Glacial Stares

Sometimes things just click.

Sometimes you need to do a hike up the side of a mountain to an interesting place, lay on the bare ground and get the moment just right for things to work out how you want.

Describe the best picture
you took in 2021.

for whatever one photo is worth:

We had booked a week in the mountains during the lull in the pandemic, checking into a hotel we wouldn’t have sprung for if the borders had been wider open and tourists were filling them for higher prices than we were paying.

We spent our days exploring, day trips mostly, driving from short hike trailhead to short hike trailhead, snacking in the car on the way between and keeping the dog calm on one of her first (of many) family adventures.

Mount Edith Cavell is a short drive from Jasper, Alberta, and for the price of forty five minutes of hiking up a steep-ish but well-worn stoney trail one can sit beside a glacial lake in August and overlook the remains of the Angel Glacier and her various small bergs afloat in the freezing cold water.

We did just that.

And among the small crowds of other tourists we found a quiet spot to sit and look out at the view and admire the natural beauty of this place, pausing for a moment in the (then) nearly year-and-a-half long frustration epic that had been lockdown.

I did what every good father and camera guy should do. I laid down on the rocky beach and tried to get at least one epic photo of my family.

A photo from this short series, one where my daughter’s face is far more identifiable in the shot that would be suitable for a public blog, is the picture we sent out on the front of our Christmas card this year. It seemed appropriate and poignant and pretty much summed up the mood of our year.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

How to be a Photographer.

Three dSLRs

Four GoPro action cams.

Two tripods.

One flash.

Nine lenses.

A fistful of memory cards.

Drawers packed with gadgets, clips, hooks, meters, caps, filters, batteries, microfibre cloths, and a random assortment of other camera accessories.

And in 2021 I took a lot of photos like this… on my iPhone.

What do you wish
you’d done more of
this past year?

There was a time I would have told you that my dream job was being a photographer. I worked to make money so that I could buy camera equipment and travel.

Heck, when I was a teenager I built my own camera. I exposed a roll of film, brought it to the local photo store, told the guys what I had done and that I wasn’t sure how the photos would turn out. They developed the roll for free and gave me some advice for my next attempt. It seemed for a moment that I was on some kind of destiny course to be the guy behind the lens.

It didn’t work out that way.

But I’ve clung to the dream and … well until this past couple years … spent my life filling hard drives with experimental photos, adventure pics, travel images, and family portraits.

… until this past couple years.


Until this past couple years, when I stopped traveling, focused on some other creative projects, and rarely left the neighbourhood save to do masked expeditions to the grocery store or socially distanced runs with my cohort.

I wish this past year had been a bit different. I wish it had been different in that I neither had an excuse to stick so close to home nor had the inclination to allow myself to stop carrying a camera with me everywhere.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

Weekend Walking Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary

The Canadian prairies have a long and storied history that has been felt through the countless ecosystem changes in flora and fauna, and punctuated by the lives and actions of a handful of various peopled cultures that have lived and settled here for some recent thousands of years.

I state it in this particular way to draw attention to the very idea of a nature sanctuary.

A nature sanctuary is a space that has been set aside for the specific purpose of drawing a line around a bit of the map and deciding, as much as it is possible, to pause the progression of history or preserve a piece of it.

We drove to the nearby Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary on this recent sunny Sunday afternoon to wander the trails here and enjoy the day.

The parking lot was full to overflowing.

The sun was hot but the breeze pushing through the trees was still carrying the coolness of late spring.

I turned on my camera.

Located 33 km southwest of Edmonton’s city centre, the Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary protects 348 acres of marshland, open meadow, aspen parkland and pine forest. The varied habitats of the Sanctuary attract a diversity of animals, including more than one hundred bird species, and provide excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing.

This particular nature sanctuary was a space that was new to me. I’d never made the trip out here previously.

There is a particular patch of wilderness here. It is crammed between the city-proper to the east, a trans-provincial highway to the north, and the twisting North Saskatchewan river to the south.

The land is a mix of marsh and forest and seemingly poor agricultural space because it is speckled with acreages and nature preserves and the local University’s botanic gardens.

