Great Bear Rainforest - Trip 2

In September of 2018, I spent 3 weeks in the Great Bear Rainforest working as a photographer & naturalist aboard a ship called the Maple Leaf. The Great Bear stretches along BC’s central and north coast and is part of the largest temperate rainforest in the world - 85% of which is now off limits to logging thanks to conservation efforts. From whales and wolves, bears and eagles, and waterfalls and tall granite walls, the region is stunning beyond words. Here are some photos from the second of two 8-day trips we embarked on while there.

Gear: Canon 5D MKIV, 15mm f2.8, 16-35mm f4 IS, 35mm 1.4 II, 24-70mm f4 IS, 100-400 IS L II.

Great Bear Rainforest - Trip 1

In September of 2018, I spent 3 weeks in the Great Bear Rainforest working as a photographer & naturalist aboard a ship called the Maple Leaf. The Great Bear stretches along BC’s central and north coast and is part of the largest temperate rainforest in the world - 85% of which is now off limits to logging. From whales to wolves, bears to eagles, to waterfalls and tall granite walls, the region is breathtaking. Needless to say I took a few photos and trying to pick my favourites out of a folder of over 3000 has been a bit of a challenge but here are some of the highlights from my first 8 day trip. A shout out to the amazing crew of the Maple Leaf and all the great people we met along the way! Trip 2 coming soon..

Gear: Canon 5D MKIV, 15mm f2.8, 16-35mm f4 IS, 35mm 1.4 II, 24-70mm f4 IS, 100-400 IS L II.

18 Favourite Photos of 2018

2018 shaped up to be yet another busy and exciting year with lots of adventures into new and unique areas. It also saw the release of an award-winning documentary film titled Anthropocene: The Human Epoch that I assisted on, a museum exhibit by Ed Burtynsky and book by Harley Rustad featuring Big Lonely Doug, and media coverage on the old-growth issue across the country and around the world. The highlight experience of my year though would have to have been the three weeks that I spent working as a naturalist and photographer aboard the Maple Leaf in the Great Bear Rainforest. The Great Bear stretches along BC’s central and north coast and is part of the largest temperate rainforest in the world. From whales to wolves, bears to eagles, and waterfalls to tall granite walls, the region is beautiful beyond words. The trip also underscored to me though just how special Vancouver Island and BC’s south coast truly are. Due to the better weather and prime growing conditions, it’s right here, in our own backyard, that one can still find some of the most magnificent ancient forests harbouring some of the world’s largest trees. But unlike the Great Bear, where 85% of the old-growth forests are now off limits to logging thanks to decades of conservation efforts, the ancient forests of the south coast are now highly endangered and still being cut at an alarming rate. So throughout 2018 we again clocked thousands of kilometers on logging roads and hiked through magnificent forests and horrific clearcuts in an effort to expose both the beauty and the destruction taking place. Clearly there is still much work to be done in the coming years to ensure that these incredible ecosystems remain standing for generations to come. For now though, please enjoy what are some of my favourite photos from this past year. If you have a favourite, let me know in the comments below! For the wild, TJ.

Fine art prints of these images and more can be ordered online at: tjwatt.com/prints

WOOOOSHHH!! A humpback whale bursts through the surface just off the bow of our boat in the Great Bear Rainforest. To say this was surprising would be a major understatement. In the hour prior to this moment, we had been floating silently while a group of about 20 whales swam nearby, calmly diving for krill. It was fun trying to guess where they might pop up but you never really knew where it would be and certainly none of us could have predicted a breach! Shocked, I somehow managed to spin around and catch at least one good shot before the giant splash ensued. Humpback numbers are thankfully on the rise today after being nearly hunted to extinction a century ago. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend time with these gentle giants. Listening to the peaceful “pwwossshh” sound of their breath break the silence was something I could listen to forever.

