“Increasing levels of abstraction and complexity frighten those for whom art is a means to attain a comfortable expression of calm, luxury, and delight.” – Bernar Venet
On a leisurely walk along the waterfront of Vancouver a few years ago, I noticed the sunset light illuminating the sculpture on the beach in the distance. I like the scale and resemblance of this piece to an organic form, like the rib bones of a whale. The title however refers to the precise mathematical specifications of the sculpture.
‘217.5 Arc x 13’ by Bernar Venet, photographed in fading sunset light, Vancouver, British Columbia
I quite enjoy large, abstract sculptural works and the ways that the natural light, landscape, and details of the setting can bring new perspectives and meaning to the piece. It is wonderful to encounter an opportunity to photograph such a scene when the conditions are right for an especially atmospheric sculpture study.
On a warm May afternoon aboard a small ship I watched as deep, swirling currents formed whirlpools in the channel ahead.Little did I know,I was about to have an unforgettable Seymour Narrows travel experience.
We had been fighting the tide for a while and making slow progress. As we reached Seymour Narrows, where the current can reach 15 knots, conditions warranted a cautious approach. Our ship anchored in a sheltered cove and we went ashore for a safe view of the treacherous channel
After a short zodiac trip to a small dock and a trailhead, we were welcomed by a bright grassy path leading toward a dark forest. The cool air of the shade on Maud Island Trail offered relief from the heat. As we hiked up the rocky path. a view of water gradually appeared through the trees. We had reached a mossy bluff overlooking Seymour Narrows below.
Seymour Narrows & Ripple Rock History
These waterways and the surrounding landscape are the traditional territory of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation. It is noted in their background & historical information that “The regularly treacherous waterways and passages of places like Seymour Narrows, Race Point and Arran Rapids were utilized strategically in warfare to successfully defend against raids by northern tribes of the Haida and Bella Coola.” It has been fascinating to learn more about the rich regional history and modern-day presence of the Wei Wai Kum indigenous communities here.
Seymour Narrows is a short and powerful stretch of water in British Columbia, Canada. It is part of the Discovery Channel, along the Northeastern coast of Vancouver Island. Along with being an important shipping channel, it is known for being the site of an enormous man-made explosion. In 1958 the underwater mountain Ripple Rock was “moved” to make transiting the narrows safer. If you are curious, there is an excellent short film and more information about this bit of Ripple Rock history here.
Meditations on the Tide
We spent some time resting on cushions of deep moss along the top of the bluff, watching the rushing water below.
Snowy mountain peaks rose in the distance as small boats rode the tide South through the channel. Whirlpools swirled across the glittering dark blue and silvery water. An especially frothy patch of water churned where Ripple Rock lurks beneath the waves.
Returning to the ship, our skipper decided that the timing was right to catch a sunset slack tide through the narrows. Our overnight anchorage was just a little further North at Deep Bay. By the time we entered Seymour Narrows the whirlpools and rapids had calmed. A cold wind swept down from the mountains. I particularly enjoy these moments on the bow, quiet and contemplative. I had read about Seymour Narrows, but experiencing it firsthand has put into perspective just how powerful the changing tides can be in this part of the world.
This was an especially memorable afternoon and a fun travel photography challenge, as the conditions changed quickly and often. Find my Maud Island/Seymour Narrows travel gallery here, and my full expedition story here. As of the writing of this post, I still have many more photos to edit and stories from this journey to assemble, so be sure to check back or even better, subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t miss future updates.
My favourite way to approach travel photography is as an act of discovery. Before landing in a new destination I have usually done some research about the location, but I like to arrive with no specific photos in mind. I find that I make better images when I have few preconceived ideas of what a place “is”. I am more likely to encounter an unexpected cultural or historical detail when I follow the light through a new environment. This enables me to create travel photos that are both artistic and authentic as I document an inspired experience of being there.
The drawback to this approach is that during shorter visits, the opportunities for good light are inherently more limited. What may be a dull scene on an overcast morning could be spectacular on a sunny afternoon, but by then my camera and I may be on to other sights. So it was especially nice on a recent short trip to Vancouver, Canada to have a couple of nights on Granville Island. This provided ample time to explore, walking to the market beneath dramatic views of the towering Vancouver cityscape.
This is ancestral land to the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and remains unceded territory. Prior to industrial development, the sandbars and shallows of the tidal environment were rich with food sources. Surrounded by distant mountains and alive with abundant biodviersity, this would have been an especially beautiful place.
