From the Field

Thompson Okanagan for Destination British Columbia by Andrew Strain

I've worked on various projects with Destination British Columbia since the launch of their epic new brand in the fall of 2014, and last summer I had the opportunity to shoot on assignment for them in my homeland: the Okanagan Valley.

My family moved a lot when I was growing up, and the south Okanagan was where we settled for my teenage years. Since finishing school, I've spent very little time in the valley, returning only for holidays and weddings, so it was a real treat to spend an extended time with my family and reconnect with old friends.

As a kid, I spent countless hours labouring in vineyards and roaming the desert hills - to be able to return as a photographer and showcase my valley to the world is a true honour. Being old enough to actually drink the wine is a huge bonus!

I'm not sure I could go back to living in the Okanagan full-time, but man... those summers. It doesn't get much better.

Stormset by Strain

A few weeks back, the most intense thunderstorm that I can remember parked itself over the lower mainland and unleashed Zeus' fury for the better part of an afternoon. Having been out of town for the previous weeks' electrifying weather, I was eager to get out and put a pair of new wide lenses to the test. I quickly found out that the bulbous front element on the Rokinon (aka Samyang aka Bower) 14mm 2.8 is not well suited to shooting in a thundershower; spending more time wiping rain off the lens than shooting, I failed to capture any lightning strikes. As the storm tapered off into the evening, I figured I wasn't going to have the opportunity to catch a night sky light show. The storm was fading, and thick cloud to the west was making the prospect of decent light seem remote. As I was packing up my bag, however, the windows along the English Bay waterfront began to light up - the telltale sign of a classic Vancouver sunset. The sun, nearly at the horizon, was beaming through the sliver of clear sky between sea and cloud, illuminating the final showers pulsing from the underbelly of the dying storm with a vibrant orange glow.

Nikon D800 18-35 AF-S @ ISO 100 / f/16 / 1/6 sec

Rain can be a real buzzkill while shooting. Sometimes the best approach is to embrace it and see what happens.

Though the storm had broken, the rain had not yet subsided and wind-driven drizzle continued to pile up on my lens. I rolled with it, since the effect of rain on the lens was kinda neat and the colour was amazing, but I knew I wasn't getting anything spectacular. I turned back to my camera bag to try a longer lens and was blown away by what was unfolding behind me.

oh my god!

I hastily swapped out the 18-35 for the Rokinon 14, dialed in the focus and started shooting. The over-sized front element seemed to draw in rain from all angles, but I managed to get a couple frames that were free of large droplets. The sunset was intensifying at my back and the rain had all but stopped; satisfied that I had a keeper, I swung my camera back around to capture the blazing sky to the west.


No sooner had I framed this shot, the storm's last fork of lightning struck the downtown skyline, searing an unforgettable 'what if' into my mind's eye.

As the colours faded over English Bay, I shot a couple tighter frames with another new addition to my quiver, the AF-S 85mm 1.8G. Highly regarded as one of the best-value Nikkor lenses, it fully reveals the power of the D800 sensor - the level of detail resolved is truly remarkable. Every time I've used it, something special seems to happen.

Nikon D800 AF-S 85mm 1.8 ISO 100 / f/4.0 / 1/80

It's been years since I photographed a sunset from Kits Beach, but it used to be my go-to spot for a quick creative fix. It's nice to know things haven't changed too much.

Next up for the blog, a different perspective on the night sky, and some more thoughts on the AF-S 18-35mm and Rokinon 14mm 2.8. With the fresh look I'm trying to keep the content a little more current - more soon.

Wide Sky by Strain

Dramatic sky over West Vancouver. Nikon D800 AF-S 18-35 @18mm f/11 ISO 100
Dramatic sky over West Vancouver. Nikon D800 AF-S 18-35 @18mm f/11 ISO 100

I picked up a pair of wide angle lenses to complement my Nikon D800 - the Nikon AF-S 18- 3.5-4.5 (used here) as my go-everywhere, travel / bush / hiking / splitboarding wide, along with the Rokinon 2.8. I'm really excited about the Rokinon - my next couple posts will explain why - but it is big and bulky and likely won't be in my bag for most outings. The 18-35 looks like it's going to be a staple, and I can't wait to put it through some more field testing.


