Last week we met the Eagles that live around Tofino on Vancouver Island and who have formed a bond with Wayne Barnes as he spends his days and some nights photographing the stunning scenery and wildlife of the area.
Tofino is definitely on my ‘must see’ list and apart from the incredible scenery there is also a botanical gardens that must be a riot of colour in the spring and summer months.
This week a slightly longer interview but I wanted you to not just see the images but the story behind them. I suggest that you do not try photographing bears but Wayne’s account of his technique will give you a feel for how much time and effort is involved in achieving just one shot. Also, how long would you be prepared to wait to get that perfect shot? 16 years? Perhaps not but that is how long it took for one of the most amazing seascape images to be taken…
So settle back with plenty of rations and be prepared to be amazed by the story and photographs of live in Tofino.
We all love to see images, film and cartoons of bears but not many of us would be comfortable being within striking distance. You are obviously well able to take care of yourself in the natural environment but have you ever had a close call that caused you concern?
I get asked many times……”How close were you”?
Yes, I can be uncomfortably close sometimes. I am not an expert by any means of bears but I do know a few things.
I always like to describe things in perspective for people so they can relate and understand.
We all grew up with dogs. Even if we didn’t have one in our family, we knew someone who had one.
Because each of us has spent many hours with our canine friends, we have become sub-consciously familiar with their body language. So, if we go to another city we’ve never been to before & see a strange dog, we can tell instantly if that animal is receptive to our approach! We have subconsciously become familiar with dogs body language, which is universal. Dogs cannot talk like you or I, but they do communicate nonverbally. All animals communicate nonverbally. You just have to hang out with them long enough to recognize patterns. Which is usually measured in years.
If you’re going to get close to a wild animal, you must become conscious of its body language! First thing to look for are the ears. The ears will always flip backwards when the animal see’s that you’re within its flight zone. The flight zone is the imaginary circle around an animal that it feels safe in. Step inside that zone and the animal will flee.
Do not make eye contact (directly) and do not move when it’s looking at you and those ears will almost always stand back up. That means the animal has said “I see you, I see you’re within my flight zone and believe that you are not a threat to me”.
If the ears stay folded back & the animal continues to stare at you, it feels uncomfortable. It’s saying “I see you & you’re making me uncomfortable. If you don’t go away now, I will”. That’s about when I use my paddle to push myself further away.
Each bear, eagle, Orca etc. is unique. Like each puppy in a litter (a runt, a brave one, a fearful one, etc.) So it holds that with bears you’re going to come across bears that are fearful of you & others who could care less! I take pictures of the ones who are not fearful and thus am able to get close!
It took me two years to figure out something very important about bears! Bears have been evolving for many thousands of years. They all have one thing in common…….not one bear has ever been attacked by anything from the water! So they have a most un-natural regard of the water.
I found I could get very close to almost any bears with my boat but if I tried to step out of the boat onto land, they almost always got scared and ran off!
When I see a bear, it’s either going from left to right, or right to left along the shore line. I have developed a technique I call “Boat Curling”. Basically I look at the wind direction and plot a path so that I touch shore ahead of the bear. I come in a slowly and when I get close, I shut the motor off and pull it up (so as not to hit bottom). It’s very important not to move while the bear is looking at me (unless I already know the bear and more importantly, it knows me). Movement scares them off! Bears do have poor eyesight for seeing but excellent eyesight for movement!
If I’ve done everything right, the bear will walk right by the front of my boat. Once the bear has passed, I than begin to leap frog. I start up the engine and make a large arc around the bear to intercept it once again.
That’s basically how to get close to a bear. Also, if you go to where the salmon spawn each year, the bears will come to you. Stay where the food is and they will come for a visit. They also have very full bellies! Just like you have after a big Turkey dinner and we all know how we feel after that.
A bear with cubs offers a wonderful window into their lives. Which bear photograph would you choose?
I name my bears so that people can not only become familiar with them but also so they can remember them.
“Tammy” has known me for 2 years or so I guess. She had three cubs back in 2012. I called them “The Three Stooges”!
I was travelling along in my boat and saw them eating grass along the shore. I turned the boat and began to come in slowly. I got within 100 feet or so and shut the engine off. I then drifted slowly in towards them. I’m sure Tammy had already seen me a ways off, recognized me, and knew I wasn’t a threat but the cubs didn’t know me. I was drifting in rather quickly because of the wind and didn’t want to put my camera down to stop from bumping into the shore rocks. Rocks by the ocean have creatures growing on them called “Barnacles”. They live in little white shells. Well, my boats bow smacked the rocks/barnacles and made a bit of a loud crunching noise. It startled Tammy a bit and made her grunt. The cubs were very aware of me by this time and thought their Mum was telling them to run away?
If a Sow feels threatened she will give a series of quick guttural grunts to her cubs! Which means, there is danger around, run away, climb a tree and I will follow.
