While the eastern areas of North America are suffering from unusually cold weather, the western coastal areas are enjoying unprecedented warm winter. For the last ten days, we in Vancouver had no rain at all, which is truly extraordinary. The nice weather also produced spectacular sunset (and perhaps sunrise as well, but I didn’t get up early to verify that). For several days in a row, I witnessed beautiful sunset at Garry Point, the west facing seaside park near my home. There are several shots I would like to share with my fellow bloggers.
I was an avid kite flyer during my childhood, and each time I see people flying kites I can’t resist standing by and watching with great interest. Garry Point, a park near my home, happens to be a perfect kite flying place, with its expansive open space and strong breeze from the sea. Unless the weather is too bad, there are always some kites flying over the park.
A few days before the Chinese New Year, a lady and a gentleman were there flying some long-tailed kites which could make rapid turns in the sky. The sky that day was beautifully blue and the afternoon light was soft. I watched for a long time. And, of course, I took dozens of photos. The turning kite reminded me of Pete Seeger’s song “Turn, Turn, Turn”. Hence the title of this post.
More black and white images of the landscape of Canadian Rockies in winter.
2. Mount Sir Donald
Photographing Mount Rundle by Vermilion Lakes (the work “lake” in plural form because it is a chain of three connected lakes) in Banff has probably become a mandatory, unoriginal, threadbare, run-of-the-mill, worn-out, and even touristy photography exercise. But, who can resist it if you stay in town, just minutes of drive or walk from the place to set up tripod?
In my last post, I posted a few black and white wide pictures that I shot on a sunny day during my last trip to the Rockies. Before the good weather, I stayed around Banff and made a couple of “courtesy visits” to the Vermilion Lakes where perhaps not a single day goes by without some people standing by the lakes’ shore holding cameras towards Mount Rundle, the 2,948-meter landmark peak overlooking Banff. And of course, I held up mine and took shots after shots, when the light was bright, dim, or as it turned out after sunset, weirdly beautiful.
The following three shots were taken at, respectively, 15 minutes after sunset, 26 minutes after sunset and about 4 pm. They were taken at the same spot near the west end of the third Vermilion Lake, which usually remains partially unfrozen even in extremely cold weather thanks to a warm spring at the lake bed. From this spot, Mount Rundle is partially blocked by Sulphur Mountain, but the lines of douglas firs, red osier dogwood (is it dogwood? correct me if it is not) twigs and yellowed grass around and in the lake provide very nice elements for composition, in addition to a relatively clear reflection of Mount Rundle in the unfrozen pool of water which may not be available in the other two lakes. Visually I was particularly drawn to the elegant curves of the grass in the water. Their color became brilliantly orange at the sunset, which gave the first image below an oil-painting quality.
Canadian Rockies are my all-time favorite subject for photography. Winter there may be very cold but offers a fascinating landscape. One of the most fascinating things there I always want to take photos of is the famous frozen bubbles in Abraham Lake on the eastern side of the mountains. Two weeks ago I saw people posting stunning photos of the bubble lake and my Calgary-based photographer friend Victor Liu told me that the bubbles looked very good this winter. I then decided to make a trip there, with a friend who has the right type of car for winter driving in the Rockies.
The weather in the Rockies is always fast changing, and weather forecast can never be fully trusted. The day (January 25) we drove into the mountains, it was raining heavily. Raining in deep winter in Canadian Rockies! Incredible. The rain water on the roads became ice the next day, and we could barely make an exit from the ice-covered Icefield Parkway, which was closed immediately after we drove out. The rain ruined our plan; and ruined the bubbles! When we took a detour (via Rocky Mountain House) to get to the lake on January 27, we saw the lake was partially covered by water (rain and melt ice).
Weather changed again the next day, January 28. Temperature dropped below zero and it was sunny! Icefield Parkway was open again. So we made a second trip. The lake was frozen up again and many bubbles were still there but in really really bad shapes. It seems we have to come again next year.
But all the driving was not in vain. We at least had a rare crystal clear sunny day in the mountains. While my friend had little interest in the harsh light landscape, I found it very suitable for winter black and white photography. Some people may find my photos below too contrasty, but I believe the strong contrast fits well with the rugged peaks of Canadian Rockies.
All the photos below are panoramas stitched with several full-frame shots. I use PTGui Pro 10.0 to do the stitching. For black and white conversion, I use Photoshop. While there are many ways to do the conversion, I find it handy to use the Calculation function in Photoshop. Try the following steps if anyone is interested:
1. Choose the most contrasty channel, which usually is the red, and use Calculation with multiply blend mode to turn it into a strong black and white alpha channel.