There is a local ultra marathon that runs annually through the “river’s edge” tracing along the bottom of the above map tempting local runners with an eclectic single-track adventure on trails regularly inaccessible except with permission of the land owner.

And when I was much younger, the scoutmaster of my troop knew of a bit of land (or likely knew of someone who owned a bit of land) in this area where we frequently winter-camped as teenagers.

In short, when I think of nearby wilderness, it is this block of a few hundred square kilometers that often jumps into my mind first.

The nature sanctuary itself was only established in the late 1970s, and set aside as a block of land that has been expanded and shifted stewardship over the years.

It was hardly a pristine snapshot of undisturbed local wetland history however. The space has a multi-kilometer elevated boardwalk, picnic areas, bird houses and bird feeders, viewing platforms, plastic toilet boxes, and meandering families straying from the designated paths and being humanly-terrible by littering and trampling.

Yet an imperfect preservation is better than no preservation.

There were countless birds (and baby birds.) The elevated boardwalk was a photographic splendour. The marshland failed to excite my teenager, but I could have stood there for hours and watched the life in and around the murky waters. And spring was in its full groove on Sunday, new foliage popping from the trees, ground and swamp.

This nature sanctuary is a space that seems to have been set aside for the specific purpose of drawing a line around a bit of the map and deciding, as much as it is possible, to pause the progression of history or preserve a piece of it.

Resource extraction sites dot our landscape. Hundreds of houses hide in the woods on small plots of land just out of reach of the city. Roads and highways twist through the countryside. Jumbo jets climb into the sky on their way to explore the world as they take off from the international airport runway a few dozen kilometers away.

It has been preserved for not just Sunday family walks in spring, but to draw our attention to the long history of these spaces, to help us recall the wilderness that was and the future we might want to recapture.

If nothing else, it’s a nice place to escape the city for a few hours.

Backyard: Macro Photography

In recognition of yet-another-local-lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic, I'm doing a week of feature blog posts about living in the backyard. From May 10th through 16th, my posts will be themed around life outdoors but as close to home as possible, a few steps out the back door.

Being all-but-stuck in my own backyard for the better part of two weeks during a health crisis has provided me with ample time to enjoy my own small bit of nature.

It has also reminded me —what with the bumble bees, wasps, ants, ladybugs, butterflies, spiders, flies, and so on — that there is a lot of critter life to be found in a couple hundred square meters of suburban backyard.

Photographing backyard bugs was one of the big — ahem, small — reasons I bought myself a macro lens a decade back and really got into taking pictures of little fauna crawling around the variety of flora I’d nurtured.

As of this afternoon the blossoms are just appearing on the trees and the population of dandelions seems to be doubling daily. The sky might be a bit cloudy, but that doesn’t seem to have much sway on the action of the various insects crawling and flying around me little backyard workspace.

Capturing photos of those critters takes a particular set of skills.

Right Gear

Macro photography is more than a purpose-built lens. A macro lens is a great addition to any photographer’s kit bag, but that alone won’t get you awesome insect snaps. Setting up a shot that is in focus in in the narrow confines of a shallow depth of field on a subject that is measured in millimeters means the stability that comes from a tripod and the light enhanced by a source or reflector will do wonders for the final results.

Good Timing

Back in University I took a laundry list of coursework in both botany and entomology. All that study of plants and bugs certainly didn’t hurt my backyard photography skills, but I’d be hard pressed to say how it helped. Figuring out when the flower are open at their peak and picking the right moment on the right day to encounter the kinds of insects worth photographing is still as much luck as it is skill. It’s a good idea to keep your camera charged up as spring warms up and summer approaches, though.

Long Patience

Anyone who has ever said photographing puppies and babies is the hardest gig obviously has never tried to get a really nice photo of a butterfly. I’ve found that there are really just two approaches to taking macro photo of an insect in the wild: chase, click and hope for the best, or set up your gear, focus, and wait. I’ve lucked out with the first method, but I’ve taken some amazing pics with the latter. It does mean sitting in the grass with your finger on the shutter for the better part of an afternoon, but I’m sure the instagram likes were worth it.