Vancouver Island

Monochrome Gull

Over the water

Aside from a couple of stops at St Johns airport in Labrador, I’ve never spent any time in Canada. Not that I had ever heard anything bad about our northern neighbor, there just never seemed to be a reason to visit. When the Missus and I found out that Arizona Highways Photography Workshops was organizing a trip to Vancouver Island with photographer Shane McDermott it drew our interest, and since our calendar happened to be clear for the month we went ahead and enrolled.

Each day on the trip we sampled a different aspect of Vancouver Island. The variety of photographic subjects and the beauty of the area makes it impossible to describe in a blog post, so I’ve decided to just post a few sample pictures and descriptions to try and capture a little of the feel of the Island.


A sailboat runs to clear an island in the fog

Our group met in Vancouver for the hour and a half ferry ride to Victoria on an overcast Sunday morning. While it was a little cool and windy for us, the opportunity to photograph some of the passing boats was too good to pass by. There’s something about seascapes that lends itself to black and white, so I’ve included a couple monochrome shots. This was one of several sailboats transiting the Strait of Georgia. No doubt a routine trip, but with the fog and overcast it made my minds eye see a tale of a race to safe harbor ahead of the storm.

Moss Lady

The Moss Lady at Beacon Hill Park

It’s called Beacon Hill Park, but it seemed more of a garden to me. I’ve never understood the love of gardening so common in the British Commonwealth (excuse me, I guess it’s the Commonwealth of Nations, now), probably because I had never seen a proper garden. At Beacon Hill I started to see what all the fuss is about. While the United States brought many fine traditions from the Old World, sadly this doesn’t appear to be one of them. The Moss Lady (also known as the Sleeping Lady) was in one of the many quiet areas of the park, almost hidden away in the foliage.


The Parliament building for British Columbia

The Parliament sits overlooking the Inner Harbor on a large manicured lawn. The building is impressive and I found the slightly darker stone more attractive than the light marble popular at home. The lack of fences and open access to the grounds made this a wonderful opportunity to practice some architectural photography. It’s hard to get a bad shot of such a lovely structure.

Sunken Garden

The Sunken Garden at Butchart Gardens at dusk

The Sunken Garden started out as a limestone quarry owned by the Butchart family. As the quarry became exhausted, Jennie Butchart proceeded to turn it into a beautiful garden. The only part of the old cement factory left is the stack visible in the upper right of the photo. The garden is still owned by the Butchart family.


A Marina through the trees in the Japanese Garden at Butchart Gardens

As the quarry was being worked, Mrs. Butchart started the Italian, Rose and Japanese gardens. In the Japanese Garden there is a window through the vegetation with a view to Butchart Cove.

Hatley Castle

Hatley Castle at Royal Roads University

On the way from Victoria to Port Renfrew, we stopped at Royal Roads University. Formerly a military college, Royal Roads is home to the Hatley Castle, and yes, more gardens. Our visit was in the middle of a clear, sunny day, which unfortunately made for harsh light. The castle was still an impressive site looking up from the shore of the Esquimalt Lagoon.

Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden at Royal Roads

While the color was a bit washed out from the sun, the bridge and pond of the Japanese Garden were still a peaceful place to sit and think. Interestingly, it was designed by Isaburo Kishida who also worked on the Butchart Japanese Garden.

Floating Mountains

The Olympic Mountains across the Esquimalt Lagoon

Looking south east from the lawn of the Castle is a spectacular view of the Olympic Mountains. In the distant haze they looked to be floating above the causeway.

Cabin at Port Renfrew

The cabins at Port Renfrew

An hour or so’s drive put us in Port Renfrew where we would be staying the next nights at the Wild Renfrew cottages while ranging out to various sites during the day. We actually could have spent the entire trip there as the scenery was beautiful and there was an abundance of bird and marine life including bald eagles and sea lions.


Seagull near Port Renfrew

While I wasn’t expecting to be taking bird pictures, I couldn’t resist with all the gulls flying around. Fairly large birds with no apparent fear of humans they would fly quite close while looking for food. While relatively slow, they are still a challenge to catch on the wing, and make for great practice in shooting wildlife on the move. My only regret was in leaving my 300mm lens at home, instead relying on the 40-150mm, occasionally with the 1.4x teleconverter. As it turned out the 12-100mm I was using for my primary lens covered the middle distances well enough, but a little more reach would have been nice. Were I to do it over I would leave the 40-150 at home and take the 300. Live and learn…

Sandcut Waterfall

Upper Waterfall at Sandcut Beach

The shore line on Vancouver Island is interesting in that the foliage is fairly dense close to the ocean with a short strip of sand and rocky beach. The waterfall above was 10 or 12 feet above beach level and actually fed another waterfall 20 feet down stream. The little climb to reach this spot was well worth it.

Bridge to Nowhere

The bridge to nowhere

Part of the fun of a photography trip is finding things off the side of the road. Southwest Vancouver Island has many single lane bridges, and from one of these a decaying wood bridge was visible. I didn’t like the reflections as seen from the bridge so I climbed down to the marsh below for a better angle. While wet and muddy, I was surprised that by staying on the grass you could stay completely dry.


Bald Eagle on the Pacheedaht reservation near Port Renfrew

Another stop in the search for subjects was the boat ramp on the Pacheedaht reservation.  Unlike seagulls, swallows are really quick, so I spent some time working on catching them in flight as they fed on the water. While practicing we were keeping an eye out for other birds, like the bald eagle captured above.

Fairy Lake

Fairy Lake

This little postcard scene we caught on our last morning in Port Renfrew.

Gold Rock Stream

Slot Canyon waterfall at Sombrio Beach

At Sombrio Beach there’s a short path up a stream that takes you to this slot canyon, complete with waterfalls.  It was a popular spot to visit for the surfers and campers nearby, and photographing it took a little timing and patience. Worth the effort.

Race Rocks

Race Rocks

We left Port Renfrew for one more day at Victoria, where we were hoping to catch the local pod of orca. Unfortunately they were a couple hours north that day, though we did spot some humpback whales. No dramatic breaching whales, however, as nature does things to its own rhythm, not that of the photographers.


Gull and seal sharing a rock

It certainly wasn’t a wasted trip though, as the 3 hour ride in the open zodiac type boat was pleasant in its own right. We did see sea lions, elephants seals, the resident otter and an assortment of birds.


An otter enjoys its kelp bed

The trip ended entirely too soon, and the Missus and I were both amazed at the amount and variety of good shots we got during the week. Shane is looking at doing a Grizzly Bear trip next year in BC, and we may just have to go along.

3 thoughts on “Vancouver Island

  1. nataliaspics

    All of these pics are fascinating but the Sunken Garden shot has to be my favorite. I’ve just started a photo blog myself and those are the kinds of pictures that inspire me to reach for the best shots I can. Thank you for sharing, I’ve just followed!

    1. Phil Ryan Post author

      Thanks for the kind words. If you ever get a chance to go to Vancouver Island, take it! It’s a beautiful place. Good luck with your blog!


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