quickly by adjusting the colours as needed and using this basic panel:


How this works is not the topic of this article and is better covered in a video tutorial. An excellent series on Lightroom is available (no affiliation) at http://www.luminous-landscape.com/videos/download-videos.shtml Others can be found for free with a search on Youtube.

Have a look at the original photo after processing in Photomatix and Lightroom (click for larger):

Compare this to the final image:

If you check these images in the larger size you will see that the differences are subtle but significant. Obviously I like the second image best because it has better detail and an undefined "look" to it that the original lacks. So lets look at how this was achieved.

It was created by blending three image layers. In the following clip you can see these image layers in Photoshop plus two layers for the title and signature:


The background layer is selected in the above clip; notice that the opacity control is set to 100% meaning that the image is displayed at full strength. I next applied the LucisArt filter (http://www.lucisart.com, no affiliation) and the result produced another layer looking like this with opacity set to 100%(click for larger):

This filter can add an incredible amount of detail and was originally developed for enhancing medical X-rays etc. In this case I set the detail enhance very low but the change is still quite evident. I'm using the inexpensive Mac version as the pro version is beyond my budget. I now selected the original layer again and applied the Akvis Sketch filter (http://akvis.com/en/sketch/index.php, no affiliation) and produced the final image layer shown here at 100% opacity:

If you click to the bigger view, you will clearly see that this is a very different look. Sometimes very good just as is. This product can produce anything from a pencil sketch to a water color effect. In my workflow though, I'm always experimenting with the blending of layers to get a that special "look". Obviously I'm not a purist, I have no hesitation doing whatever I want to a digital photo during processing. The final step is to play with the opacity controls of the three layers to see if you can come up with something good. I often delete a layer when I see that it doesn't do anything positive for me. I started with the original set to 100% opacity and set the two layers above it to 0%. Then I started with the Lucis layer by slowly sliding opacity up and down and watching carefully the resulting image combination on my monitor. I ended up setting it to 23%:


Finally I moved to the sketch layer and after the same slow up and down opacity control (now affecting both layers below) set it to 39% opacity. Sometimes I have to go back and forth a bit between the two filter layers to tweak the opacity.


I hope this all makes sense.  There a many filters available so you can understand that the possibilities are endless and you can create very interesting images plus make the post processing a lot of fun! Create your own style and look! Most people that use filters apply just one and use that result. Blending more than one with an original HDR image is more difficult, but provides a lot of flexibility in the kinds of results achieved especially after you gain some experience. 

Forbidden Plateau Strathcona Park BC

Forbidden Plateau is an easily accessible section of Strathcona Park near Courtenay BC and the trail head is right next to Mount Washington Alpine Resort ski hill. In an earlier blog, you will find a quick overview of the Buttle Lake area, another spot easy to drive into.

Because of the elevation, casual hikers not prepared for snow hiking, are limited to mostly June to the end of October. Check conditions before you go. This report shows a half day trip from the parking lot in early October. The gold oval shows roughly the area covered:


This is a small fraction of the area with many opportunities for hikers and over night travellers. Many high elevation spectacular views. A good place to start for more details: Strathcona Provincial Park.

The rest of the story is more of a gallery showing you some interesting alpine photos with a little commentary. Note that you can click on any image to get a larger view:

This was a beautiful little lake along the trail to the big Helen-Mackenzie Lake. There are many old but small trees in alpine regions (bonsai but not trained) and this was one example:

Speaking of old, but small alpine trees, this is a good example with the younger larger trees in the background (click for larger):

Keeping with the old, but beautiful theme, heres another shot:

The image following shows a typical stand of alpine trees, not large but older than they look:

Finally another photo of my favorite little lake along the way:

Hope you enjoyed this photo report. Any questions welcome!

Almost Another Trip to Botanical Bay

I headed out on Monday for a mid day low tide at Botanical Beach to do some further explorations. (First trip described here: /blog/2012/8/26/botanical-beach-bc.html). I got to the parking lot and the weather was perfect. Decided to take the circle route this time and go first to Botany Bay then walk along the trail above the beach area to Botanical Beach. When I got to Botany Bay I walked out on the rocks and shot this vew of Botanical Beach, about a kilometre away (click on for larger view):

I headed down the trail and ran into some amazing twisting trees as are often found on west coast trails. This one looks like trail sign designed for some unknown creature?

The next one I called Pop-up Trail Art:

The last one shows more amazing trees (click for larger view):

After taking this shot the sun suddenly dissapeared and a chill ran through the air. I continued walking for awhile until I hit a clearing looking out over the beach and ocean. I caught fleeting glimpses of rock and ocean through the ever thickening fog being blown quite strongy right at me. I could feel the moisture hitting my face and would certainly get my camera wet if I took it out. I waited for awhile in case this was just passing through but ended up going back up the trail to my car. It was foggy up there as well by then, but after leaving and hitting Port Renfrew it was suddenly sunny again. The BC coastal weather is unpredictable.

I decided to try to find the famous Harris Creek spruce on the way home and was able to find it along the way. It is 4 m (13 ft) in diameter and is one on many large Sitka spruce to be found in the area:

For more info on large trees in the Port Renfrew area see; Port Renfrew: Home of Canada's Biggest Trees

Biggs & Jacks Point Park BC

This park is located on the Nanaimo River estaury directly across from Nanaimo harbour. It is a beautiful park and eagles, seals, sea-lions, herons and numerous other birds can be seen. It is an excellent park to walk at the end of the day and enjoy the sunset.

