A Legacy of Smoke and Fire

This was not the scene I had been looking forward to photographing during my first visit to Glacier National Park, while on a road-trip ranging from the deserts of Arizona, up the coast of California, and inland through incredible terrain to reach these dramatic mountains; I had been anticipating lush green forest and beautiful valleys framed by the sharp outlines of enormous ancient peaks, with an excess of crisp late-summer sunlight and photographic opportunities.

The scale of the landscape did not disappoint, but as we packed up our tent and camping gear from a forested campsite on the valley floor, readying for a scenic drive up Going-to-the-Sun Road, the acrid smoke of nearby wildfires began to settle through the trees. The sunlight had the burnt orange hue now well-known across the North American West as fires ravage huge swaths of wilderness. Still, the park rangers indicated the road was open, and as it was our primary route to our next campsite we set out on a surreal, smokey, sobering drive.

As Going-to-the-Sun Road led us up from the valley, the smoke could be seen rising in great grey plumes and settling across ridge-lines, creeping downslope, and filling the sky between mountains. Quickly the views became vast – glacier-carved, rugged, rocky slopes with the clearly defined striations of an ancient geologic prehistory, swaths of green forest punctuated by the first brilliant yellow leaves of fall, and across it all a blanket of heavy, shifting blue smoke.

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My eyes stung as we descended through Logan Pass and the air became increasingly more difficult to breath. My husband had fond memories of a lovely forested trail just off the main road, with a tumbling creek passing beneath an arched bridge, and as we watched for likely candidates, the road crossed into a stark landscape of recently-burnt forest.

We found the spot, easily accessed at Baring Creek, and decimated by fire in 2015; surrounded by skeletal trees and scorched rocky ground, set against smokey mountains, the creek ran clear and fast, but there was otherwise an eerie stillness to the scene. No rustling of wind through leafy trees, no birdsong, and an unsettling sense that the danger of active wildfires were only a few ridge-lines away.

Having lived most of my life in California, fire season and its consequences are not new to me. I often observe recent fire scarring in familiar landscapes, and have nearly always see a shift in the species that take hold once vegetation starts to return. Seeing a forest in this state of blackened, skeletal remains was new to me – it is unclear whether the trees will ever recover, or if what was once a verdant forested mountain slope may now be destined to become a rocky, scrub-covered slope as the decaying trees eventually fall.

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Much of our recent trip was shaped by fire; we could not take our planned route up the coast of Oregon due to evacuation orders along the highway, and even our inland detour was so choked with smoke that visibility became severely compromised and the sun disappeared in a cloud of orange-brown haze. We were lucky to drive along the Columbia River Gorge before it became a fiery inferno, and I am now wishing we hadn’t been on such a tight schedule and could have stopped to enjoy more of the old-growth forest before a carelessly-started wildfire stripped the landscape of green trees.

Even after leaving Glacier National Park and crossing through badlands to the open plains of Saskatchewan, we were greeted with news of fires further north in the province, and the smoke has been impacting us at home.

Fire is a necessary element in many ecosystems, but decades of overly aggressive wilderness fire suppression combined with extensive drought has made fire conditions exceptionally combustible. With time, many of these places will recover and life will return, but in so many instances the landscape will be irrevocably changed. I look forward to returning to Glacier National Park, Montana, to see how the landscape changes with the seasons, and hopefully I will be able to document the next phase of recovery from wildfires in this beautiful place.

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Smoke fills the sky between mountains and drifts through a canyon at Glacier National Park, Montana as viewed from Going-to-the-Sun Road

A full set of images from Glacier National Park can be found at www.apkphotography.com

Winter Light Celebration

As winter settles in, the sun is slipping lower and lower across the sky. During the winter solstice here in Winnipeg, Manitoba the sun barely clears the treetops. Such low-angled rays of light are magical, and to celebrate the season I’ve gathered some winter light photography snapshots from recent years…

I find that winter light is particularly well-suited to capturing surreal window reflections, allowing for layers of light and colour to blend with abstracted patterns. When illuminated from a low angle, snow becomes a textural wonderland of sparkling deep drifts, painted with fading light and blue shadows.

Trees and winter light

Filtering the last rays of golden hour, or catching a gilded glow in their bare branches against blue skies. Such stark winter forms are welcome whether framing sunsets or arching above city streets, as they lend shape and contrast to the winter light all day long.

Trees lend structure to the frosty winter air, and when they are illuminated just-so, they often compliment the bones of the landscape or urban environment, laid bare by the season.

