Camping and Kayaking at Porteau Cove

Susannah and I love camping. We also love kayaking. Unfortunately these days we don’t get to do either very often. We had a camping trip planned for Spring but had to cancel at the last minute. Then it was summer and all the campgrounds were booked up. Finally, after the September long weekend, we got the opportunity to go camping for 5 nights at Porteau Cove Provincial Park.

Porteau Cove is our favourite local camping spot. It’s only a 45 minute drive from Vancouver which means if we have to pop back to the city we can. It’s also located at the edge of a Marine Park and has great wildlife viewing.

The Park has 60 sites – 44 drive-in and 16 walk-in. We’ve stayed at several different sites and definitely have our favourites. We were stoked to be able to book one of the best sites in the walk-in campground. We like it because it’s at the end of the campground so only has one neighbour. There’s also an additional area next to the designated site that we can spread out in.

Our little campsite

Surprisingly, the walk-in campground was not busy. Almost every day the entire walk-in area cleared out and we had it to ourselves for a few hours before a few new campers moved in.

An empty campground is rare in BC

Almost to ourselves anyway…

This Stellar Jay was very cheeky

The weather was a mixed bag and while it rained quite a lot, we were treated to some fantastic sunny and even hot periods between storms. We were able to get out on the water quite a bit and paddle around the Coast.

The perspective you get from the water is completely different from the view from the beach and you can feel like you are the only people there.

Kayaking is good for marine mammal watching.

Can you spot the seal?

As well as accessing unknown beaches.

The campground is very long so if you walk from one end to the other you’ll be treated to some great views down Howe Sound and with the ever changing weather it’ll look very different each time. The misty BC look is one of my favourites.

Susannah in her happy place

Once or twice a day a train runs along the adjacent train tracks and it’s super noisy, but apart from that we found our September camping trip to be quite quiet. We spent time exploring, beach combing and watching the world go by.

A rock display left by one beach comber
Looking very Autumnal

There was a film crew working on the water and at the dock which was entertaining to watch. This boat sped in and out delivering people and gear to the set on the water.

Porteau Cove and the view of Anvil Island will always a very special place for us. We hope to visit again soon.

Star Trails and Olympus Live Composite

The Perseid Meteor Shower happens every year from mid-July as the Earth passes through the debris trail of the Swift-Tuttle comet. The last meteor shower was visible between August 7-12 with peak viewing on the night of August 11. We decided to head up Burnaby Mountain to check it out. So did half of Vancouver and it was really crowded when we arrived at about 12:30am. Luckily many people were already packing up to leave and within 45 minutes the area had emptied out considerably.

It was too cloudy for perfect meteor viewing so instead of trying to capture meteors I decided to try out the live composite function on my Olympus O-MD E-M5II and to capture some star trails.

Live Composite is extremely cool. Essentially in this mode the camera takes a series of photos and stacks them in-camera to create one image. With each successive shot, only new light is added to the original image which prevents overexposure in the brightest part of the picture. You can see the image developing on the LCD screen as it happens which means you can stop the process when the image reaches a point that you are happy with it.

The image below took about 15 minutes to capture and is a stack of about 80 or so images.

Stacked images to create star trails – Olympus O-MD E-M5II

The orange glow on the left and right are clouds. The totems were lit by the headlights of cars as they circled around to leave the mountain. Ordinarily, any kind of random uncontrolled light is not desirable in this kind of image but in this case, I was happy with the side light painting the totems as it gave them colour and texture and gave the image depth. This was my second attempt at this shot. My first effort is below and is an example of what can go wrong.

Shot ruined by flashlight
Shot ruined by flashlight

Remember I said each shot added new light to the image? When the man in red stood up in my shot and waved his flashlight around his light was added to the photo. It was dark and he was just trying to find his way back to his car, but it was a little frustrating as the shot was already over 10 minutes into creation. A really cool feature of the Olympus Live Composite mode is that I could see this as soon as it happened, abandon the shot and start over.

For my second, more successful try, I recomposed a little higher to avoid people wandering through the shot and kept my fingers on the cable release just in case. I am pretty happy with the final image.

The following night we went to further away from Vancouver to Porteau Cove Provincial Park to try again. We hoped to get further away from the City lights and light pollution. While we did see a few meteors I decided to have another go with Live Composite. This time, I did not compose with a foreground element in the image, opting instead for the horizon line. Porteau Cove is extremely dark and has really good star visibility which resulted in a much denser set of trails. This shot is about 150 images stacked together and took about 25 minutes to create. Look closely and you can see a couple of meteors as they streak in a different direction to the star trails.

Star Trails over the horizon at Porteau Cove

Due to the extreme darkness, it is difficult to use autofocus so I manually set the focus to infinity. I shot all these images on the Olympus O-MD E-M5II with the Olympus 17mm 1.8 lens. This lens has focus markers which make it easier to set to a certain focus distance.  If you have a lens without distance markers or without a hard stop at infinity you could find infinity focus during the daytime and add a piece of tape or use a permanent marker to mark the exact spot on the barrel of your lens.

Stacking photos for star trails can be done manually in Photoshop or by using software such as StarStax, but what I absolutely love about the Olympus Live Composite mode is, well, it’s live. It saves time, does a great job and also creates an ORF, an Olympus raw file, which means you can edit for colour, contrast etc afterward. This feature is nothing short of awesome and is just one of many reasons I love my micro four thirds camera.