Because I startled Tammy, she did do one of those grunts, but kept eating! Which made all the cubs rush together wondering what the problem was? They looked at Mum and then at me wondering what the problem was? Mum was still eating away contently and not alarmed! They couldn’t figure out what had happened and that gave me few precious seconds to capture them all together!
If Tammy had told her cubs to gather around and pose for that nice handsome photographer, it couldn’t have worked out better!
Unlike the land, the sea is far more dynamic and changes with season and weather. It is teeming with life including seals, whales and seabirds. Are there specific times of the year when you focus on capturing images in this environment more so than on land or do you carry your cameras everywhere and simply look for any opportunity to present itself?
I am basically an opportunistic photographer. So yes I try to carry my camera with me in case something happens. I describe the way I travel around in my boat like a trapper traveling his trap line. I go from point AB, C, all the while looking along the shoreline for movement.
I always say that I can never go take pictures when I want……….only when Mother Nature phones and invites me out! Meaning, the weather has to be just so. Overcast or windy days are verboten! An overcast sky means I have no light and with no light that means no point. A windy day is just plain dangerous and sloppy in a small boat!
So the winter time has poorer weather than the summer and fewer opportunities to get out. If I have the light but it’s windy, I than go to Plan B, which is out to the beach. So I do more beach shots in the winter than summer.
The Sea Lions only come into the inlet in winter. They come in for protection from the storms. They go down Tofino Inlet to a spot called Cannery bay. It’s where Kennedy Lake drains into the ocean. It’s the boys club down there too BTW. Meaning only the males go down there. (All ages) All the females are smarter & go south where it’s warmer!
Both Californian & Steller’s. Cali’s are dark brown & weigh in at 1/2 ton. Steller’s weigh twice that & have a blonde colour (when dry).
I particularly like the images of the planes landing on the water at sunrise and sunset. Is there a seascape that is your particular favourite?
Yes, I have a favourite seascape I like to photograph. It’s Lennard Island Lighthouse. I have taken more shots of that than any other place! If you were to look at every single one of them they all would look different even though it’s the same subject!
If I have time at the end of an evening shoot, I like to head out to the Lighthouse for sunset shots. On this particular evening there were scattered rain clouds travelling through. The sun shined through at sunset and created fantastic colours!
There are so many images on your site in the archives that I would like to encourage everyone to go over and browse for themselves but perhaps a few more questions about the different species that you have catalogued. Is there a bird or animal that has so far eluded your camera lens?
Yes, I’m rather embarrassed to say, but I not only do not have a picture of a cougar but have never seen one! Vancouver Island has the highest populations of cougars in the world…………and no I don’t mean on Friday nights!
They are an ambush predator, so will remain hidden until it attacks. They very rarely attack large adults. A young male is pushed out by its mother when she feels it’s time. Each cougar patrols its territory constantly. If it smells another cougar, it will track it and push it out of its territory. A young Tom will continue to be pushed around because it lacks the size and experience to fight back. This is when they become desperate and have been known to attack full grown men! I always carry a straight bladed knife on my hip just in case one takes a shine to me!
Aside from that………..I’d love to get a shot of a Sasquatch. I’d love to think they actually do exist, but suspect that if they did, they don’t anymore? I have a friend who believes in them and love listening to his adventures!
Judging by the changing seasons and times of day you must spend hours each day either in your boat or hiking around in the fresh air. Whilst there is an element of luck and opportunity with some shots, there must also be some that require many hours of waiting patiently for just that right moment. What is the longest time you have spent before getting a chance to capture an image?
16 years! That number isn’t a fair answer actually. I’ve taken thousands of shots of this place but on this one day all the planets lined up!
I’ve been going to a place I call the “Blow Hole”.
Trying to figure this monster out has been very hard! It’s so dangerous being close to it that one could be injured or killed. Two people have died there and I got hit once! I was six stories above the ocean on a rocky plateau and thought out of reach of those monstrous waves! Turns out I wasn’t and got hit good! Almost lost all my gear into the surge channel! I did lose my hat however.
The Blow Hole goes off only a handful of times each year! (It may go off more times but if it’s happening during a storm when it’s overcast and in poor light, there’s no point in going.) I need it to be going off while the sun is shining!
I need a big wind storm to hit & last longer than 24 hours. Then I need the storm to pass, so I can have clear skies. The ocean is now in motion! The biggest explosions happen at low tide. Took me five years to figure that one out. I’ve seen them over 100 feet easy! Many logs are floating around out there too and sooner or later one of them gets shot out like 500 lb. matchsticks! I’ve got shots showing these logs being hurled a hundred feet!
It’s the only place that still scares me each time I go. Unfortunately my shots have made this spot very popular with the locals. I use to be able to go there and see nobody all day!
I went on this one day when a wind storm had passed and the waves were BIG! It was in my film days. I had taken 5 roles with me. After several hours of shooting I realized that I was not only on my last role but only had three shots left! A dark cloud had moved in and obscured the sun. It also seemed to be staying put. I decided to wait it out. It was very windy, so I put my hood back on & went into the forest. Getting out of the wind keeps one much warmer!