So, apparently this image is ridiculously popular as a photoshopped sky background. From a Bengali movie poster to a local wedding photographer, a quick google image search turned up a wide range of uncredited and unauthorized uses of this image. Here are a few screenshots of offending commercial uses:


If you are interested in legally licensing this image for use in whatever background you wish, you may do so on my photoshelter page, or my contacting me directly. Thanks for not stealing my work.

Aisle or Window? by Strain

I put an inordinate amount of thought into seating on a commercial flight. Safety and convenience play a minor role, yes, but the primary focus of my pre-flight planning is determining which side of the plane will afford better photo opportunities. The best shots are often close to approach or takeoff - does the seat allow a bag stowed at the feet, or is it overhead only? Is the wing in my way? What side of the plane will the sun be on? What time of day am I flying? Is the weather shit, rendering all other considerations moot?

On a recent trip to the Okanagan to visit family, I made a last minute switch from port to starboard and was rewarded with dramatic raking light across the southern Coast Range, and a golden glow on the Port Mann Bridge as the cables caught the last light of day. I was hoping to pass a little closer to the downtown core, but Surrey was looking pretty good that evening. Maybe next time.

Even when confounded by imperfect conditions or the inevitable distorted window, the view outside is (almost always) better than the in-flight entertainment.

Bonus image: Popocatépetl, before it got angry this year.

One thing is certain - you won't catch me in an aisle seat.

What about you? Aisle or window?


Deep Winter 2013 by Strain

I'm writing this from the muggy confines of a rental house in a gated community in Tapachula, Mexico - please forgive me for not giving the subject a proper run-down. I wanted to get a few words out before I forget what snow even looks like. More on why I'm in Mexico to follow, if I have time. It's a bit of a crazy story.

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Melanie's Wedding by Strain

This is what you get when you let your brother photograph your wedding...

To update my blog from a summer of neglect, I'll go back to the beginning - my sister Melanie got married in June, in the beautiful setting of the Canadian Rockies. The weather did its best to confound the whole event - flooding across the interior, washed out bridges and a detour from hell made getting to Nipika Mountain Resort a logistical nightmare. The rain on the day of the wedding was unrelenting, forcing the outdoor ceremony into a cramped but rustic cabin - but everything flowed so seamlessly that it seemed as if it was planned from the start. I don't really shoot weddings, especially not for close friends or family - it's tough to enjoy the day when you're there to work. I agreed to shoot just the wedding party photos, though I knew full well it would turn into a much more involved process. In the end, the photos turned out great and the wedding was an amazing success - a testament to the incredible love Melanie and Landon share.

I could probably be convinced to shoot a similar style of rustic, outdoors wedding every now and then. The further into the mountains, the better.

Spring Run by Strain

Trail running in Pemberton, British Columbia (Andrew Strain)

Something a little different for me - this is my favourite trail to run and while I [like to] run often, I no longer live in Pemberton and I've never bothered to shoot photos of running.

With the arrival of spring weather, my girlfriend and I decided to head back to my favourite trail and shoot a couple photos, a little outside of my winter sports comfort zone.

With spring comes field season - my winter is officially over, and it's back to camp for me. Once we get it built, that is...

Birthday Heli by Strain

I don't think there is a better way to turn 28 than to heli into a zone dubbed "Chuter McGavin", shoot photos from the bird of your best friends shredding badass couloirs, then drop into a line named "I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast!" Toss on the skins and go for as many laps as your legs can handle.

Happy (Gilmore) birthday to me!

For some words by Jeff Slack, head over to Unofficial Networks. Some photos from the day below.

Off and On by Strain

Winter arrived early and strong in southwest BC: I got my first pow turns on October 3rd, got chased out of camp by two feet in the valley bottom on November 17th, and could barely breathe nor see on Blackcomb's opening day, the snow was so deep. And then, as fast as winter arrived, the jet turned off and the sky stayed blue for almost a month.

While my friends in Utah are still suffering from the early season doldrums, winter is back in full force in the Whistler area, providing badly needed powder for the Christmas vacation crowd and snow-starved locals. A combination of factors has led to the establishment of an uncharacteristically unstable coastal snowpack, making the new snowfall a maddening exercise in patience and restraint, as everyone is chomping at the bit to get out and into the gnar. Two BC skiers succumbed to injuries sustained after being caught in avalanches this week, a sobering reminder of the dangers that exist within our mountains.

