Wells Gray Provincial Park. 


The morning news said to expect snow, overcast days and cold weather. So I decided I had better take a last visit Wells Gray Provincial Park with out the snow. I had been lazily putting off spending a day in that scenic park. Gosh, it’s only a two and a half hour drive to get there, and I am not that busy, so I couldn’t come up with an excuse not to throw my camera gear in the car and make the drive.

I first visited Wells Gray back in 1971. A friend and I had driven up the east coast of the US into Canada, traveled around Cape Breton, and then had a leisurely drove across Canada to Kamloops, British Columbia. Someone we met in Kamloops suggested Wells Gray Park.

I remember driving along the rough, rutted dirt road into the park and marvelling at the quiet wilderness encroaching from both sides. Until the road became blocked by many stern looking women carrying placards and standing by a big sign demanding that the road should be paved.  When we stopped someone thrust a petition through the window, while telling how the school bus had driven off the dangerous road we were on, and required our signatures. I am sure they saw the California plates on the front of our 60s Ford Econoline van, but they didn’t seem to care so we quickly signed their petition and were allowed to carry on.

I smiled remembering that as I drove on the pleasant road that had been freshly paved, yet again, and slowed down to look at the Black Horse Saloon and guest cabins that now sits where those women were. I guess they got their way!

The park was empty. There were no cars or tourist filled busses on the roadside. Gosh, I felt special.

I have my favourite stops for when I don’t feel like hiking. There is an old abandoned building on the way into the park that I have been photographing for years. I am always surprised to see it still standing.

My second stop is to climb under the bridge that crosses the Murtle River. Going under the bridge gives a better location to photograph the “Mushbowl” and the large smooth rock surface is filled with big, round, deep holes. It’s a fun place to wander.

Then I made a fast drive to Helmcken Falls. Not so much because I really was in a hurry to get there, but because I had finished three cups of coffee and really needed to get to an outhouse. I got there and rushed to the privy only to find that the door had been unceremoniously pried open and the toilet paper had been shredded off it’s wall hanger. My friend Jo had mentioned that I should watch for bears, but if she does ask me I’ll just tell her that I am sure a large squirrel ripped up the toilet paper and the door was off its hinges because someone else (with long fingernails) that also too much coffee must have been in a hurry.

Helmcken fall was, as usual, in the shadow, but there was a nice fog and the sky had some clouds. Not that bad for photography. I like to wander away from the viewing platform, down past the end of the security fence, and just past the sign that warns hikers that they can fall over the edge of the canyon. That’s best because there is no fence to block my view.

Then it’s only a short drive to my favourite place, Bailey’s Chute. As with the bridge, I climb down under the viewing platform.   My final spot is to park beside Shadow Lake. I like Shadow Lake because sometimes one can see a snow capped mountain to photograph in the distance.

Usually it’s hard to find and empty table at the end of Clearwater Lake to eat lunch at, but the park was empty.

My day couldn’t have been better. Although I have photographed that scenic park many times in the last forty plus years, I always enjoy the drive and the photography. And I am sure I have a good ten or maybe more years left in these old bones to be back photographing that park many, many more times.



Don’t Forget Some Photographic Basics

Helmkin Falls view   Low drifting clouds

A local photographer showed up at my shop with some scenic/landscape photographs he had made and asked me for a critique of them.

Photographers get excited about the subjects they photograph and sometimes forget, or never learned in the first place, some basic rules for photography. Rules that are actually procedures and guidelines that can be followed to make photographs more exciting for viewing. Although I enjoyed his series of photographs of Helmken Falls in British Columbia’s Wells Gray Park, I noticed two problems that I discussed with him.

The first is a very basic concept in photography – depth of field. Depth of field refers to the “in focus area,” or sharpness of a picture at different distances when the aperture diameter changes. Depth of field is the area around the subject that remains acceptably sharp. The farther things are away, the more depth of field one can achieve, and the closer things are, the less depth of field. To control depth of field one uses the lens aperture.

Photographers new to this medium think of the aperture only as a means of controlling the amount of light reaching the sensor. However, the aperture also controls depth of field.

Control over depth of field is accomplished by increasing or decreasing the aperture’s size. For example, the smaller the aperture opening (f/16) the more depth of field; and the larger the aperture opening (f/4) the less the depth of field is. So f/16 will give more “in focus area” in front of and behind the subject than f/8. Regardless of the F/stop one should have a shorter in focus area in front of the subject, and a longer in focus area behind the subject.

The ratio is approximately one-third in front, and two-thirds behind. So to obtain maximum depth of field in a photograph use a smaller aperture opening like f/11, and focus one third of the way into the scene.

