I have always liked Christmas lights.   

 

When I was a child my parents used to bundle my brothers and I into the family car and drive up along the high avenues around Salt Lake City so we could look down on all the decorative lights in the valley. And we even got hot chocolate, so needless to say I am a Christmas light junky.

For years I have had business in Kelowna, British Columbia during December and I always brought my camera so I could go out at night and then again at morning’s first light to photograph the Christmas lights along the city streets.

This year I had to come down much earlier, on the last day of November. It was an early day for me and I finished just before lunch, so I wandered around looking through the store windows near my hotel until It had started to rain, no not the snow I was hoping for, but I had hours to wait till sundown so I went into an eatery called the Memphis Blues.  When I entered the place was filled with wonderfully loud southern blues music. I was delighted to find they had the perfect food for a damp cool day, southern barbecued chicken. Gosh, I am sure somewhere it might get better than that, but to me it was the perfect place to pass the time till evening and could photograph the bright Christmas lights in the city.  In spite of the rain, when I finished I decided to wander a bit with my camera for some low light afternoon photos. The last light of the day is always interesting, even on a drizzling over cast day.

Last year I photographed decorated boats moored along the lake harbor and people skating on the outdoor rink. However, to my dismay the barkeep gave me the bad news that the Kelowna winter light festival was days away and it was too warm to use the skating rink. Gosh, I might just be forced to make the winding two-hour drive again in a few weeks. Blast my bad luck.

I snapped a few from my hotel room. My room was on the 5th floor above the street so I had an excellent shot with my 70-200mm down the street towards the lake and after that I meandered along the street and beside the lake making photographs. There weren’t a lot of people, but those I did pass must have already been in a holiday mood because every person either smiled and nodded or said hello. Maybe they just liked seeing an old grey haired guy enjoying himself taking pictures of the city they lived in.

The cold wind coming off the lake finally worked it’s way in and I decided to return to my hotel room to warm up till night fall.

By 7PM the light had gone down. I began by again taking a photograph down the street toward the lake, then grabbed my tripod and camera and went out for another ‘bout with the lake’s cold wind. I photographed many of the same things I had in the afternoon light, except this time the Christmas lights were sparkling in the dark sky.

Sun-up is at 7:30 here in southern British Columbia. I like the light just before that when I am photographing city lights. I want just enough to give the feeling of nighttime without covering building details.

There I was waiting at 6:30 in the cold morning air, and by 7ish I was sadly done. I always have to tear myself away. When I was back at my hotel some time later drinking coffee and having my morning yogurt I got a text from my friend Dave. He wondered how it was going and I replied that standing alone at 6:30 AM on a cold, windy, dark deserted overpass with frozen fingers while taking pictures of street lights is damned enjoyable, Gosh, it doesn’t get much better than that. The only thing that could have made it better was if it started snowing.

Night photography (well actually, early morning photography) gives a city such a nice mood that isn’t really manifest during the day. I like the mystery and, of course, this time of year the frosting on the cake is the wonderful Christmas lights.

Road Trip to Penticton  

SS Sicamous

Walking the beach at night

SS Sicamous Penticton

StearnWheeler

Penticton Waterfront

 

The month of November has began and my wife, Linda, and I thought it might be a good idea to take a drive south before the cold winds blow the last leaves of fall from the trees. Sometimes it’s just nice to go for a drive. So we decided on Penticton; a scenic three-hour drive from our home for a fun, fall, overnight getaway. Any pictures we could get would be a bonus.

During the summer the city of Penticton, situated at the southern tip of British Columbia’s Okanagan Lake, is a thriving tourist destination. And I didn’t doubt a friend’s statement when he suggested that Penticton, a city of 30,000 plus population easily doubles in the summer. However, everything changes in the lull between summer and winter. When I called a motel the clerk told me, “You don’t need to bother with a reservation as there are plenty of rooms.”

I like cities at night. The lights sparkle and beckon to those of us that have our camera and tripod ready. Arriving after dark and settling in to our room it was no time at all before we had bundled up against the cold lake breeze and rushed out into the dark to wander along the wide sandy beach.

It’s easy to get sharp, colourful night pictures. I was out to photograph the SS Sicamous, said to be the largest surviving sternwheeler in British Columbia. The SS Sicamous, now a museum, prowled Okanagan Lake until 1936, servicing the lakeside fruit growing communities of Penticton, Kelowna and Vernon.

The big stern wheeler had strings of lights that illuminated and outlined it bow to stern, and the lights were perfect for some night shots. As I mentioned, it is so easy. I selected Aperture priority, and chose a small aperture that would give me lots of depth of field, and with the camera securely mounted on my tripod, set it on self-timer to reduce camera shake, and released the shutter.

Then after four or five shots I turned around and shot down the beach toward the brightly lit, big casino hotel in the distance and walked back to our room to stow our gear so that Linda and I could go out for dinner. Even in the off-season the charming Italian style restaurant was filled with happy patrons.

In the morning I returned to the now sun-lit beach to photograph the SS Sicamous again.

I think fall is a great time to go for a two-day drive. We called it our end-of-summer, mini vacation. Most people are more interested in getting ready for winter, which leaves plenty of accommodation available and reasonable prices.

I expect Penticton will fill up again when the snows arrives, and vacationers that spent the summer boating, wind-surfing, playing golf, hiking and cycling will return for downhill skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing adventures in the winter.

For my wife and I the cool autumn stay in that lakeside city was perfect. And I couldn’t ask for a nicer time to take pictures.