Wanting to escape the holiday crowds at Whistler, but leery of the heightened avalanche risk, I headed out to a pillow zone off the Duffey Lake Road with the Surface Skis crew on a greybird photo / video mission. The lack of snowfall has left me with very little to shoot over the last month, and I was eager to get out for the first 'work' day of the season. The light was flat, but the snow was excellent and pillows well-developed, with plenty of protected stashes hiding in the forested shoulder of Joffre Mountain. Just another day in paradise...

Condolences to the friends and families of the two skiers that died doing what they love. May the powder be plentiful in the afterlife.

The Spell of the Yukon by Strain

Atlin may be located south of 60 but is so isolated from the rest of BC that it may as well be a part of the Yukon. There is a real magic to the north - I've traveled to every corner of BC and have never felt the same electrifying attraction as the one that keeps drawing me to my childhood home. The south coast mountains may be where I live, but my heart will always belong to the vast wilderness of the north... I spent the last 5 days visiting family in Atlin and find myself suffering from severe northern withdrawl. No one writes of the Yukon better than Service - I'll leave you with this. Hopefully my vacation snaps do the words some justice.

I wanted the gold, and I sought it, I scrabbled and mucked like a slave. Was it famine or scurvy — I fought it; I hurled my youth into a grave. I wanted the gold, and I got it — Came out with a fortune last fall, — Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it, And somehow the gold isn't all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?) It’s the cussedest land that I know, From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it To the deep, deathlike valleys below. Some say God was tired when He made it; Some say it’s a fine land to shun; Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it For no land on earth — and I'm one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason); You feel like an exile at first; You hate it like hell for a season, And then you are worse than the worst. It grips you like some kinds of sinning; It twists you from foe to a friend; It seems it’s been since the beginning; It seems it will be to the end.

I've stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim; I've watched the big, husky sun wallow In crimson and gold, and grow dim, Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming, And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop; And I've thought that I surely was dreaming, With the peace o' the world piled on top.

The summer — no sweeter was ever; The sunshiny woods all athrill; The grayling aleap in the river, The bighorn asleep on the hill. The strong life that never knows harness; The wilds where the caribou call; The freshness, the freedom, the farness — O God! how I'm stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you, The white land locked tight as a drum, The cold fear that follows and finds you, The silence that bludgeons you dumb. The snows that are older than history, The woods where the weird shadows slant; The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery, I've bade 'em good-by — but I can't.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless, And the rivers all run God knows where; There are lives that are erring and aimless, And deaths that just hang by a hair; There are hardships that nobody reckons; There are valleys unpeopled and still; There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back — and I will.

They're making my money diminish; I'm sick of the taste of champagne. Thank God! when I'm skinned to a finish I'll pike to the Yukon again. I'll fight — and you bet it’s no sham-fight; It’s hell! — but I've been there before; And it’s better than this by a damsite — So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting; It’s luring me on as of old; Yet it isn't the gold that I'm wanting So much as just finding the gold. It’s the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder, It’s the forests where silence has lease; It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder, It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

The Spell of the Yukon, Robert Service

Cabo Pulmo by Strain

A quick post since I'm rushed for time - I spent the past 2 weeks in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, where my friend Jake Cohn has an incredible place within spitting distance of the ocean. Not a bad spot for a skier to rehab from season-ending shoulder surgery, eh? That boy leads a rough life, I'll tell you what... I tried to take as much time away from the lens as possible, but eventually the orange glow that filtered through the window every morning pulled me out of bed to shoot as the sun rose. Unfortunately, the time flew by and I'm back in Pemberton, frantically unpacking my vacation bags and gearing up for another field season looking for gold [+copper +molybdenum] in the mountains of British Columbia. One night in my own bed and I'm headed into camp.


A few more photos can be found on my flickr.

Tremor by Strain

I'm not feeling particularly wordy but wanted to post a couple photos I shot last week from the summit of Tremor Mountain, the highest point in the Spearhead Range. There are few things as humbling as travelling on skis through big terrain - note the two skiers tackling the spearhead traverse (bottom left) for scale. Tremor was one hell of an adventure and I'm stoked we made it out there - the hourglass is a line I won't be forgetting any time soon. I was quite pleased with how easy the trip was on my splitboard - I can't imagine doing a day trip out to Tremor on snowshoes. Speaking of, anyone want to buy a pair of MSR Denali Evos? I won't be using mine again... ever.

Splitboarding is the answer.


