A Motif

Regular readers of this blog will know I was skiing recently in Whistler. I was not blessed with good weather and spent more time than expected exploring Whistler village.

Whistler is a modern ski resort less than 60 years old and as you walk round the resort you become aware that although there is considerable variety in the individual design of  buildings, there are also architectural features that all buildings have in common, and there are motifs that have been employed that provide a sense of cohesion.

One of those motifs is rock-faced columns or stacks.  They are a feature of the facade and portico of the hotel  where we stayed, where I first noticed them; and then I realized that they were also to be found throughout Whistler village. The majority, and the most photogenic, of the columns were of a warm-toned rock. I particularly liked their seemingly random appearance. No attempt to ‘layer’ individual rocks as you would with bricks, and no attempt at  a uniformity of colour, shape or size. The result is an abstract design that I found pleasing on the eye. And the more I looked, the more I was aware of the subtle differences. At a glance each column conformed, and yet on closer inspection each column was unique.

I photographed forty-eight of them (and there were more). And today you see just five of them. It seemed to me that there was only one way to display them – in a panel. Side by side you see the motif – the same but different.


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The last evening

Finally, on our last evening in Whistler, there were rays of light over the distant horizon as the sun started to dip. This was the view from our bedroom, and the only time the dSLR got used on the whole trip. Better late than never.

We can never take the weather for granted, you have to accept what nature gives you and make the best of it. I’m reminded of the quote, variously attributed although I think John Ruskin is one of the likeliest originators, that ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing’. Substitute ‘Photography’ for the word clothing and it rings true. When the weather’s foul, we have to cast aside our usual thinking and planning, and get ourselves out of our comfort zones and really think: where’s the picture now? What is Plan B? There always needs to be a Plan B.

In our ten days in Whistler I think I took more images in Whistler village than I did on the ski slopes. One or two of those coming up next week. Stay tuned.


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In clear air-2

Two more images from Whistler taken on the final afternoon of skiing. The lighting was at its best for a while that afternoon adding contrast and form to the terrain.

I always shoot in colour and leave decisions about which images might work well in B&W until I am back home in front of the computer. There are many reasons to convert to B&W: to create mood or atmosphere, to manipulate the tonal range, to produce an interpretation, or because ‘colour’ in the original scene may add little to the image.

These two images taken about two minutes apart fall into that last category. In the first there are two elements of colour that I felt were important: the hut on the left of the image, and the snowboarder in a camouflage jacket. Those were significant elements and de-saturating the image would have diluted their contribution to the composition.

The second image was taken slightly earlier (it isn’t the same snowboarder, by the way) and the image didn’t really have any significant colour. The snowboarder’s jacket is brown. A skier, the second figure in from the right edge, has red trousers but their stance is not that of a confident skier. I felt that colour contributed little to this image. The image was about tonal range, and a silhouette.

These are personal judgements of course, and decisions about B&W conversions will always be based on our preferences. There are no rules. One of the benefits of the digital era is that a single click will convert an image to B&W. It’s not the best way to manage conversions but it will give you a glimpse of whether to proceed with the idea, and it can be undone in a single click too.

Winter suits B&W, and here in the UK we have snow thanks to a huge blast of cold air from Siberia, nicknamed ‘The Beast from the East’. Something strange is going on in the stratosphere apparently. We get frightfully excited by snow over in the UK. Schools close, the trains stop running. Chaos rules. West Sussex seems to have escaped the worst of the snow which is good, but sad photographically. But it’s not over yet…

Click on an image to see a higher quality enlargement.


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In clear air

When the cloud lifts and the visibility is clear, then the terrain opens up. The ski area of Whistler is vast but it is only when you get  up high, on a good day, that you start to appreciate that.

This is one of my favourite areas, and just a very small part of it. The real joy of skiing is having that freedom to ski different lines through this mountainscape,  down to the lift and then back up to the top, and start all over again. And it is this type of day that lends itself to monochrome images – the starkness of the trees against the white of the snow. The light was still diffused, but then that makes imaging a little easier. When the light is too bright, then balancing highlight and shadow is difficult. If only every day was like this!

Click on the image to see a better quality enlargement.



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The clouds lifted

After six days of dense low-lying cloud, above which I sometimes ventured only to find myself in the middle of a cloud sandwich, the weather started to change. There were patches of sun and blue sky on the final two days, although they were fleeting and unreliable. My spirits rose.