It’s the only thing I’ve ever shot that I can hear, feel and see at the same time! The power of the concussion travels through the rock and goes right through my body! The sound travels right through me like one of those old fashion canons going off! After what seemed like hours, that dark cloud moved along enough to allow the light to come back! I went back out onto the plateau and saw a large swell moving in quickly! I watched this huge wave roll in like a steam train and hit with a very thunderous crash! It went straight up and had to at least 8 stories high! The water came crashing down and pushed the air out violently! It was if a helicopter’s down wash was hitting me hard. Before it hit, I tucked my camera in my jacket, turned and held on for the concussion to pass.
I not only got the shot but still had two shots left over!
CONSERVATION AND WILDLIFE
I know from my trips to Canada that there is a huge respect for the wilderness and the wildlife that it sustains. I know that there is a local project called the Raincoast Education Society – could you tell us something about their mission and their activities?
Yes, they do excellent work! But I believe they can better describe what they do than I. So I have copied this from their site.
“The Raincoast Education Society (RES) is an independent non-profit society and registered Canadian charity. The RES was established in August 2000 with a mission to help shape an environmentally sustainable future for the Clayoquot and Barkley Sound region through education and community stewardship. Our aim is to enable citizens within and beyond the Clayoquot and Barkley Sound region to participate knowledgeably, effectively and responsibly in the work of shaping this future for our region and for our planet.
We seek to accomplish our mission by delivering a broad range of high-quality educational and interpretive programs, such as guided walks, seminar series, summer camps, school programs, and slideshows focused on the natural environment, cultures, and communities of the Clayoquot and Barkley Sound region. We also bring outside educators and experts to our region for programs and presentations.
We work with a broad range of public, private and community institutions and agencies, both within and beyond the region, in order to establish and maintain a high-calibre education and interpretive network and to reflect a wide range of perspectives in all educational and interpretive activities.”
Could you sum up in a few sentences what living in Tofino means to you personally as well as professionally?
I think this is the hardest question for me to answer. It would take me years to try and describe what Tofino means to me. It’s such an abstract feeling that I don’t think I could do it justice.
I know that this is putting you on the spot but do you have one final image to share with us that for you is the one that made you thankful for becoming a photographer and being in the right place at the right time?
I do not know exactly how many pictures I’ve taken over the past 41 years? Over 500,000 … less than a million?
There is one however that does stand out for me! It was more a complete adventure, rather than a single shot. I always tell people that I’d like to see it hanging in every house in Tofino!
It’s a sunrise shot of Tofino’s harbour in the dead of winter with snow all around.
I had my bike stolen once (I do not own a car, Tofino is too small to have a car) so I’m always watchful my bike doesn’t go missing again.
I woke up one winter morning (3am or so) and looked outside to make sure it was still there. It was and so was 3 inches of snow! It had fallen during the night and what was even better was that the sky was clear! I knew instantly that the sunrise was going to be interesting? If there are clouds to the east for sunrise, it’ll block and snuff the light.
I was very excited! I made myself a good breakfast and got my gear ready. I knew exactly where to go too! Up to the water tower on Barr Mountain. It has an excellent view of Tofino’s harbour area and surrounding mountains.
I remember riding my bike through town in complete darkness with a billion stars shining all around me! There was no power btw. I guess the snow was heavy with moisture and had made a tree limb fall and cut the power off. So everything was in complete darkness making the air even more mysterious!
There were no tire marks on the road. I rode as far as I could and pushed my bike up hill. I left it at the bottom of the access road and walked the rest of the way up. You must understand that this area is supposed to be off limits. So the ladder going up to the top of the tower had barb wire all around it. The ladder is one of those types that has metal rings encircling it, so as to halt someone’s fall. So I couldn’t climb up there with my bag on my back. I had been up there many times before and had already overcome this stumbling block by securing a rope at the top. I tied my camera bag to the rope and bypassed the wire without tearing anything.
I pulled my gear up & waited for the show to start!
When the sun came up it was an amazing sight! The soft pinks were breath taking! The clouds were moving slowly. It was if Mother Nature was doing a beautiful slow dance just for me alone! I took pictures (film days) for over an hour!
This panoramic shot (composed of 5 slide shots) showcases Tofino & shows its true beauty I believe. It’s nothing short of magical!
I’d like to send out a thank you to Sally for inviting me and giving me this opportunity to talk about my passion! Every person should have a passion!
Maybe my words will inspire someone to go out there and get that defining shot themselves!
Thank you. W.C. Barnes. Tofino Photography, Tofino B.C.
LINKS to more Tofino Photography
Here is the link to last week’s Sunday Show where you can meet the Eagles in person and view more of the stunning scenery around Tofino.
All photographs ©TofinoPhotography
This week I had a note in from Wayne and I thought I would share with you and as you will see there are now a great many more photographs for you to enjoy on his blog.
Hi Sally I crossed 8300 shots last night on my blog! 3500 are of my eagle friends!
This chubby little guy was curious as to what I was up to?