Joffre touring by Strain

I went on an exploratory day tour on tuesday up to Joffre Lakes with Unofficial Whistler's Jake Cohn. Neither of us had been before but wanted to scope the area because of its excellent and easy access from the Duffey Lake road. A short climb and a couple lake crossings and we at treeline in a riding paradise - steep couloirs and chutes, 1000m glacier descents, massive pillow fields and mature forest presented up and downhill options for any conditions.

We tried to gain access to a great looking couloir but short of booting up the gut, couldn't find an ascent option we were comfortable with and decided to back off to a different line. We were again shut down trying to get on top of the Heartstrings zone when the weather socked in, eliminating our ability to navigate above treeline, in an area with more than enough death-gnar to do around... not the kind of place you want to be moving blind. Entering the line further down the ridge, we were rewarded with a playful and pillowy 600m descent to the valley bottom.

Of note: I was able to ride my split all the way back to the lower lake with ease, making Joffre the most splitboard friendly tour I've done off the Duffey to date. A quick transition to put skins back on, and I was first back to the car - doesn't happen often when touring with skiers! Despite being turned back of our two objectives, our exploratory mission was a great success, and you can bet we'll be back soon...

Deep Winter 2011 Recap by Strain

Wow, where to start? Last week, I was one of 6 photographers chasing the title of "King of Storms" in the 5th Annual Deep Winter Photo Challenge at Whistler-Blackcomb. Leading up to the contest, it was looking like it might end up being the "Deep Freeze" Photo Challenge: high pressure had settled over the area and the long range forecast was not looking promising. Thankfully, Ullr smiled upon the mountains and conjured up a beast of a storm that hit with impeccable timing: each day of the challenge brought a fresh, deep canvas for the photographers to work with.

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Deep Winter Photo Challenge - Pregame discussion by Strain

For a couple years now, my friends have been pushing me to throw my hat into the ring for the annual Deep Winter Photo Challenge, a photography competition that has a reputation for being a fiercely competitive 4 day grind. 2011 marks the fifth round of a contest that has been won 3 years straight by Vancouver-based photographer Jordan Manley. I was shooting in Whistler during last year's contest and mentioned that I'd be interested in competing someday, provided Jordan got tired of winning. [singlepic id=461 w=550 h= float=]

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PhotoShelter / D7000 by Strain

People often complain that I don't have a portfolio (a valid criticism). Well, now I do. You can check it out here as well as the link in the top right of this page. I'm using PhotoShelter to run the site and will be setting up galleries for stock and print sales over the next little while - for now, it's just a portfolio. I have it broken up into Mineral Exploration, Snowboard / Ski, Landscapes and People. Check it out and let me know what you think! Next up, business cards... I picked up a Nikon D7000 last week, and the first big dump of the season in Pemberton gave me a perfect excuse to get out and shoot with my new photo-maker. I tested the low light capabilities in Vancouver last weekend and was blown away by the usability of images up to ISO 6400, but realistically my main application for a camera is landscapes and action in good light so I was anxious to get out and see how the new sensor performed in my typical shooting situation.

All three photos taken with the  D7000 / 10.5mm fisheye combo.

I'm quite pleased with the obvious improvements in dynamic range over the D200 that I upgraded from, particularly in shadow detail where I feel that the D200 suffers quite a bit. Image quality is vastly improved in all respects, but given the age of the camera I was upgrading from, that is to be expected.

I haven't done enough shooting to comment much further than that on image quality or functionality of the camera, but my other main observation was just how much smaller it is than the D200. It weighs only 100 grams or so less, but is visibly narrower and shorter than the D200, and fits much better in my small touring/hiking camera bag - I'm pretty excited about the smaller size giving me more packing options for heading into the backcountry.

I'm not a big gear fiend but people do often ask about my equipment and for camera recommendations, so I'll try to share my thoughts on the D7000 over the next couple posts.

Fall Snow by Strain

A few more photos of October snowfall in the upper reaches of the Lillooet River / Salal Creek. Hopefully my next post will be less of a tease and more about actual snowfall. 

Back to the Bush by Strain

I'm looking forward to a busy end to what's been a lengthly field season in mountains of southwest BC - fingers crossed winter holds off for one more month, then hits full force and doesn't stop 'til May. I'm heading back to the bush tomorrow morning - here's a quick glimpse of the area I'll be returning to:

No internet in camp, so I'll see you all in a week (or more).