The second thing I pointed out was his composition. I wondered what it is that makes photographers disregard the basics of compositional strategies and just snap away excitedly. My assumption is that many photographers are so excited about the subject they are photographing, and possibly the camera they are using at the time, that they forget to make the subject interesting in their final photograph.

With his scenics of the waterfall, as exotic and colourful as it was on that day, he ignored something fundamental in any properly composed photograph called “The Rule of Thirds”. This so called “rule” states that we shouldn’t place the main focus of interest in the centre of the frame, but should place it on an intersection line, or very close to it, created by dividing the picture into a grid of thirds.

That photographer’s pictures would have been stronger if he had paid attention to compositional elements that would make his image interesting by placing important or interesting visual information at intersections.

I have photographed those falls alongside other photographers many times since I moved to British Columbia 40 years ago; spring, summer, fall and winter.

Sometimes they have been excited, as with the fellow I critiqued, and just pointed their cameras without thought, overwhelmed by the roaring, wilderness splendour of Helmken Falls. Regarding those image makers, Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts recipient Garry Winogand quipped, “Photographers mistake the emotion they feel while taking the photo as a judgment that the photograph is good”.

However, I have also set my tripod next to photographers that just seemed understand what it takes to make viewable images and appear to feel their way through the photograph. That’s always exciting. Of them I like to think they adhere to the words of Photo Imaging Association’s 2005 Photographer of the Year, David Harvey when he said, “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.”

As always, I appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Connecting with other photographers

Connecting with other photographers, especially those with skill and experience, is a very satisfying and worthwhile experience. Some months ago, while reading my favorite online forum, http://www.Canadian-Digital.com, I came across a request from Jeff, a Manitoba photographer, who mentioned that he would be visiting relatives in Kelowna and inquired if any local members could point him in the direction of good scenic locations in the area. I posted that I couldn’t really help him with Kelowna, but if he was interested I would gladly spend a day introducing him to Wells Gray Park, and added a link to the park’s website.

He sent an enthusiastic return email and we made plans to spend a day wandering my favourite roadside locations in Wells Gray Provincial Park. Photographers that haven’t been able to visit the fourth largest park in British Columbia are missing a visual treat.

Wells Gray is a spectacular, almost pure, wilderness area that is easily accessible by car. Although the website advertises it as a world-class destination for canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and camping, photographers can enjoy a photo-packed day trip wandering along the pleasantly-winding, park road and will return home with memory cards filled with quality wilderness images.

I anticipated that photographer Jeff, my new friend from Manitoba, had no idea what to expect other than the picture postcard images from the website, and I was pleased when he remarked that he would like to look for more creative opportunities than those most would make from the dedicated tourist lookouts.

The experience of meeting a stranger, and then spending the day driving, talking, and site seeing might be uncomfortable for some, but for photographers, I think they only need photography in common to have an enjoyable time. At any time, if the other person’s opinion causes unease, just change the subject to cameras, lenses, or any other thing photographic.

In order to get to Wells Gray early, Jeff had to get up before the sun for a two-hour drive from Kelowna to Kamloops to meet me at my shop at 6am. (I wasn’t being mean! It was his choice.) We bought coffee and departed for Clearwater, an hour and a half drive away, because we had decided to be in the park taking pictures for 8am. From Clearwater we then roamed into the park with our cameras at the ready.

When I put my camera gear on the backseat of his car I had to move his tripod, and remarked that I liked the ball head he had attached to it. He said, “I always use a tripod”, and I thought to myself, “I think I’m going to like this guy.” There’s nothing like a tripod to let one know they are with a serious landscape photographer.

Wells Gray is a great park for roadside photographers with many places to stop, to photograph the spectacular waterfalls, old homesteads and the river’s many geological features tucked only a short walk away, and that is just what we did. Unfortunately, the wildlife was timid and we only briefly saw one black bear.

The comfortably cool day was excellent for photography with a slight overcast and high moving clouds. Jeff changed lenses and filters regularly as he worked the new environment, but for me Wells Gray has been a regular location for years and I was content to stay with my well-used, 24-120mm lens as I photographed the familiar landscape.

The internet is a wonderful way of bringing people together and I know I would really appreciate photographers extending hospitality to me when I travel to some far off place. In the event of any concern, checking up on other forum members is easy. I reviewed Jeff’s online posts (as he had mine), and when he wrote he was visiting BC I was sure he’d be fun to know and to stand beside as we made pictures. One doesn’t always have to participate as a host, but I am sure suggesting locations for photography would be appreciated. For local photographers who have never made the expedition to Wells Gray, it is well worthwhile.

Contact me at http://www.enmanscamera.com