To use Live Composite mode for star trails you will need a stable tripod. I’d also recommend a cable release or remote trigger so you don’t nudge the camera when starting or stopping the shot. You’ll need a wide-angle lens with a wide aperture of at least 2.8. The Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm 1.8 is a great little lens for this purpose, but I would also like to try out the 12mm f2 or a fisheye. I set my exposure for each shot to 10 seconds which kept the stars sharp, but this will vary depending on how dark it is and what you are trying to achieve. Try a few single exposures first to get your settings. Then, get creative and watch your image as it appears!

Summer is coming and with it will be warmer temperatures and clearer nights. I can’t wait to get out and try this again to see what I can create with Live Composite.

Bear Watching in Prince Rupert

Ok I won’t lie. When we decided to go up North I knew that the bear watching excursion was going to be the highlight of my trip. Coming from New Zealand where there are NO BEARS (actually there are NO predatory animals PERIOD), even the thought of encountering a bear scares the bejeezes out of me. Yet as a photographer I am in awe of them and definitely wanted to see them in their natural environment.

On our trip to Prince Rupert, we were fortunate enough to be hosted by Prince Rupert Adventure Tours for our bear watching excursion. As our awesome B&B was right on the water’s edge, we were able to walk down to the dock after breakfast to check in and board. The vessel is able to accommodate 100 passengers and despite being fully booked, including a large boisterous school group,  I have to say that it did not seem too crowded and everyone was able to get a good viewing spot. Everyone was very accommodating and looked out for each other despite language and age barriers so that was pretty cool.

The Grizzly Bear Tour motors through the Chatham Sound for about 1.5 hours in order to reach the Khutzeymateen Valley, which is not reachable by land. On the way we saw some fantastic scenery and plenty of wildlife to look for. We saw lots of seabirds and a cluster of seals sunning themselves on some rocks.

Great scenery in Chatham Sound BC

Once in the Khutzeymateen area the Captain and crew use binoculars to look out for bears. Patience and complete silence is the key to good viewing as the Captain will pilot the vessel up as close as he/she can without disturbing the animals. The schoolkids turned their volume right down and everyone was very respectful. There were about 3-4 kids who stayed out on deck the entire time, pointing out wildlife and speaking in whispers. Can anyone say “Future Marine Scientists”?

I loved that this was an eco tour and that the impact on the bears was minimal. There was one occasion on our trip where we saw a young bear and approached but the Captain chose to pull away and move on as the bear seemed agitated, perhaps sensing our presence. As much as I wanted some bear shots, I am happy that the correct ethical decision was made for the animal. We remained a reasonable distance from the shore at all times – all of the shots here are taken with a telephoto lens.

We saw several bears and were able to observe them for some time. They were much skinnier than I had imagined they would be. As it was Spring they would have only recently woken from hibernation. Once awake they move down to the coastline to feast on the lush green grasses that grow near the water’s edge, giving them the vitamins and nutrients they need to kick-start their metabolisms.

Check out the claws on this one! Very glad I was on a boat and well off-shore.

To be able to view an animal in nature without negatively impacting on it’s environment is simply awesome! The excursion was, as expected, an amazing highlight of our trip and an adventure that I would totally recommend. It was also a very long day (6 hours) and many of us were dozing inside on the way back to Prince Rupert, myself included. Once we neared the port the Captain and crew had another treat for us. They threw animal fat high into the air at each side of the boat and within minutes we were surrounded by about 30 eagles diving and grabbing the food with their talons. They were fantastic to watch and an exciting end to a great day.


Many thanks to Prince Rupert Adventure Tours for such a wonderful trip. It was awesome. We’ll be back 🙂

So that my bear story, tell me yours!

The Story of Old Bags, New Tricks!

Old Bags, New Tricks…

What kind of name for a blog is that, I hear you ask? Well, here’s my story.

I left my home country, New Zealand, 20 years ago. My plan, like so many Kiwis, was to work abroad for 1-2 years, then travel for awhile before making my way home.

Life had other plans for me. I began my journey in Kyoto, Japan, and loved the lifestyle, the culture and the food (oishii!). One year turned quickly into 6 and I’m sure people wondered if I would settle there.  Then I met Susannah (Canadian, eh!) and my plans changed again.  I was smitten and of course thought nothing of moving across the world to Canada with her. Hey, I was still young!

14 years later, here we are, living and working as photographers and videographers in beautiful Vancouver BC.

I am now well into my 40s and Susannah is a few years older. Neither of us has followed a “normal” or “traditional” path in life. We have been self-employed for most of our time here. We don’t own a home and we don’t have kids. We live very much in the now.

Over the last few years, I think we have both felt the effects of society’s ageist attitude towards what life “should” be like for people of our age. I have also struggled with some recurring physical problems which have impacted our life (more about that later).

I have learned many things and I have much more to learn. But what constantly holds true for me is the saying “you are only as old as you feel”. My version of it is “you are only as old as you think!” The mind has great power.  For me that means it is never too late to challenge myself, to try new things and open my mind to new possibilities and experiences.

Old Bags, New Tricks is about rejecting negative attitudes towards aging. Susannah and I love life’s adventures and we try to find a positive in each experience. We’ll be sharing some of our lifestyle and the new and exciting experiences we have in this blog. We hope you will enjoy them with us.