Drawn to the river by the smell of spawning salmon, a Spirit Bear named Warrior pauses momentarily in a sun-dappled creek before chasing after her lunch. Spirit Bears are not an albino but actually a white variant of a black bear and only a few hundred are thought to exist on Earth. Patience, local knowledge, and a lot of luck are the most important ingredients when hoping to view one of the world’s rarest animals. Thankfully, legendary Gitga'at bear guide, Marven Robinson, helped us to fulfill our dreams on this trip.

A bald eagle soars through the Khutze River Valley in the Great Bear Rainforest on BC’s north coast. During the fall salmon run, hundreds of eagles can be seen perched in trees and fishing along the rivers. By carrying the dead salmon off into the woods, the eagles help to fertilize the forest as the decomposing carcasses release nitrogen into the soil. Capturing birds in flight is always a difficult challenge, so I was thrilled to see the eye contact in this image and the beautiful definition in the wings and feathers.

Much of our time in the Great Bear Rainforest was spent floating up and down remote rivers as quietly as we could, hoping to catch a glimpse of local wildlife. Bears were often the main focus but there were many other creatures big and small that we got to see as well, like this kingfisher perched on the roots of an old snag. I really love the balance of elements in this scene and the colours as well. Reminds me somewhat of a painting.

A young male grizzly bear leisurely walks along the banks of the Khutze River looking for salmon. This was my first time seeing a grizzly up close and also the first grizzly we saw upon arriving in the Great Bear! It would also prove to be one of the best photo opportunities over the whole trip. Despite their immense power and potential for ferocity, it was amazing to spend so much time in close proximity to these animals and see just how gentle and playful they can also be.

If the Great Bear Rainforest wasn’t magic enough already, the bioluminescence in the ocean on our first night there was like something out of a sci-fi movie. Stirring the water with a pike pole caused it to light up a bright neon blue. You could see the shapes of fish swimming by, larger things following them, and little sparkles twinkling in all directions that seemed to mirror the stars in the sky. A few of the crew even jumped right in and made ‘glow angles’ with their bodies! Later that night, when it started to rain heavily, the whole bay lit up in a milky glow. It’s something I will never forget!

The view from a few thousand feet over Clayoquot Sound, looking west towards Obstruction and Flores Island. One thing you quickly notice when flying over Vancouver Island is just how pervasive logging roads and clearcuts are. Almost every direction you look, the landscape is scarred or altered. In only a few rare and special places can you can get a glimpse of the island the way it once was - carpeted from coastline to mountain top and back down again in ancient forests of every shade of shimmering green. Thankfully, the local Ahousaht First Nation have a Land Use Vision calling for protection of over 80% of the old-growth forests in their territory. May this view stay looking this way for many generations to come.

Flores Island in Clayoquot Sound is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Located a 45 minute boat ride north of Tofino, the island is home to the incredible Wild Side Trail. The trail winds along 11 kilometers of stunning coastlines and amazing ancient forests before delivering you to the long, sandy beaches of Cow Bay, seen here during an amazing summer sunset. To capture this shot, I was running around barefoot looking for little pools of water to catch the reflection in and then holding my camera just above the sand to create the mirrored effect. I really dig the little trees too - three trees just like the three friends that were on the trip together!

Would you look at these little guys! These psychedelic looking creatures are tiny carnivorous sundews (Drosera rotundifolia), which can be found in the bog forests of Vancouver Island. Rather than make their food through photosynthesis, the sundew supplements its diet by feeding on insects! The sticky dew or “mucilage” on its tentacles helps it to trap and digest its prey for a hearty meal. The plants are so tiny that you could easily walk right by them unless you knew to look for them. For this image, I carefully laid my camera on the ground and used a macro lens to peer into the miniature world. I love the rainbow colours and cartoon-like shapes, which remind me of something from Willy Wonka or Dr. Seuss!

A camas flower awaits its time to bloom in Uplands Park. A fun photographic exercise is to pick only one lens and go for a walk in nature. One of my favorite lenses to do this with is my macro lens. It forces you to slow down and pay attention to the small things. Here, the soft textures and pastel tones of the flower really caught my eye.