Winter light and interior spaces

Casting soft, surreal shadows in unexpected places, light filtered through old glass windows is particularly irresistible to try and capture with the camera. Something as simple as an unintentional coffee cup still life might appear on a wall for a moment, painted in shadow and quick to disappear as the light shifts.

Often the swaying of winter branches will make these patches of light dance and shift, like light through moving water as seen at the bottom of a pool.

Varied views of the same cityscape

Downtown Winnipeg features a mix of older buildings and newer highrises. As their facades catch and reflect the winter light throughout the day, the mood and feel of the cityscape changes too. With the early sunset, lights in windows twinkle while the dusky sky still holds onto the last of the sunlight. The moon rises over the city with its glow softened by the icy atmosphere.

The golden glow of the winter light is especially beautiful contrasted with the blue shadows and snow of the cityscape, and I couldn’t resist the reflection of a sunlit building in the sideview mirror on a winter’s afternoon.

Windows become magical glittering surfaces…

Frosted with ice crystals or illuminated by gently shifting shadows. Layers of light are caught and transformed inside and out, and even though the daylight hours are short, there seems to be no end to the beauty that winter can conjure with a bit of moisture or shifting light on glass surfaces.

The two images at the bottom left of these wintery window scenes are actually shots of frost accumulation on the inside of an old set of windows. The two images in the bottom right are of the same perspective through fluted glass at different times of day.

Of course a winter landscape is made even more beautiful by the light…

Rippling sheets of icy clouds and endless shades of blue. Sunsets last longer, and the blushing glow of their colours is often reflected in the snow and ice. Often the sky looks like mother-of-pearl, iridescent and luminous.

I love how the winter landscape is often a study in subtley, with fence-lines and horizons blurred by blowing snow, and the sky a soft gradient veiled in lacy clouds. When the sunsets are colourful, it is always in shades made more vivid by the coolness of the surrounding scene.

Little details of domestic life are illuminated in beautiful light and shadow, turning the long winter months of staying mostly indoors into magical journeys through familiar spaces.

Something as simple as a tissue or glass of water can be transformed by the winter light. Of course the dog loves the winter sunlight too, and can often be found basking in the glow of those fleeting, low-angled rays of warmth.

All of the photos in this post are from various phone cameras. I find that winter light often inspires snapshots as it is such a fleeting and beautiful part of every day. To see new snapshots as I share them, just head over to @photoapk on Instagram and follow me there!

Forest fog | Big Sur, California


Mysterious, dark, quiet; a grove of trees in the coastal mountains of Big Sur, full of mist and morning light. I’d arrived at the campsite after dark, chasing the sunset down the winding curves of Highway 1 and setting-up camp as stars appeared overhead. During the night, fog gathered along cliffs and settled into valleys, and I woke to find the forest shrouded in soft layers of light.

Camping on the California coast is often a damp, chilly affair, and this day was no exception. The warmth of a small fire, the coziness of a sleeping bag and a book, the sound of the nearby ocean all helped to pass the time. 

Trees become ghostly figures as evening fog creeps into the coastal woods of Big Sur

As the sun settled again to the west, the early evening light filtered into the deeper, shadowy corners of the forest grove and campground, and I was able to capture this layered scene full of contrasts and soft tonality. The branches of the trees lend a sense of enclosed space; a cathedral of organic shapes and windows of light. Of all of my Big Sur experiences this moment  remains one of my favourites, full of the restorative, meditative mood I found present in that particular time and place.

This elegant, peaceful scene is available as a fine art print in my Black & White Prints collection. To see more Big Sur Photography, visit my Big Sur, California collection.

Corinaldo, Italy

Corinaldo, Itay is a quintessential, charming, enchanting hilltop village in the Province of Ancona. Surrounded by well-preserved 15th century walls, the maze of quiet, narrow cobblestone streets are a welcome escape from more crowded Italian destinations.

The views are remarkable, from the ramparts and even from the heart of the town, from which one can see the lovely pastoral countryside of the Marche region. A little cafe sits at the top of these picturesque steps, and offers a wonderful place to pause for a refreshing drink and lunch.

The array of colorful doors and the textural, faded patina of the buildings provides countless photographic opportunities, and the sheer variety of door designs were quite remarkable,

As one wanders through a narrow cobblestone passage, the sudden appearance of the ancient stone walls can come as a surprising juxtaposition, and when these medieval structures are viewed from slightly further, the position and layout of the village makes even more sense.