I would ski a run up high in clear weather, catch the chairlift back up and find myself back in cloud. Chasing the light was a waste of time and effort, and one just had to make the best of the conditions.

Riding back up the mountain is a time to look around – you get a unique bird’s-eye view of the terrain. You are often above the trees and you get views that you will not otherwise see. I use that time to take pictures. Tricky.

My compact camera lives in a chest pocket secured to me by a lanyard, so I can’t lose that. Once on the ride, ski poles have to be ‘managed’ so they don’t fall off, gloves have to come off and get pocketed (sadly not always, I lost a pair. Again), goggles or sunglasses have to be removed too and taken care of. Then it’s time to get the camera out, check the settings because removing a camera from a pocket is apt to rotate a dial. Then relax and take pictures. Always watching  the progress of the lift, allowing time to ready myself to exit the chair at the top lift station.

So, today’s three images are all from the same chairlift. The third one – below – was taken 45 minutes after the first two images. What a change. Such are the vicissitudes of weather in mountain country. The next post will feature some more open country.

Meanwhile remember to click on any image to see a higher quality enlargement.



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Limited Visibility

Arriving at the 7th Heaven ski area – in cloud.

The two words ‘Limited Visibility’ sadly sum up my recent experience of eight days skiing in Whistler. The weather was not kind to us. Low cloud or hill fog shrouded the mountains, and it repeatedly rained in Whistler, but snowed higher up. Finally on the seventh and eighth day the sun put in an appearance. Intermittently. And on the following day, on our drive to Vancouver airport, we got superb views of the coastline. Nice, but a tad cruel.

Another image at the top of the 7th Heaven chairlift. Coated in Hoar Frost with a curtain of icicles

I was riding back up the mountain one day with a lovely local couple and they were explaining that the Pacific coast of BC is home to the largest area of temperate rain forest in the world. And where there is rain forest… there is going to be rain – (the clue is in the name). They explained that January and February were the wettest months of winter, and that the weather was usually a lot more settled in March and April. Perhaps I should have researched the weather prospects before booking our holiday. You live and learn as the saying goes. But what my archive tells me is that when we visited Whistler in 2009, it was for exactly the same time of winter as this year’s visit, and on that occasion we were very lucky with the weather. But that’s skiing for you. You have to be prepared for any weather and learn to cope.

Skiing in fog/cloud is not easy. Most of you will have driven a car in fog, conveniently the road surface is usually black or dark grey or perhaps brown. Imagine what it would be like to drive on a white road in fog. That’s what skiing is like in cloud/fog. The light is flat, the ground merges with the sky, there is no contrast and no awareness of a slope. You feel rather than see the change in the slope. You moderate your speed, feeling your way, trying to stay balanced and relaxed over the centre of your skis. But inevitably you are tense and you ski tentatively, searching for the next marker flag to confirm you are still on-piste.

Skiing in a white-out is not fun, and after a few runs of doing the same thing you are tempted to conclude that that is quite enough for one day, thank you. And you begin to see why quite a lot of people can’t quite understand why anyone would want to go out in the depths of winter, dressed in multiple layers, with a helmet on their heads; then encase their feet in rigid plastic boots, fix them to two planks of wood, and slide down a hill on them; and hope they survive the descent without rupturing a knee ligament on the way!

I’ve got to an age where, in bad weather, I think they might have a point. I am a fair weather skier. The joy of skiing is to be able to ski in good light (preferably sunny), with good views; to feel confident and ski, carving good lines, and feeling the wind in your face. There’s nothing quite like that. But I didn’t get much of that except on the last two days. Except that after the first day or two I ventured further up the mountain occasionally finding myself in clear air, looking down on a girdle of cloud above which I had travelled, but looking further up and finding I was merely just in a shallow zone of clear air before the next layer of cloud/fog above me that probably extended way above the mountain tops. You might start off a run in cloud and find clear air lower down , or you might start in clear air and enter cloud. You could never actually ski a full run and expect the same degree of visibility throughout.

So, today, the gallery of images is all about poor visibility. The last one is of hoar frost up at the top of 7th Heaven. Images of better weather will follow in a few days. Click on any image to see a higher quality enlargement.




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Just off Oxford Street in central London down an alleyway on the way to the Photographers Gallery you will find this facade. An abstract on a grand scale. Layered reflective strips creating a fractured surrealistic impression of neighbouring properties. A one-off, fascinating building to which I will return.

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