A cluster of mushrooms grows in the mossy hollow of old-growth bigleaf maple tree near Lake Cowichan. This would have to be the cutest little colony of fungi I’ve ever seen! I half expected to see a little pixie land on one of them and head through a door into another world.

The hidden sandstone canyon and waterfall at Sombrio Beach is a truly magical place. I never tire of coming here as it always looks a little different depending on the time of day and the season. Aside from the picturesque waterfall, mosses, and ferns, there’s an eye-catching blend of natural curves and lines well.

Reflecting on the Nahmint. Confused? Try turning your head upside down 🙃

The Nahmint River Canyon near Port Alberni is a swimmer’s paradise when out hiking in the hot summer months. The cool, blue waters are flanked by towering cliffs and ancient trees, while the deep pools harbour schools of steelhead salmon. I first visited the Nahmint back in 2006 on one of my very first trips to photograph old-growth forests for conservation. With its exceptional recreational and ecological value, it’s back in the spotlight today as an incredibly important area to save from old-growth logging taking place.

In May of 2018, while on an Ancient Forest Alliance expedition in the Nahmint Valley, we came across an incredible old-growth Douglas-fir tree measuring 10 feet wide and 216 feet tall, making it the 9th widest Douglas-fir tree in the country according to the BC Big Tree Registry and as tall as Big Lonely Doug. It was a truly beautiful, awe-inspiring tree. Two weeks later, it was a stump. Cut down in one of the many clearcuts auctioned off by the BC government’s own logging agency, BC Timber Sales. Under BC’s current forestry model, old-growth forests are a non-renewable resource, as forests are re-logged every 50-70 years, never to become old-growth again. Ecological values aside, a record-sized tree like this one, growing on gentle terrain and next to the main road, can form the basis of an industry based on “big tree tourism”. In this light, trees can be viewed as a renewable resources in that people will come to see them time and time again, generating revenue for local businesses and leaving the forest standing at the same time. However, each time another giant tree or grand grove is cut down, we permanently remove that option from the table. With less than 1% of the original old-growth coastal Douglas-fir trees remaining on BC’s coast, it’s time for the BC government to create a science-based plan that protects these ancient forests and help create a shift to a sustainable, value-added, second-growth forest industry instead.

No other photo of mine created more of a stir this year than this shot of my colleague Andrea Inness walking past a giant old-growth redcedar tree cut down in the Nahmint Valley near Port Alberni. The image sparked outrage from the general public and went viral on social media, garnering hundreds of thousands of views and even making the front page of Reddit World News. ‘How can this still be happening’ people ask? ‘It must be illegal!’ Truth is, old-growth logging in BC is still taking place and at an alarming rate. 10,000 hectares is cut on Vancouver Island each year alone as the companies target the best remaining stands with the biggest trees. The vast majority of the time, this is taking place in very remote areas, far from the public eye. I do my best to bring back images that showcase both the beauty and destruction of our old-growth forests, but it’s still only a sliver of the bigger picture. Lets hope 2019 is the year that we start seeing some real progress on the old-growth conservation front, as time for these forests is quickly running out.

A wave breaks over the rocky shorline of Sombrio Beach. Storm watching is one of my very favourite pastimes and this is one of the best places to chase big waves! I was also impressed by how calmly the cormorants sat atop their precarious perch as well.

Morning mist hangs over the meadows of the San Juan River estuary near Port Renfrew. I enjoy the peace found at this time of day and often go down to the ocean to watch the sunrise or, when I’m in Port Renfrew, come here. The air is still and the sounds of the world waking up can be heard one bird at a time. Some days you’re treated to a fiery sky of pink and orange while others, like this cool, blue winter morning, are shrouded in mist. It often leaves me thinking of this quote from E.B. White “Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, the savoring must come first.”