The present-day Granville Island is man-made, built with material dredged from the nearby waterways. What was once an inter-tidal ecosystem is now a mix of industrial enterprises, performing arts venues, and arts and crafts studios. This urban environment lends itself to a different kind of travel photography, emphasizing the buildings and dense development of a very specific neighbourhood.
My visit in late winter meant that the sightseeing crowds had not yet arrived for the busy summer season. I enjoyed capturing a sense of calmness, even in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a city port and industrial neighbourhood. In particular, the early mornings spent wandering the quiet streets offered plenty of beautiful light and photographic inspiration.
Exploring the Vancouver cityscape from Granville Island
Granville Island is a great place to explore new angles for Vancouver travel photography. The surrounding views of the city are remarkable as the light changes throughout the day. Towering buildings reflect in the water below, while bridges and trees provide unique framed perspectives of the landscape beyond.
One Vancouver skyscraper in particular has a very interesting shape, narrowing at the bottom than at the top. I was able to photograph Vancouver House in both early morning and late afternoon light. I like how each composition gives the building a slightly different presence within the cityscape. There is subtle context provided by other elements in each composition. Meanwhile, the angle and futuristic form of the architecture remains similar in both photos.
The presence of such large buildings directly reflected in the water of False Creek is also quite striking. At sunset, the walls of glass and steel catch the sunset light. At sunrise, the light casts the Vancouver city skyline into shadow, as the angular buildings appear to extend to the distant horizon.
Last year’s marathon road-trip to California offered the welcome opportunity to experience some new atmospheric landscapes. The stark terrain of Idaho felt particularly surreal, after the rolling prairies of North Dakota and forested mountains of Montana. I have recently had a chance to sit down and edit my photos from Craters of the Moon National Monument.
The geology of the Snake River Plain in Idaho includes a fascinating array of volcanic features, and photography at Craters of the Moon was full of inspiring details.
The calderas and lava flows are the result of a periodically active volcanic rift zone. The last eruption took place around 2,000 years ago, making this a relatively ‘young’ place. Only well-adapted species can survive in the harsh conditions of the region, and it is home to several distinct ecosystems rich in plant and animal diversity.
I found the tenacious, twisted trees to be especially striking in the soft light of dusk. Surrounded by dark scree and rubble, the bristling green growth seems almost improbable. Yet trees, shrubs, grasses and lichen are everywhere, scattered sparsely across piles of basalt. These hardy species use what little soil their roots can find in the rocky ground, and over time can establish diverse communities in unlikely places.
The colour palette and texture of the volcanic environment shifted throughout the day. Golden grasses and blue-green sagebrush in contrast against lava flows. Fast-moving clouds in pearlescent shades of blue and pink, disappearing over distant mountains.
Blue summer skies and fluffy white clouds mirrored in the water of Whirlpool Lake at Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba. The dazzling colours of summer are fleeting in Canada, and in this scene there are vivid blues and greens. The dark forest recedes along the horizon while a breeze skims the surface of the lake, softening the reflection of trees and sky.
“After everything that’s happened, how can the world still be so beautiful? Because it is.”
This is Treaty 2 Territory, land of the Métis, Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux).
I encountered this moment of wilderness reflection on a short summer hike last year. Exploring Riding Mountain National Park means many opportunities to view lovely small lakes like this, and I am always hoping to spot some wildlife on the opposite shore. The breeze (mostly) kept the mosquitos away, and nearby meadows were bursting with late summer wildflowers. As a photographer, a landscape reflection like this is impossible to resist. The scenery and elements allow for beautiful compositions and studies of balance, which I particularly enjoy capturing.
There is often a sense of serenity in photos of natural reflections. When I look at these images now, I am transported to a calm, breathtaking time and place. The texture of air moving across water reminds me of vintage glass windows and how their rippled texture smudges the colours in the sky. The mirror-like surface of the water makes the natural light even more magical. Whether viewed as abstract textural art or as a study in landscape reflection photography, Whirlpool Lake in Manitoba is a special spot that I hope to photograph again soon.
When I travel I am often closely observing the botanical elements of a place, as they often form an interesting and informative backdrop in the wider local scene. Floral photography fits in well with the idea of looking for local colour. From recent travels to California, these vivid yellow pincushion protea flowers stood in bright contrast to their dark green foliage. Spotted while on a waterfront walk in Monterey, with blustery spring showers and fast-moving clouds overhead, these fresh blooms were a welcome colourful reminder that spring is just around the corner.
Protea flowers symbolize hope and transformation, and these golden arching forms of the stamen catch the light beautifully on a dark, moody day. It seems that most of my flower photos lean toward textural compositions, full of deep contrast and vivid colour.
Prints available here, find my full portfolio of moody and magical floral photography here.