Seasoned with a Little Light Magic

By Shelley Penner
December 29, 2012

(at top panorama photo of Somass River with autumn colors)
Somass River, Vancouver Island


In general my most frequent subjects are birds, animals and wildflowers, but for me the most challenging subjects are landscapes. Every time I go for a walk I see birds and animals, and as long as the light is bright enough, I can usually get pretty good shots. Each time it gives me a thrill. But because the landscape is always there for anyone to capture at any time, it takes a moment of magical light to make a landscape photograph special, and those moments of magical light are rare, especially where I live in the Pacific Northwest. We have only two seasons – three months of summer and nine months of rain. But those moments of magical light can happen in any season, at any given moment – the trick is to keep a sharp eye out and always be prepared for anything.

Autumn is when the rains start, so getting pictures of migratory birds and autumn color is a bit of a challenge. When the sun comes out, you just have to be ready to drop everything and go.


Frosty Salal by Shelly Penner ©

Frosty Salal – Vancouver Island


For me, the magic of winter is in the cold weather – snow, frost, ice sculptures in the creek. But with the relatively warm winter temperatures on the coast, we get little freezing weather, just months of grey, chilling rain. So when we do occasionally get both freezing and sunshine together, it’s playtime for me and my camera! One winter a few years back, we got a dump of snow followed by clear, sunny, freezing weather. While walking across the undeveloped field behind the local strip mall, I discovered that overnight, huge feathers of frost had grown on every twig and weed and all over the top of the snow. It was like winter had given the weeds feathery wings!


Frost Feathers by Shelly Penner ©

Frost Feathers – Vancouver Island



On another year, we had gotten no snow in the valley, so my husband and I went up the mountain looking for snow to photograph. The sky was very dark and overcast, but as I began looking for interesting compositions, I noticed the tops of the trees developing a blush of orange light. Near the horizon, a gap in the cloud cover was allowing the sun to peek through as it set. For twenty minutes we watched, mesmerized, while the light swept up the mountain as if a giant, magical paintbrush was washing it with bright color. It was a breathtaking and spiritual moment!


Mount Arrowsmith, Vancouver Island by Shelly Penner ©

Mount Arrowsmith, Vancouver Island

I tend to like the drama of subjects that are spotlighted against a dark background.


Spotted Coralroot by Shelly Penner ©

Spotted Coralroot  Corallorhiza maculata  -- a member of the orchid family, Spotted Coralroot is a saprophyte, which means it has no chlorophyll and gets its energy from decaying vegetable matter rather than from the sun. Coralroot blooms from May to early June in partially shaded, mossy areas.


Sometimes the lighting situation just works in your favor, like with this image, taken from the deck of my house in early June. A family of fledgling Steller’s Jays in our cedar tree seemed just as curious about me as I was about them, and came quite close. The sunlight bouncing off our white deck sent a lovely wash of reflected light over my subject.


Steller's Jay Fledgling by Shelly Penner ©

Steller’s Jay Fledgling – Vancouver Island


Early morning is my favorite time to go walking with the camera. The low morning sun gives a lovely lemony glow to the landscape. I like evening light too, but morning light is softer, less brassy and harsh.


Kitsuksis Creek, Vancouver Island by Shelly Penner ©

Kitsuksis Creek, Vancouver Island – morning casts dappled light over the creek in early summer.

When summer is in full swing, if I can get out early enough I often see raccoons foraging along lower Kitsuksis Creek. This is a tidal creek, so when the tide goes out the muddy creek bed gets exposed, allowing the raccoons easier access to such treats as crayfish.

Raccoon with crayfish by Shelly Penner ©


Racoon with crayfish

I suspect this is a young raccoon, as he didn’t seem quite sure what to do with the crayfish once he caught it. And the crayfish is fighting back, pinching his nose!

In late summer the angle of the sun shifts so that, at a certain time of day around supper time, the setting sun spotlights the spit of land in Cameron Lake against the shadowed mountains behind. The twisted, weather beaten pine leaning out over the lake is one of my favorite trees.

Cameron Spit, Vancouver Island by Shelly Penner ©


Cameron Spit, Vancouver Island


Cameron Spit reflected by Shelley Penner ©


Cameron Spit reflected


If I had to give advice to beginning photographers, it would be this: always, always take your camera wherever you go. Take it to work, to the grocery store, and for sure whenever you go for a walk, because you never know when or where the magic will happen.


My Equipment:

The photos above have been taken over a number of years with a variety of cameras as I slowly upgraded my equipment. I started with a 4 mp Fuji FinePix 1500, then upgraded to a 12 mp Panasonic FZ50 with a tele-converter, which allowed me to begin taking photos of birds and animals. However, digital noise was a problem with that camera, so finally two years ago I acquired a DSLR, an Olympus E520 with a 70-300 mm telephoto lens. I am presently coveting a more expensive SLR that would be good in the dull, grey light which we have most of the year.



Shelley Penner is a professional artist and amateur photographer, living and working on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The website below includes many galleries of her photos as well her paintings and other art forms.









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