Anna's Hummingbird in the Snow

I've been a little obsessed with watching the Anna's hummingbirds go about their day in my backyard this past year. We've recently had a lot of snow and cold weather here on Vancouver Island but these little guys manage to stick it out! Since the snow was supposed to melt by tomorrow, I decided I would try to capture a shot of a male with some snowflakes around him. It's really hard to get close enough without scaring them though so I made a makeshift blind out of a tent fly and it actually worked! I'd love to try perfecting this technique, especially if it snows again. I would start by making the blind more comfortable to sit in that's for sure! I have profound respect for photographers who have logged days, weeks, even months sitting stationary in a blind, muscles cramping in uncomfortable positions waiting for the perfect shot. It's difficult on so many levels but well worth the effort in the end!

My makeshift blind formed by throwing a tent fly over a chair and my tripod. After it snowed for awhile, I blended in pretty well!

My makeshift blind formed by throwing a tent fly over a chair and my tripod. After it snowed for awhile, I blended in pretty well!

16 Favourite Photos From 2016

Well, it has been another incredible year, jam-packed with new adventures, discoveries, and photos! It's hard to pick favourites from it all but here are my personal top 16 from 2016. Do you have a favourite image? Let me know in the comments below! A huge thanks goes out to the amazing groups and individuals that I've worked with this past year and to all those who have supported my work. It wouldn't be the same with out you! For those who might be interested, prints of most these images are available in my online store as well. Here's to a happy, healthy, and wild 2017! TJ.

A tree climber makes his way up Big Lonely Doug, Canada's second largest Douglas-fir tree near Port Renfrew. Climbing this tree for a second time was something I never thought we'd get the chance to do but it was just as amazing an experience as the first time. It's hard to convey just how small you feel in comparison to this gentle giant but hopefully this photo does it some justice. You can see a drone video of the climb here. Canon 5D MK2 | 17-40 f/4L lens | 1/200sec | f/9.0 | ISO 400.

A giant rainbow arcs across the ancient forests of Edinburgh Mountain near Port Renfrew. I've never seen a rainbow so intense or that hugged the land so tightly. As new roads and clearcuts continue to threaten the largest remaining intact old-growth forest here on southern Vancouver Island, I couldn't help but think that the mountain was happy to see us there, working to protect its forest friends. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L lens | 1/200sec | f/8.0 | ISO 200.

The little bonsai tree growing out of sunken log at Fairy Lake must be one of the most recognizable and photographed trees on Vancouver Island. That only makes for a fun challenge though, to see how you might capture it in new and unique ways. Since the lake is connected to the nearby San Juan River, water levels can rise dramatically during periods of heavy rain. When they did just this fall, it left only part of the tree poking through the lake's surface. At times, the entire tree can become submerged. How it lives through all of this I am not quite sure, but I'm sure happy that it does. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L IS lens | 1/4 sec | f/6.3 | ISO 200.

I love to watch the sunrise. It's a great excuse to get out of bed early and it's wonderful to have the world to yourself, if only for a little while. Of course, it's often beautiful too, like this fiery morning sky reflected in the San Juan River estuary near Port Renfrew. Canon 5D MK2 | 17-40 f/4L lens | 1/100 sec | f/5.6 | ISO 1600.

My heart normally pulls me deep into the woods but over a weekend this past summer, some friends and I headed for the hills instead. It was refreshing (minus the mosquitoes) to get up high and explore an open landscape with sweeping panoramic vistas. The mountain we climbed was 50-40 Peak, located about 45 minutes outside of Port Alberni, and this was the view from near the summit looking towards Cobalt Lake (where we camped) and Triple Peak in the far background. Canon 5D MK2 | 24-70 f/4L IS lens | 1/800 sec | f/10 | ISO 400.

The evergreen forests of coastal BC are dominated by a million shades of green and brown, so the autumn yellows of this vine maple (Acer circinatum) in the old-growth forests around Echo Lake appeared as though someone had splashed brightly coloured paint across the canvass of the woods. I love the way the tree's branches flow and curve so gracefully as well. Nature is the world's greatest artist! Canon 5D MK2 | 24-70 f/4L IS lens | 1/125 sec | f/5.0 | ISO 1600.