2. Choose the above (red) channel again, and repeat the Calculation action with soft light blend mode, to turn it into a less strong alpha channel.
3. Copy and paste both of the above alpha channels on top of the original (background layer).
4. Add a mask to the new layers and use gradient tool or brush to touch up the image to your taste. I use the multiply blend mode layer for dark sky and snow-covered mountain tops, and the other layer for trees and other parts.
5. Merge the two new layers and save the final layer as a copy.
Share your thoughts on this method of conversion.
With an unusual amount of rain that this winter has had, a large (unusually large) pool of water has been formed on the low ground of Garry Point, Richmond. Flocks of snow geese came and apparently liked this pool. For many days, they stayed in and around the pool, despite frequent harassment by dogs and, sometimes, people. They were quite a sight to watch, and to photograph.
But I find that snow geese are not easy to be photographed with good composition. A flock of snow geese looks messy on ground or in flight unless you can get a pattern or a standout point of interest. They are very vigilant and walk away at your approach with their butts towards you. If you scare or chase them, they take off with butts towards you. It takes a lot of patience and waiting to get a composition that is worth photographing. A long lens (200mm+) is necessary. Be observant and look for patterns. Be patient and wait for them to take off voluntarily or towards you (if they are scared by something on the other side). Sometimes using a slow shutter to shoot the geese may get an artistically blurred effect. Foggy weather may provide clean backgrounds. People can be fitted into a composition. These are something I learnt lately by the pool at Garry Point.
January is the month when, in the morning, Vancouver is most likely to become Fogcouver, a city shrouded by a blanket of fog. It is the time when the view of the city from a high ground can be quite stunning. Sometimes the fog can be so thick that the city is completed covered, which is not good for photography in my opinion. But then it is out of anyone’s control. As long as the sun radiates its golden glory from the eastern horizon, Fogcouver is a absolutely beautiful sight.
On a rare sunny winter day, before I explored Squamish River Valley (see my earlier post), I drove up to high ground in West Vancouver and took these photos of Fogcouver:
The peaks in the above panorama are (from left): Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker and Twin Sisters Mountains, of which are in Washington, USA.
The buildings visible in the fog in the above panorama are in Burnaby, a member city of Greater Vancouver. If I stitch more photos, the panorama is like the one below (the tips of buildings on the lower right corner were all I could see of downtown Vancouver):
Click the photos to see them better.
Less than an hour’s drive from Vancouver, Squamish has recently branded itself as the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada. And rightly so! With a complex terrain that comprises of numerous sea-level bays, rivers and creeks and 2500-meters plus snow-capped peaks, Squamish does have a great deal of outdoor recreation opportunities to offer. But for a long time I, and most of my friends for that matter, had only been interested in the high grounds of this terrain, such as Garibaldi Provincial Park. (see these of my earlier posts). We seem to have forgotten the lower part of this terrain, specifically the Squamish valley that extends from the north end of Howe Sound along Squamish River almost in parallel to Highway 99 (the Sea-to-sky Highway).
Exploring the valley area is one of my New Year’s Resolutions. Last Wednesday a rare sunny winter day gave me an opportunity to put this resolution into action. Two friends and I drove to Squamish Valley Road. We had two objectives. One was to reach Lake Levette through Paradise Valley Road, and the other was to find a spot in the valley where Mount Fee and other rugged peaks could be photographed.
In a Nissan X-Terra, we drove up to the lake without much problem, although the forest service road was snow-covered and slippery. The lake was frozen but the ice cover was not thick enough for anyone to step on. From looking westward from lake shore, Tantalus Range was in full view. Beautiful! (click this picture to see it in larger size) From left to right, the mountains are: Alpha, Serratus, Dione and Tantalus
The shore is dotted with private properties, but a trail around the lake is on the map. We left the hiking to next trip. For photography, early spring may be the best time, when the lake is half melt and gives good reflection of the mountains. Otherwise, finding good foreground for composition is not easy.
We then drove back to Squamish Valley Road and turned northwest. The road is paved up to the bridge to Ashlu Creek. The view from the bridge was very nice, and could be stunning in a more appropriate weather.
Road condition after the bridge was from bad to worse and worse. The road was full of potholes and very icy. For the 20 km we covered, it took us over an hour. One of my friends was on the verge of throwing up. Finally we got to a forest road branch where Vulcan’s Thumb (south to Pyroclastic Peak) is fully visible. It was already 3:30 pm and we decided to return back from there to avoid driving in the dark.
Mount Fee was not visible from there. We will probably try another approach, from Highway 99, to get close to it.
On our way back, we got this little falls on roadside:
Now we are waiting for another good weather day to continue our exploration of the lower grounds of the Sea-to-sky country.
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