A visit to Corinaldo, Italy is highly recommended; it may offer a more intimate Italian experience during the busier travel seasons, and even hosts some remarkable festivals that bring its medieval roots to life. I was only able to spend an afternoon exploring, and as a brief stop on a driving tour of the Marche region it was my favorite experience of the day.

See the full set of my photos from Corinaldo, Italy in my archives; prints and licensing available. A collection of Doors, windows, details collected while travelling through Italy is also available.

Perchance to Dream | San Francisco, California

Most of the photographs I collect when visiting Fort Point, San Francisco are of the architecture and magical spaces between shadow and light created by the repeating motifs and angles of the Fort itself. Climbing the steep stairs to the top of the structure, one is rewarded with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and this day was no exception.

I have seen this place at various times of day, in different seasons, all types of weather, and part of the what keeps bringing me back with my camera is the potential for dramatically framed, constantly shifting scenes. On this particular July afternoon, the fog had settled heavily along the water, and as I admired the form of the bridge vanishing into the mist, a pair of figures paused in just the right spot to unexpectedly add balance to the frame.

Bridge and fog, Fort Point, San Francisco

As I had been at that moment experimenting with the panoramic capabilities of my phone, I quickly captured this photo with the camera in hand, rather than risk losing the moment while switching to my DSLR. I did managed to grab a couple similar frames with the big camera afterward, but for me this image stands alone.

Minutes later, the couple had moved on, and the fog began to lift, giving way to a glorious sunny day and a large pod of humpback whales feeding beneath the bridge – those particular photos will get their own post – proving that one never knows just how fleeting a moment will be or what will come next!

Small prints of this photo are available in my Open Edition Black & White Prints – or discover more of this unique location in my Fort Point, San Francisco gallery.

Wellington, New Zealand

Vibrant, friendly, artsy and laid-back – not words usually associated with a sizeable capital city, but Wellington, New Zealand offers all of this and more. Wellington is set in the forested hills of the southern tip of New Zealand’s North island, and encompasses sandy beaches, a busy waterfront, and a beautiful, windy harbor.

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Views of New Zealand’s capital city Wellington from Mt Victoria lookout

A great place to start a day of sightseeing in Wellington is at Mount Victoria Lookout, which provides scenic panoramic views of the city, from downtown to the open ocean. A beautiful Maori landpole statue, or Pouwhenua, provides a cultural contrast against the city skyline. The triangular form of the Richard Byrd memorial points to Antarctica, and commemorates how the famed polar explorer used Wellington as a base of operations for his expeditions over the course of 27 years.

Down along the waterfront, a colorful marketplace full of local arts and crafts, housed in shipping containers, looks out across waterways used for frequent dragonboat races and sailing. During this particular visit, pianos were located throughout the city, and attracted serious and casual musicians alike.

 

The city provides an accessible mix of public spaces and unique neighborhoods, with a wide variety of cafes, shops, and an active local beer scene. It seems that along every avenue, another sculpture or piece of public art is hidden, waiting to be discovered.

For a view of the city from another angle, it is an easy walk from the waterfront to the Wellington Cable Car, a funicular railway that ferries passengers from the shopping district of Lambton Quay to the suburb of Kelburn up in the hills. This is a wonderful way to reach the botanical gardens of Wellington, and to see another lovely panorama of the picturesque city.

The adjacent suburb of Newtown, just south of the Wellington’s downtown, offers a charming neighborhood packed with quaint shops and cafes, and hosts a vibrant street festival. One surprising find was the Monterey Bar; I was visiting from my home in Monterey, California, and this bar featured a large mural of the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, among other references to my central California home.

I look forward to visiting Wellington, New Zealand again someday. I found it to be a friendly, accessible city with much more to explore than could be experienced during my short stay. One of the most unique and lovely aspects of  Wellington is how after a long day wandering the bustling streets, one has only to head South to the where the suburbs meet the sea, and suddenly one can feel the rugged, wild beauty for which New Zealand is so well known.

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Coastal suburbs tucked in the coastal forest, outside of Wellington, New Zealand

To see more of my travel photography from New Zealand, visit apkphotography.com Prints and rights managed licensing available.

Fort Ross, California

On the wild, rugged coast of Northern California sits an unexpected historic site, a fort and trading outpost founded by Russian settlers in the early 1800’s. At a time when the colonial and enterprising interests of the Spanish, British and American nations were converging on the region, and Mexico also laid claim to Alta California, the Russian-American Company sought to establish settlements in a part of the region populated only by the Kashaya Pomo Tribe, from whom the Russians negotiated the purchase of the land for Fort Ross.