A Pygmy Owl sits perched on the branch of a maple tree next to the San Juan Spruce in Port Renfrew. Despite its cute looks and being about as small as a mini football, you can still see the feathers and flesh from a bird it must have been feeding on. The Vancouver Island Pygmy Owl subspecies is distinct and associated with older forests, and sadly, is on the decline. There may only be 500 breeding pairs left and old-growth logging is considered to be a major threat. I managed to get a single shot this little guy before he decided to fly off into the woods to carry on with his day. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L IS lens | 1/400 sec | f/4 | ISO 3200.

I feel most alive when alone in the woods. Your senses awaken and your intuition becomes your guiding voice. While wandering through a remote patch of old-growth forest in the Klanawa Valley between Bamfield and Nitinat Lake, I heard the sounds of twigs snapping up ahead. Eyes wide and hairs on end, awaiting to determine nature the sound, a large bull elk appeared along with a group of 4 or 5 females. Relieved (slightly), it was beautiful to see them up close as a guest in their home. As quietly as they appeared they slipped away back into the woods. As I fruitlessly tried to follow their path, I stumbled upon this incredible trio of Sitka spruce trees. You just never know what amazing experience may await around the next corner out there in the woods. Canon 5D MK2 | 24-70 f/4L IS | 0.6 sec | f/10 | ISO 400.

The old-growth coastal temperate rainforests of British Columbia are some of the most dense and impenetrable, yet beautiful, landscapes on Earth. Life sprouts from every available surface while debris from fallen trees litters the forest floor like a giant game of pick-up-sticks. Capturing this complex environment in a single image often presents a challenge as it ends up looking too busy or confused. On a cool winter day this year though in the Walbran Valley, the fog and light came together to illuminate this ancient world in just the right way. Canon 5D MK2 | 24-70 f/4L IS | 1/320 sec | F/5.0 | ISO 800.

The San Juan River estuary is one of my very favourite places on Vancouver Island. It's home to an amazing array of wildlife including elk, deer, cougars, bears, wolves, countless birds, and much, much more. It's in a constant flux as well, ever changing with the rise and fall of the tides. Here, mist washes over the meadow during a chilly autumn sunrise. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L IS lens | 1/20 sec | f/8 | ISO 200.

UBC researcher Vincent Hanlon provides scale from the forest floor to the towering trunks of two giant Sitka spruce trees in the Randy Stoltmann Grove in the Carmanah Valley. The group of researchers secured the help of expert tree climbers to assist them with a study on tree genetics in the valley which involved collecting samples of young needles from the tops of over 20 trees. I joined them to help document the project and at the end of the last day was given the opportunity climb the tallest tree in the grove - a 275ft (84m) tall Sitka spruce. The feeling of hanging in mid-air amongst giants like these is one of humbling awe. Canon 5D MK2 | 24-70 f/4L IS lens | 1/100 sec | f/6.3 | ISO 1600.

Waves wash across the ocean and the sky along the west coast of Vancouver Island. The patterns found in nature, from big to small, are something to marvel at. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L IS | 1/2000 sec | f/8 | ISO 400.

During a stormy weekend in Port Renfrew this fall, thousands of gulls gathered along the shoreline to avoid the windy weather. Every now and then, something would startle one of them and they would all take off in unison. I loved the way it looked against the green cedars so I hid behind a large piece of driftwood and waited for the moment to happen again. It was hypnotizing to watch but the spell was quickly broken by the sound of a million bird droppings landing all around me. Thankfully, I escaped unscathed. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L IS | 1/800 sec | f/8 | ISO 640.

I've waited and dreamt my whole life o a cougar and this year, it finally happened. While heading out of the Walbran Valley innot one but two cougars walked in front of our vehicle. After being passed my gear, which was packed away in the back of the van after a long weekend of shooting, I franticly worked to assemble my camera and lens in time to get a shot. In the end, I only had time to get this one image, which was taken through the front window of my van while the cougar stared directly at us. From a photographer's perspective, it would have been nice to get a clearer image, but on a personal level, I'm just extremely grateful to have seen them with my own eyes - a moving experience that I will never forget. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L IS | 1/1000 sec | f/4 | ISO 1600.