This article is aimed primarily at photographers, but gives anyone and idea of what the park looks like. The hike is about 2.5 km from the parking lot to Jacks Point with a good trail and few stairs to climb. Not difficult for most. For photographers there is a lot to shoot without going all the way to the point. For directions use google maps but here is an orientation map (click for larger):

The trail is very nice; this view shows trail going back to parking lot with Garry Oak hanging over:

There are stretches along the trail through forested areas with a mix of the Garry Oak and beautiful Arbutus (click larger):

This image was created form merging 2 different layers in Photoshop. One layer contained just masked out Arbutus Trees in original colours, and the other layer was toned down towards black and white. My concept here is to bring out the beauty of the Arbutus Trees within the chaos of the forest without losing the context. You can judge whether this approach works? 

The next 4 shots show the unique rock formations you can find along the trail before Jacks Point. Some locations cannot be accessed at high tide so consult tide tables if you want maximum access. Other islands Like Gabriola nearby also have these almost cave-like geological formations not to mention the spoungy looking rocks. Each shot can be viewed larger with a click:

Along the trail there a several spots with a viewing bench to enjoy. You are looking over the estuary directly to downtown Nanaimo and may see all sorts of wildlife if you have a bit of patience:

At the end of the trail you get to Jacks Point which is very near to where the Dukes Point Ferry Terminal greets/sends ferries to Vancouver. Two photos follow showing a bit of the area:

Botanical Beach BC

This beach is a very special place with uniquely diverse tide pools and a wide variety of marine species. University biologists have been coming to this beach for marine studies since 1901. If you want to go there you should consult the Canadian Tide Tables "Port Renfrew" and ensure that you arrive for a low tide. This article is a taste of my first visit and, without a doubt, this spot is a bonanza for serious photographers! I will be back soon.

The beach is located on Vancouver Island west of Victoria BC and within the beautiful Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. For day access you can drive to Port Renfrew and hike down the approx 1 kilometer trail to the beach. Down is very easy and up a little harder but most people will have no problem. This map gives you a starting point (click for larger):

OK, lets do a photo tour from my first visit. All photos taken with a Canon 5D Mark11 and with 17-40L lense or Sigma 150mm macro usually with tripod. Processed in Lightroom and Photoshop, most as HDRs in Photomatix. Other filters used from Topaz or Avkis sketch as described in other articles.

When I hiked down to the beach early in the morning I was greeted with huge FOG. I could hardly see anything and had to carefully navigate the rocky shoreline. (Wear good gripping water resistant boots, or rubber, as this is not easy to navigate) but after about 90 minutes the fog started lifting to reveal the beach:

 Lets look at two tide pools:

BotanicalTwo Pools.jpg

Lets have a closer look (click for larger view):

The rocky structure here is also worth exploring:

Moving in closer to the details:

OK, so where is the ocean? Here it is, and beyond the dark clouds/fog in ths distance lies Olympic Peninsula which was clearly visible later in the day. (click for larger image)

These photos have just scratched the surface of what is going on here. For most people this is a great place to visit and explore! Children will love it but be safety consious and not for toddlers. One final shot:

Blending Two Layers: Photo Plus Sketch

(I have no affiliation with any of the products mentioned in this article.)

We just moved our household from Coquitlam near Vancouver to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. So...here are some images from the Nanaimo area along with a brief tutorial.

Today I'll quickly illustrate a technique that has many permutations and can produce some very interesting images. This is not a step-by-step tutorial and I'm assuming you have access to a photo editor that handles layers like Photoshop (which I use) or Elements. 

The original HDR photo shown below was created with 3 exposures in Photomatix. It was tweaked for exposure, sharpness etc. in Lightroom before taking into Photoshop. (click on for bigger)

In Photoshop the image was duplicated on another layer. To this layer I applied the AKVIS Sketch plugin. With this tool you can create various different sketch affects from a line drawing to a watercolour or charcoal drawing. After fiddling with the sketch sliders I came up with the image below:

So now I have two versions of the image, one the original photo, and one with the sketch effect applied. You can see in the Photoshop clip below the two image layers plus two more for the image title and signature.


 Note that the sketch layer is chosen. Note also that you have an opacity control on the upper right. If the sketch layer was set to 100% all you would see is this layer as it will hide the one below. The fun part is to experiment blending the two layers by changing the opacity until you get a hopefully good result. It doesn't always work like you expect! As you can see, in this case I changed to opacity of the sketch layer to 43%. I was looking for that magic spot where the photo just begins to lose its "photo" look and becomes something different. You can judge for yourself if the final blended version below is better than the orginal.

There are many different ways to use layers to blend image versions. I'll try to cover a few more in coming articles.

Port Mann Bridge Progress; Compare 2 Photo Techniques

The traffic coming west along Highway 1 will enter Vancouver via the new Port Mann bridge under construction and to be completed sometime in 2013. Meanwhile Metro Vancouver residents have been treated to seemingly never ending construction of connections, road widening and new ramps all required for the new bridge. The impact of even more cars and trucks entering the Vancouver area is much debated and soon to be experienced.

Here are a couple of photos taken today of the bridge construction. You'll see that one uses a long exposure technique (10X ND filter) to create glass-like water. The other image is made from three exposures combined and processed in Lightroom and Photomatix.