 

I grew up in nearby Petaluma, California and have fond memories of visiting the Fort Ross State Historic Park as a child. The most active years of the fort ended in the mid 1800’s, but I always found the buildings, walls, and grounds to feel as if the history of the region was not quite so distant.

 

While driving North along Highway 1, it was a spontaneous decision to visit the park on a late summer afternoon. The path from the visitor’s center winds through a pine forest, down along a creek and past a grove of eucalyptus, then across a clearing to the entrance of the fort.

 

It was a quiet day on this visit, and I spent some time exploring the buildings and various vantage points throughout the settlement.  Hawks circled over the forested hills while the ocean crashed below the nearby cliffs. When the Russians landed in the area, they found a landscape rich with resources and agricultural opportunity. The Russian-American Company found lucrative fur-trading too, but their activities along with those of the Spanish, American and British fur traders decimated the sea otter population that has only recently been able to recover, with the aid of extensive conservation work.

 

My favorite structure at Fort Ross is the lovely little Russian Orthodox Chapel. It is not entirely true to the original chapel design, as the structure was once modified for use as a stable, knocked down by the 1906 earthquake, and after being reassembled,  destroyed by an accidental fire in 1970. Still it is a striking space, full of texture and interesting architectural design.

 

Interestingly, the current upkeep and operation of Fort Ross State Historic Park is funded by a Russian entrepreneurial company, and in 2012 an unofficial delegation of the Kashaya traveled to Russia. Restoration work and research of the site continues, and this will continue to be a wonderful place to visit, highly recommended as an educational picnic spot on the Sonoma coast of California.

As I left Fort Ross on this visit, I glanced at the ground below the West-facing wall, and spotted the feather of a Red Tail hawk in the red and gold fallen leaves of a giant eucalyptus tree. Despite the history of active settlement and now steady-stream of visitors, Fort Ross is still an outpost in the wilderness, and if one pauses to take it all in, it seems almost possible that time here stands still.

 

To see the full set of my Fort Ross, California photographs visit apkphotography.com – many of these images are available as Open Edition Prints and for editorial licensing.

Christmas, Historic Adobes | Monterey, California

Along with the Harbor Holiday Light Parade, Monterey, California has a particularly unique and charming December tradition – a walking nighttime tour of the historic adobe buildings scattered throughout downtown. One rainy night I joined a few friends to explore the lovely homes and government buildings that are lovingly restored and maintained as striking architectural reminders of the not-so-distant past of California.

Many of these historic sites include lovely gardens, and as we walked toward each stop on the self-guided tour, we were greeted by the glow of lights in the trees and the traditional painted angels that decorate the city of Monterey during the winter holiday season.

Each adobe had a slightly different story and seasonal decorations, often with a mix of old and new on display. Creaking wooden floors and subdued warm light lent each space a cozy sense of stepping back in time.

At the historic Custom House, dating back to around 1827, live music and dancing filled the main room. A Mexican flag on display pays respect to the role of this particular adobe building as the primary port of entry on the Alta California coast before the territory was claimed by the United States in 1846.

At a smaller building which holds the distinction of being California’s first theater, we were greeted by a musician on the front porch, and a decorated tavern space inside. The main portion of the theater, including the stage, has sadly fallen into disrepair and was not accessible. In the spring, the theater garden is one of my favorite secret spots in downtown Monterey.

Live music was a highlight of the evening, performed by volunteers at nearly every location. Even though some of the points of interest were a few blocks apart, it seemed that the holiday cheer filled the rainy streets in every direction, as we had only to follow the sounds of musicians and carollers to reach the next adobe.

City Hall was a bustling center of activity, with locals chatting on the steps and enjoying the decorated trees indoors and out. This building is still functional at the heart of the city, hosting several municipal offices and providing Monterey residents with a scenic park for casual gatherings.

Some of the larger adobes offered sweet holiday treats, cookies and cider, and at the historic building known as the Stevenson House (after Robert Louis Stevenson who lived there for a few months) a cheerful bagpiper roamed the rooms full of artifacts and notable art.

I had lived many years in Monterey before I took part in this lovely holiday tradition, and it was a memory I will treasure. The warmth and hospitality of Monterey and Californians in general was embodied in the welcoming cheer of these historic adobes.

The tour ticket fee benefits the California State Parks and their maintenance of the buildings, and I would highly recommend it to locals and visitors alike. For information and tickets, please visit the California State Parks website – Christmas in the Adobes.