A male Anna's hummingbird sits perched on the branch of a cedar tree. After closely watching this little guy's patterns early each morning, I noticed he tended to land in a few particular places. So, with the hopes of capturing an image of him in his natural setting, I carefully set up my camera with remote shooting and began to watch the branch for the next 4 hours. Getting the timing and focus just right was extremely tough but after some narrowly missed attempts, it finally worked out! It took a lot of patience and planning to create this image but I'm super happy with it and have a newfound love for this beautiful bird. Canon 5D MK4 | 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro lens | 1/400 sec | f/3.5 | ISO 1600.

Fog drifts across the clearcut surrounding Big Lonely Doug in winter time. This might be my favourite photo of BLD. I love the way the passing fog acted as backdrop for the tree and set the solemn mood. Doug has become quite the star over the past few years, with people coming from around the world to pay their respects. Although he's lost some of his closest relatives, I hope he senses that we humans do indeed care about him and the fate of our remaining ancient forests as well. Canon 5D MK2 | 24-70 f/4L IS lens | 1/125 sec | f/5.6 | ISO 1000

Snapshot: Male Anna's Hummingbird

A male Anna's hummingbird sits perched on the branch of a cedar tree. After closely watching this little guy's patterns early each morning, I noticed he tended to land in a few particular places. So, with the hopes of capturing an image of him in his natural setting, I carefully set up my camera with remote shooting and began to stare at the branch for the next 4 hours. Getting the timing and focus just right was extremely tough but after some narrowly missed attempts, it finally worked out! It took a lot of patience and planning to create this image but I'm really happy with it and have a newfound love for this beautiful bird. Click here to order a print of this image.

Canon 5D MK4 | 100mm 2.8L IS Macro lens | 1/400 sec | f/3.5 | ISO 1600.

A second shot of the hummingbird on one of his favourite perches. His colours and cute little feet are just the best!

Snapshot: Anna's Hummingbird

An Anna's hummingbird pauses in flight early this frosty morning. Weighing about as much as a nickle, their wings beat from 40-50 times per second while their heart beats around 1,220 times per minute! Amazing little birds.

This is the first image I’ve captured using the new Canon 5D MKIV’s WiFi feature, which allows you to adjust settings, see live view, & shoot remotely from your phone. That let me stand inside the house and avoid disturbing the bird. Quite an awesome feature! It meant pre-focusing the image though and then hoping that the bird would pause for an instant in that razor-thin plane of focus. In the end, one shot worked! Exposure: 1/4000 sec, f/3.5, ISO 3200. Canon 100mm f2.8L macro lens.

Drone Video - Protect Echo Lake Ancient Forest

Here is the latest drone video that I filmed and produced with the Ancient Forest Alliance. It features the endangered ancient forests found at Echo Lake, which lies in the territory of the Sts'ailes First Nation band between Mission and Agassiz about 100 km east of Vancouver, BC. Since the introduction of HD video to DSLR cameras, photographers have increasingly become expected to produce video alongside stills. They really are two very separate things though that require you to think, frame, and shoot differently. Without formal training in film making, many of us photographers are having to learn on our own through searching the internet or asking our videographer friends for tips. This was the first video I've made that includes interviews with people and I've learned a lot through the process for next time. Many of the location visits that we do with AFA are shot under super tight timelines as well - usually a single afternoon visit - that involve running around the forest capturing photos, switching to handheld video for some clips on the fly, quickly flying our drone (DJI Phantom 3 Pro) for an aerial view, before speaking with someone about the issue and heading home! It makes for a challenging work environment to capture it all in one go on your own to say the least. I'm having a lot of fun flying the drone lately though and am excited to continue incorporating it into our conservation efforts. It's just a perfect fit! Hope you enjoy :)

Please take a second to send a letter to the BC government as well at: www.ProtectEchoLake.com