To see the full set of my images from this magical holiday night, please visit the APK Photography Christmas in the Adobes gallery

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, California

Blustery, stormy skies and tempestuous crashing ocean waves are the perfect backdrop for a lighthouse and all of the history it represents. I’d driven past Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park dozens of times, passing by while driving the scenic and dramatic Highway 1 along the central coast of California. After years of admiring this picturesque spot from a distance, I decided on a rainy afternoon to pay a visit.

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Raindrops on the camera lens frame a stormy ocean horizon, Pigeon Point, California

The lighthouse was built in 1871 and is now a designated California Historical Landmark. The land on which it is built, and thusly the lighthouse station are named after a shipwrecked vessel, the Carrier Pigeon. The fresnel lantern is no longer in use, and is instead displayed in the visitor’s center, housed in the fog signal building.

The lighthouse itself is now closed to visitors due to structural concerns, and while attempts to fund restoration are underway, it could be decades before the view from the tower can again be enjoyed by the public.

The lighthouse keeper’s housing now serves as a youth hostel, offering a unique waypoint for travellers along the California coast. As with many such natural promontories in this part if the world, whale-watching and general wildlife viewing can be particularly accessible. In the spring, I have seen the surrounding shoreline covered in swaying meadows of yellow wildflowers, and in the winter passing storms paint the sky and ocean surface with moody colors and constantly shifting textures.

On any roadtrip along this stretch of coast, a stop at the Pigeon Point Light Station State Park is highly recommended. It is free, informative, and beautiful. On Saturday, November 18th 2017, a celebration of the 145th anniversary of the light station is being held, offering tours, music and various activities. For more information about the state park visit the California Parks & Recreation website and to see more of my photos from the lighthouse grounds, visit the archive at APK Photography.

Oakura Beach, New Zealand

Tucked between quiet beach towns on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, Oakura Beach is a windswept, black sand slice of paradise.

The beach access is casual, a short walk through flowering flax, and down into low, soft dunes. My friend chose to cross the creek along a piece of driftwood, while I waded through up to my knees in the cold rushing water. Such an angle paid off, and got us a fun photo with which to remember this bit of our adventure.

As we wandered the windy shoreline, we found beautiful bits of contrast in shimmering sand, which from various angles offered a glittering black, iridescent purple, and silvery backdrop to shells and driftwood scattered along the high-tide line.

The rocky harbor of New Plymouth was visible through the mist to the North, and even with a bustling urban center so close, Oakura Beach felt like a wild stretch of coast we were glad we’d made the trip to explore.

Some of these images are available as prints, in my Open Edition print gallery.

To view the full set of Oakura Beach, New Zealand photographs, please visit the APK Photography archives.

Small Yellow Songbird

As the days gradually become shorter and the season shifts to cooler temperatures, autumn is turning the leaves a lovely golden color before they fall. I am reminded of a little yellow songbird perched high in the branches of a tree on a cold winter morning. It calmly watched the sunrise, warming it’s wings as sunlight spread across a mountainous Southern California desert landscape beneath a bright blue sky.

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A small yellow songbird perches in the California desert sunshine, framed by the branches and yellow leaves of a tree against blue sky

This is an image from my archives, and I am adding it as a new release to a collection of square prints that are sized and priced for the casual art collector. I often provide custom, larger-format fine art prints to private collectors, but wish to share my images with a wider audience. This sweet little songbird is the first image selected for a set of square prints that start at $30 USD, with gallery canvas wrap and standout mounting options available. I will be adding new images to my Open Edition Square Series print collection in the months to come, so please check back for announcements or subscribe to this blog for updates.

To purchase ‘Small Yellow Songbird’ please visit apkphotography.com

Harbor seal mothers and their playful pups

On the sheltered beaches of Monterey, Carmel, and Point Lobos, one can catch a lovely glimpse into the lives of harbour seals.  This time of year, the cute harbour seal pups are beginning to explore their watery homes, and their mothers keep a watchful eye as they swim through the swaying kelp forests and quiet coves.  Some of the pups are particularly plump and round, and as they get brave enough to swim away from their mothers, there are moments of playful freedom in the surf.  Once a pup realizes that they can no longer see their mother however, they will cry, short sad little calls that bring their mothers quickly to their side.  The pups only have 3 to 4 weeks before they will be weaned, and witnessing this precious time that they have with their mothers is quite a special sight.

See more harbour seal interactions and behaviour in the APK Photography Harbour Seal gallery.